Is this the single best thing you can do now for your elderly parents?

Protein supplements for older adults can increase muscle mass and improve physical performance

A recent study(1) of 120 elderly people aged 70-85y has demonstrated that supplementing a diet with adequate amounts of the right kind of protein supplement can have measurable benefits in muscle mass and performance, even in the absence of resistance exercise.

What form of high quality protein was recommended in they study? Let's take a closer look.

First, it's important to note that this is a single study and the subjects were screened as pre-frail or frail, however it's a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled 12-week intervention trial published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and adds to the emerging consensus that:

"consuming an adequate amount of high-quality protein at each meal, in combination with physical activity, may delay the onset of sarcopenia, slow its progression, reduce the magnitude of its functional consequences, or all of these."(2)

Protein and resistance exercise seem to have a synergistic benefit, but would these participants see a similar benefit in the absence of additional exercise?

Over a 12-week period, subjects were randomly allocated to one of three groups and asked to maintain their normal diet and physical activity. The groups were provided with either a control of maltodextrin or whey protein supplements representing 0.8g, 1.2g, or 1.5g protein per kg body weight per day.

What was the outcome?

Those in the higher dose group, equivalent to a 60kg person consuming 90g protein per day, improved both appendicular muscle mass (measured as total muscle mass on the arms and legs) and skeletal muscle index adjusted for height, weight, BMI and as a ratio to body fat. Also, those in the higher dose group showed improved performance, measured as gait speed (or walking speed).

This outcome agrees with an earlier studies (3.4), in which lean body mass was preserved with higher doses of whey protein for older compared to younger subjects.

However other studies using milk protein, hydrolysed milk or cheese showed no significant beneficial effects for the older population. The authors suggested two possible reasons.

One seems to be the higher amount of leucine present in whey protein. Earlier studies and meta-analyses concluded that:

"...whey protein was best to support muscle protein synthesis owing to its high leucine content compared with milk and soy protein." (5)

Participants in the high dose group in the present study consumed around 4.3g leucine per day, a similar dose to the amount present in Muscle Maintenance 70+ when served with full cream milk.

The other reason suggested was that:

"increased deviation from normal protein intake...could affect gains of muscle mass."(1)

All up, the study showed that:

"...pre-frail and frail elderly subjects at risk of malnutrition experienced improvement in some aspects of physical performance...beyond the significant gain in muscle mass after consumption of 1.5g protein per kg per day compared to with consumption of 0.8g protein per kg per day." (1)

This is consistent with earlier studies, and the Muscle Maintenance range has been formulated following these findings and recommendations.

Finally, addressing the safety to protein supplements, the study concluded that:

"...protein supplementation has no detrimental effect on kidney function in elderly people with normal kidney function." (1)

In my opinion, there seems to be compelling evidence for optimising the amount and type of protein we consume daily in order to preserve lean body mass as we age, Papers such as this have guided the development and formulation of Muscle Maintenance as a Formulated Supplementary Sports Food.

Importantly, the purpose of this post is to draw your attention to a recently published paper. The decision to make significant changes to your, or your parent's or patient's or client's, diet should be made in consultation with the relevant health professional.

  1. Yongsoon Park, Jeong-Eun Choi, Hwan-Sik Hwang; Protein supplementation improves muscle mass and physical performance in undernourished prefrail and frail elderly subjects: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 108, Issue 5, 1 November 2018, Pages 1026–1033,

  2. Douglas Paddon-Jones, Wayne W Campbell, Paul F Jacques, Stephen B Kritchevsky, Lynn L Moore, Nancy R Rodriguez, Luc JC van Loon; Protein and healthy aging, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 101, Issue 6, 1 June 2015, Pages 1339S–1345S,

  3. Jane E. Kerstetter, Jessica D. Bihuniak, Jennifer Brindisi, Rebecca R. Sullivan, Kelsey M. Mangano, Sarah Larocque, Belinda M. Kotler, Christine A. Simpson, Anna Maria Cusano, Erin Gaffney-Stomberg, Alison Kleppinger, Jesse Reynolds, James Dziura, Anne M. Kenny, Karl L. Insogna; The Effect of a Whey Protein Supplement on Bone Mass in Older Caucasian Adults, The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, Volume 100, Issue 6, 1 June 2015, Pages 2214–2222,

  4. Daniel R. Moore, Tyler A. Churchward-Venne, Oliver Witard, Leigh Breen, Nicholas A. Burd, Kevin D. Tipton, Stuart M. Phillips; Protein Ingestion to Stimulate Myofibrillar Protein Synthesis Requires Greater Relative Protein Intakes in Healthy Older Versus Younger Men, The Journals of Gerontology: Series A, Volume 70, Issue 1, 1 January 2015, Pages 57–62,

  5. Phillips SM, Tang JE, Moore DR. The role of milk- and soy-based protein in support of muscle protein synthesis and muscle protein accretion in young and elderly persons. J Am Coll Nutr. 2009 Aug;28(4):343-54.