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Higher Protein Intake May Be of No Value to Older Men

Man holds red meat

Noel Hendrickson/Getty Images

How much protein do you need every day?

Although more protein has historically been recommended for older adults with moderate physical function limitations, it has virtually no effect on physical health, a new study finds.

Conducted by a team at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) and published in the April issue of JAMA Internal Medicine, the study found that older men with moderate physical limitations who were given about 50 percent more than the prescribed amount of protein showed no discernible improvement in terms of lean body mass, muscle performance or physical function.

The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for protein is the same for all adults: 0.8 grams per kilogram of weight, or about 56 grams per day for the typical adult man and 46 grams for the typical adult woman.

But for older people showing signs of physical limitations, experts have for years recommended higher protein intake. Researchers were skeptical of this advice, particularly given a dearth of information about the increase’s effects.

"It's amazing how little evidence there is around how much protein we need in our diet, especially the value of high protein intake," research author Shalender Bhasin, M.D., said in a Brigham news release. Bhasin is the director of the Research Program in Men's Health in the division of aging and metabolism at BWH. "Despite a lack of evidence, experts continue to recommend high protein intake for older men."

The findings of the study “do not support the recommendation” for more protein. “Our data highlight the need for reevaluation of the protein RDA in older adults, especially those with frailty and chronic diseases.”

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