The secret to longevity isn’t found in the fountain of youth, but in the amount of protein you eat.
A new study published by researchers at McGill University in Canada found that seniors who ate protein-rich foods at all three meals a day were more likely to stay stronger — and for longer — than those who didn’t.
For the study, the researchers observed 1,700 healthy adults ranging from 67 to 84 living in Quebec over three years. Every adult studied lost mobility and strength over the course of the study, but the people who ate protein-packed meals throughout the day lost less muscle strength than the people who only ate protein during dinner.
How much protein to eat a day
The connection is important, but the researchers are quick to say it’s only an observation and more study is needed to declare a direct relationship between protein consumption and age-related strength. However, “the important point is to create three meal occasions with sufficient protein to stimulate muscle building and greater strength, instead of just one,” said study co-author Stephanie Chevalier, Ph.D.
So, how much protein should you eat a day?
It depends on a variety of factors, including the amount of muscle mass you have in your body and how active you are during the day. As a general rule, the Dietary Reference Intake recommends 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. So, a 125-pound sedentary woman would need roughly 45 grams per day, while a 150-pound sedentary man would need about 55 grams a day.
Another way to calculate your rough protein needs is to strive for a certain number in each meal. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends eating five to seven ounces of protein a day.
The foods with the most protein
The popularity of protein makes it easier than ever to find convenient foods packed with the muscle-building nutrient — you can even get protein water.
That said, foods like meat (beef, chicken and seafood), dairy, eggs, beans and spinach are better protein choices, though, because they give you other nutrients you need and are shown to help keep you feeling full for longer periods of time.
And while protein might help you maintain muscle mass, it can’t help you build it — you have to do regular resistance training to grow that.
"You can't just eat a steak and suddenly have bulging biceps," said Chevalier.