High Protein Diets Correlate With Lower Rates of Frailty in the Elderly

A new study suggests high protein intake correlates with reduced frailty rates in the elderly.

Getting plenty of protein is important for athletes. This is something we all know, but as we age the usefulness might be more important than we realize. In a study this month in the Nutrition Journal, researchers examined the effects of protein on frailty in the elderly. The results are critical for aging athletes, older clients that you may have, or for our own knowledge as we age.

One factor associated with age is called frailty, which is a collection of symptoms that occur in older people. Symptoms may include weakness, slowness, and reduced movement. Frailty is associated with a host of risk factors for death and disease, including catastrophic loss of health and bodyweight. Because weakness is one of the major contributing factors to frailty, the development and maintenance of musculature is one way to help prevent or even reduce frailty as we age. In the newest study, protein consumption was measured against the incidence of frailty.

The study was simple in design. The researchers measured the daily protein consumption of 2,108 elderly women (age 65 and older) and also measured their frailty. The women were divided into five groups based on their protein consumption measured in grams per day.

The results were pretty dramatic. At approximately seventy grams of protein per day, which corresponded to the third quintile and above, the odds of frailty dropped dramatically. Consuming seventy grams per day or more yielded a 36% less chance of frailty in the studied population. Interestingly, it was a sharp boundary. Anywhere below that cutoff point amounted to high risk of frailty, and above that point amounted to the lower chance of frailty. Consuming more than seventy grams did not cause any better results.

Looking back at another article I wrote focusing on athletes, I discovered what looks like a trend. If you divide the average weight of the athletes in the other article by the amount of protein they consumed per day at the cutoff point for athletic performance, and do the same for this group of elderly ladies, the two numbers are very similar. In other words, there seems to be a sharp cutoff point around .60 to .65 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight that yields the best results for both athletics and preventing frailty. More protein may not be any better for either purpose.

So if we maintain a high protein diet, we will have improved athleticism in our younger years, and a reduced risk of frailty as we get older. Multiplying your bodyweight in pounds by .60-.65 seems to be a good minimum level.


1. Satomi Kobayashi, et. al., “High protein intake is associated with low prevalence of frailty among old Japanese women: a multicenter cross-sectional study,” Nutrition Journal, 12:164, 2013.

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