Animal Protein Better for Grip Strength and Functional Status

We just got back from a few days camping at the lake. And it was great to not set an alarm, to go boating, kayaking, swimming with the kids and to end each day around the campfire.

And when we’re camping we relax our nutritional choices a little bit to include a cold beer, a smore around the camp fire and other snacks during the day. When you’re camping with a group you tend to do things by committee. One group will look after making the meals. Another may handle cleaning up and doing the dishes.

When it was my turn in the kitchen I prepared meals with a definite omnivore influence. We made sure to include lots of fruits, vegetables and salads at each meal. But this was to accompany bacon and eggs, steaks, chicken tacos and turkey sandwiches.

For a while there the was a real push back against including meat in the diet. We saw a number of people wanting to become ‘game changers’ and drop meat from their diets. Restaurants were dropping meat or at least adding meatless alternatives to their menus. And overall it seemed as though you had to whisper when you talked about having a steak for dinner on the weekend.

Well, with everything in life it seems like when we learn something new we go overboard and over-react in the short term, and maybe under react in the long term.

Eating more fruits and vegetables would be an appropriate reaction. Eliminating all meat in favour of processed meatless alternatives would be an over-reaction.

A new study helps bring the pendulum back into balance.

In this one researchers looked at the difference plant versus animal protein had on grip strength and functional status. Almost 1900 subjects were involved in this study which ran for over 14 years. This was part of the Framingham Offspring Study and included male and female subjects over 50 years of age. This is important as it is at this point in life when we will experience noticeable strength deficits, unless we do something about it. And as we lose strength we will realize a decline in our functional status making it more difficult to complete, or maybe even failing, at certain tasks.

What they noticed is that subjects that ate more protein, whether animal or plant, had higher functional scores. However only those that included animal protein in the diet had a lower risk for functional impairment. As mentioned, maintaining strength allows for higher functional status.

The take home message is to keep your protein intake up as you age. And make sure that you include some animal protein in the diet. An expression we are fond of is ‘the less legs the better’. This means fish and seafood might be a better choice than beef, pork or poultry.

Lastly, while increased protein intake helps us protect against muscle loss and the loss of function as we age, this must be paired with a resistance training program. Eating protein alone won’t do the job. Although this study doesn’t didn’t look at resistance training, we could infer that resistance training and eating animal protein would be superior for strength gains and minimizing the loss of functional status.

Reference

Yuan, M., Pickering, R. T., Bradlee, M. L., Mustafa, J., Singer, M. R., & Moore, L. L. (2020). Animal protein intake reduces risk of functional impairment and strength loss in older adults. Clinical Nutrition.

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