Declines in skeletal muscle mass and strength are major contributors to increased mortality, morbidity and reduced quality of life in older people. Recommended Dietary Allowances/Intakes have failed to adequately consider the protein requirements of the elderly with respect to function. The aim of this paper was to review definitions of optimal protein status and the evidence base for optimal dietary protein. Current recommended protein intakes for older people do not account for the compensatory loss of muscle mass that occurs on lower protein intakes. Older people have lower rates of protein synthesis and whole-body proteolysis in response to an anabolic stimulus (food or resistance exercise). Recommendations for the level of adequate dietary intake of protein for older people should be informed by evidence derived from functional outcomes. Randomized controlled trials report a clear benefit of increased dietary protein on lean mass gain and leg strength, particularly when combined with resistance exercise. There is good consistent evidence (level III-2 to IV) that consumption of 1.0 to 1.3 g/kg/day dietary protein combined with twice-weekly progressive resistance exercise reduces age-related muscle mass loss. Older people appear to require 1.0 to 1.3 g/kg/day dietary protein to optimize physical function, particularly whilst undertaking resistance exercise recommendations.
Keywords: elderly; function; muscle; protein requirements; strength.