While muscle loss is part of ageing, seniors can maintain muscle mass with proper nutrition and physical activity. Here are some tips on how and what we should eat to preserve muscles.
Consuming the right amount of calories is essential for our health. If we are not eating enough calories, our body takes protein from muscle and stored fat to meet the needs of the body. In the long run, it may lead to muscle loss. The Health Promotion Board estimates that Singaporean women and men above 60 years old require approximately 1,500kcal and 1800kcal per day respectively. In addition, higher energy requirements are recommended for older adults who are moderately active or with certain diseases. Do not just focus on the amount of food but also the quality. Make sure you have a balanced, healthy diet incorporating whole grains, protein-rich food, fruits and vegetables. If you have a low appetite, consider small and frequent meals and eat around the clock. Nourishing drinks and snacks such as soya milk, yoghurt or chicken pau or fortifying your meals e.g adding a dollop of sesame oil to the porridge are ways to add extra calories.
Ensure adequate energy intake
Protein is an important component of muscle therefore adequate protein is needed to maintain your muscle mass. Experts recommend that healthy older adults should consume 1.0-1.2g protein per kilogram of body weight per day to prevent muscle loss. For example, a healthy 60kg-elderly would need 60-72g protein per day. Examples of 20g protein are one palm-sized meat or fish, 5 medium-sized prawns or 2 glasses of soy milk. If you are exercising on a regular basis or having certain diseases which require high protein intake, aim for at least 1.2g protein per kilogram of body weight.
Focus on the power of protein
Choose high-quality sources which include animal protein (low-fat milk, eggs, fish, prawns, skinless poultry and lean meat) and plant protein (soy and its products, such as tofu, tempeh, dried bean curd, etc). If possible, distribute the protein intake evenly throughout the day in order to maximize muscle protein synthesis.
If you are unsure whether you are consuming sufficient energy and protein, the best way is to consult a dietitian.