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Study Shows Protein At Breakfast And Lunch Essential For Health Ageing

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By Nicole Glennon

A recent study undertaken by University of Limerick Professor Phil Jakeman and colleagues has revealed that eating an even amount of protein at each meal may be more beneficial than consuming most of our protein at dinner time. The study, which was funded by Food for Health Ireland, sought to investigate the role of milk proteins in healthy ageing and performance nutrition.

The Professor of Sport and Exercise Sciences said: “Healthy active ageing and improving sports performance have a lot in common as far as muscle is concerned. As we age the amount of muscle and lean tissue mass begins to decrease. This can lead to frailty, disability and loss of independence in older adults.”

Contrary to what many people believe, the human body begins to decline between the ages of 20 and 30 years old. These age-related changes in body composition include osteopenia (bone health) and sarcopenia (muscle health). Prof Jakeman acknowledges that most of us are familiar with the deterioration in bone density but believes many people are not aware that our muscles also start declining at this point.

“We only really become aware of it when we can’t run or lift our luggage into the overhead bin in an airplane anymore.”

Prof Jakeman believes that all students should be aware of this change in body composition with age.

“If you are technically ignorant of something that may affect your well-being then you have limited choice to change. However, if you are educated, informed, then you have a choice – for example to change a behaviour. We are starting to understand more about the processes involved and about what the right foods are to eat and when. For example, we eat about 1,000 meals a year but we tend to eat a lot of protein just once a day with our dinner. This is reducing our opportunities to ingest protein to one third and muscles can only absorb so much protein. If we were to divide the protein across the three meals it could have a much better effect.”

DCU Senior Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Physiology Brendan Egan also offered some advice on how the average person can incorporate this in to their daily life.

“Based around real food, this would look like having a high-protein yogurt or a couple of eggs with breakfast or, if having a salad at lunch, making sure to have a meat or fish-based option,” he said.

Other Principal Investigators on the project included Dr Brian Carson (PESS), Dr Pat Kiely and Professor Sean Arkins from the Department of Life Sciences at UL.

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