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"One order of protein, coming up!"

By: Sheila Borgen, PT

I don’t know how many times I have overheard workout enthusiasts, coaches, and athletes throw around the word ‘protein.’ I have heard them comment on its importance for strength and overall health. I have witnessed many individuals in one of these categories grab their smartphones to calculate their daily protein consumption to ensure they are on track to meet their desired goals.

On the flip side, I have rarely heard anyone in the aging population discuss the need for protein. This fact is unfortunate as protein is just as essential in your 60s, 70s, or even 80s as in your teens and 20s.

Let’s discuss the importance of protein in aging. But first, let’s get a good understanding of what protein is and what it does. Proteins are chains of amino acids that are present in all living organisms. There are different proteins for each organ in our body. In addition, each organ has a different percentage of protein needed to function optimally. Protein has many jobs, including building and repairing your body’s tissues, keeping your immune system strong, and acting as an energy source.

As we age, protein consumption needs to increase. Requirements for protein intake rise by approximately 50%! Yet most of the aging population consumes less protein overall.

So why do we need more protein with age?

  • To reduce recovery time with illness

  • To preserve muscle mass

  • To help with wound healing

  • To fight infection

It can be more challenging to keep up with the body’s need for more protein as we age. Older adults often have decreased appetites, dental issues, and changes to smell and taste. As children move out of the house, adults tend to cook less and rely on snack food, void of the nutrition needed for overall health.

There is more than one way to ensure adequate protein intake. Examples of healthy foods with protein include:

  • Eggs

  • Fish

  • Chicken

  • Lean beef

  • Cottage Cheese

  • Milk

  • Yogurt (especially Greek yogurt)

  • Nuts

  • Beans

And if preparing some of these foods seems overwhelming, there is a myriad of protein powders and shakes on the shelves of your local grocery store.

Finally, consider what a lack of protein can mean to your everyday life.

Decreased protein intake can lead to muscle mass loss, directly impacting functionality. Lack of functionality reduces the ability to enjoy life, seek out adventures, and watch your grandchildren’s activities. Energy can become so depleted that getting out of bed can become problematic.

If you have had increased illness, feel like you are dragging yourself along each day, or feel weaker physically overall, it may be due to inadequate protein in your diet. There is a solution. Get help from a qualified healthcare professional who can assess your essential diet, provide you with resources to set yourself up for success, and start a progressive workout routine to help you get back on track for a healthy and whole life!

Sheila Borgen, PT, Author

Sheila is a freelance writer for physical health, mental health, and parenting. She has four exceptional children, one adopted from South Korea. She lives in Alabama with her husband and children. Sheila enjoys cheering her children on at archery tournaments, soccer games, and color guard performances. She has over 25 years of experience as a physical therapist with a special love for the senior population. Learn more about Sheila at

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