Protein shakes aren’t just for body-builders. If you are in your 50s chances are you need more protein intakes in your diet to minimise the loss of muscle mass and bone density typical of menopause. Whether you want to improve your general health, lose weight, or simply tone up, protein powders can be a useful and practical addition to your diet.
There’s a huge hormonal change that occurs around the age of 50, particularly a decrease in estrogen and progesterone- says Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics -. However, with every passing year at this age, and it’s much more significant in the 60s and 70s, there’s a decrease in the basal metabolic rate or the energy required to maintain body weight. There’s also an increased need for protein in the diet to maintain the same muscle mass as a younger woman.
How much protein do midlife women need?
According to the British Nutrition Foundation, women over 50 should look to increase protein to 0.8g per kg of body weight, which means that a woman weighing 70kg (11 stone) would need around 56g of protein.
Although eating a balanced and nutritious diet is often the ideal option for meeting the body’s protein needs, eating big amounts of chicken breasts and egg whites are not always the quickest and easiest way to get the right dose of amino acids (the building blocks for protein) we require at our age. Instead, investing in one of those powders might be a good solution to give you the boost you need as they can be easily added to yoghurts, porridge, milk, and water. A great alternative also for those women following a vegan or plant-based diet as many protein powders are made from vegan protein sources such as pea, hemp, or soy.
Which type of protein is best?
Protein shakes are drinks made by mixing 1 or 2 scoops of protein powder with water, milk or other ingredients. Taking one shake per day is often a good way to start, however, before changing your diet, it’s worth getting the advice of a dietician as there are a couple of key factors to consider when choosing a protein powder.
Checking the nutrition label before buying a product, for instance, is always advisable: look for protein powders with less than 4 g of sugar per serving or those with natural sweeteners (such as stevia or monk fruit), also, make sure to avoid supplements with artificial colourings, preservatives, and other additives.
Here are some of the most popular types of products available on the market:
Whey protein: a milk-derived protein source that may benefit women looking to lose weight, gain muscle and enhance strength. Quickly absorbed, dairy-based, it contains all the essential amino acids. The concentration of protein in whey powder is so much higher than any other options (60-70% higher than vegan protein powders).
Hemp protein: a vegan-friendly protein powder made from ground hemp seeds that’s high in protein and packed with beneficial nutrients like essential fatty acids and minerals. Best for women looking to increase their omega -3 and -6 fatty acid intake. However, it may cause bloating.
Rice protein: it is made by grinding up rice grains and treating them with an enzyme that separates the starch (carbohydrate) from the protein. Rice protein is considered a medium-digesting protein. It absorbs more slowly than whey (which is the speediest one on the market), but it’s faster than casein (the slowest-digesting protein). A great plant-based muscle-builder.
Pea protein: it can help build lean muscle mass and reduce hunger, both of which can stimulate weight loss. A great choice for vegans, pea protein is made by extracting the soluble protein from yellow split peas. Rich in fibre, it’s also a good choice if you suffer from bloating.
Soy protein: best for fitness fanatics, it’s also packed with vitamins B12 and B6 – which both help eradicate tiredness. It may increase bone strength in women, as well as counteracting the negative impacts menopause has on bones.
Do they really work?
Although several brands on the market may claim that their products help decrease body fat or promote weight loss, protein shakes shouldn’t be considered a magic solution.
Replacing meals with protein shakes may help you reduce your daily calories, which can help you lose weight – say Mayo Clinic‘s dietician Katherine Zeratsky– . But eventually, you will need to start eating solid food again, which may cause excess weight to return if you don’t choose wisely. And if you rely too heavily on protein shakes to replace regular meals, you’ll miss out on the nutritional benefits of whole foods. Since protein contains calories, consuming too much can actually make losing weight more difficult — especially if you drink protein shakes in addition to your usual diet, and you’re not exercising.
Remember, the key to losing weight is burning more calories than you consume. Choose healthy foods — such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean sources of protein — and include exercise in your daily routine to keep you fit and strong.