06 Oct 2022

Study finds benefit of exercise combined with whole food high protein diet for older adults

DCU study finds that combining exercise with a whole food high protein diet provides  older adults with a physical boost

DCU study finds that combining exercise with a whole food high protein diet provides older adults with a physical boost

New research from DCU has found that by combining strength and aerobic training with whole foods rich in protein as part of a balanced diet can positively impact the physical health of older adults, specifically the strength and function of their legs.

The DCU study examined whether whole foods rich in protein, consumed on a daily basis, in parallel with aerobic and strength based exercises could provide a physical benefit. The programme was undertaken by 56 adults aged 65 plus over a 12 week period. Researchers looked for impact on strength, physical function, the amount of fat and muscle and whether the exercise training took place with or without the dietary change.

Led by Dr Brendan Egan, DCU School of Health and Human Performance, it found that the mixture of aerobic and strength training improved strength and physical function in older adults. More importantly, an increase in daily protein intake, specifically from whole foods such as dairy, meat, fish and eggs, was beneficial for increasing their leg strength and muscle mass.

The findings are published in Frontiers in Sports and Active Living as part of a research series topic Dietary Protein for Performance, Health and Disease Management.

Overall, the research team noted that while aerobic and strength training were beneficial, there was an added advantage when combining all of this activity with an increase in protein, from whole food sources and when consumed daily.

Up until now, previous studies have typically looked at the use of powdered protein supplements as a source of additional protein in older adults. Furthermore, there is also very little research into the strength, physical function or body composition outcomes in older adults after undertaking concurrent aerobic and strength training when combined with a specific dietary intervention.

The latest findings from DCU will be of particular interest to clinicians working in the field of exercise prescription, rehabilitation and nutritional care of older adults especially given the increasing interest in whole food approaches to increasing dietary protein intake in at-risk populations.

Speaking about the findings, Dr Brendan Egan said: “There is little doubt about the benefits of exercise training for older adults. Our research has been particularly interested in how these benefits affect strength and physical function. This latest study demonstrates that supporting such training with a higher protein intake, and getting that increase in protein from whole foods such as dairy, meat, fish and eggs provide additional benefits compared to exercise training alone.”

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