Two Things We Can Do To Stave Off Muscle Loss As We Age: Exercise And Eat Beans

Dietary Protein And Resistance Training Effects On Muscle And Body Composition In Older Persons, Journal of the American College of Nutrition, December 2007.

The regular performance of resistance exercises and the habitual ingestion of adequate amounts of dietary protein from high-quality sources are two important ways for older persons to slow the progression of and treat sarcopenia, the age-related loss of skeletal muscle mass and function.

Resistance training can help older people gain muscle strength, hypertrophy muscle, and increase whole body fat-free mass. It can also help frail elderly people improve balance and physical functioning capabilities.

Findings from controlled feeding studies show that older persons retain the capacity to metabolically adjust to lower protein intakes by increasing the efficiency of nitrogen retention and amino acid utilization.

Most of the limited research suggests that resistance training-induced improvements in body composition, muscle strength and size, and physical functioning are not enhanced when older people who habitually consume adequate protein increase their protein intake by either increasing the ingestion of higher-protein foods or consuming protein-enriched nutritional supplements.

So, protein is important as we age. But more protein than what we’ve been eating as younger adults isn’t necessarily better. In fact, if that protein is coming from animal foods, it’s a problem, for two reasons:

  • Animal foods contain more saturated fat and saturated fat increases inflammation.
  • Animal foods push tissues to a more acidic state owing to their greater amount of sulfur-containing amino acids.

Both inflammation and mild acidosis contribute to muscle wasting.

How to get protein on a vegan diet? Eat beans.

The DRI (Dietary Reference Intake) for protein is 0.8 g/kg (grams of protein per kilogram of healthy body weight). That’s for someone who is relatively sedentary. Athletes, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, or people with physically demanding jobs need more.

  • A 120 pound (54.4 kg) person needs about 44 grams of protein a day.
  • A 180 pound (81.6 kg) person needs about 65 grams of protein a day.

You would be hard pressed to find a non-animal food that provides the amount of protein that beans do, in typical serving sizes. (Click to enlarge. Data for the chart can be found at the bottom of this post.)

Lentils … 9 grams in a measly half-cup serving. Not even a large egg beats that (at 6 grams).

3 thoughts on “Two Things We Can Do To Stave Off Muscle Loss As We Age: Exercise And Eat Beans

  1. mboydp

    Wow, that’s something about soybeans. Still, putting together 50 grams of protein daily is probably difficult. But perhaps all those beans will help my IBS-C. With drinking at least a half-gallon of water daily. And veggies, fruits, grains.


  2. Marj

    Thank you for the chart, I didn’t realize that soy beans are that much higher in protein. Good to know how they all come out. Love beans and lentils and eat them fairly often, maybe not enough. Easy to prepare, not expensive, what’s not to like? To change the subject, the tale of the afflicted ant is a depressing one, I wonder if this is something new due to changes in the environment or if it’s been going on for a long time.


    1. Bix Post author

      I recall David Attenborough talking about the ants and the fungus. But who knows how climate change will affect these relationships. I have to say … that’s a tough way to go.



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