Protein- an important nutrient for healthy ageing

Increasingly we are looking for ways to better our health, maintain our physical fitness and overall wellbeing. In the 2016 Ireland census, 37.2% were aged 45 and over, with this number only expected to grow with an ageing population. Health and wellbeing and our social and built environments are important factors that affect our health as we age.

A whole-of-life approach to ageing healthy, that it is never too early or never too late, to implement a healthy lifestyle can help improve the quality of our life and years spent in better health.

What happens to your body over 40?

Changes in muscle and bone

Muscle and bone mass and strength vary across the lifespan in younger years and into young adulthood the body is geared to grow and establish peak muscle and bone mass. However, after the age of 40 years, muscle mass may decline at a yearly rate of 1-2% and muscle strength 2-5% and by the age of 80 years, roughly 30% of muscle mass and 50% of muscle strength may be lost. Similarly, our bones after the age of 30 years can begin to lose density which can become more rapid and progressive after the age of 60 years.

Sarcopenia is the loss of skeletal muscle strength, mass, and function, a poorly recognised muscle-wasting disease

The importance of good nutrition and an active lifestyle

A balanced diet and regular meals combined with physical activity can improve your strength, help fight infection and help maintain a healthy weight


Protein in the diet directly signals muscle tissue to build and strengthen. As people age, muscles become more resistant to this signal, so they need to consume more protein to aid muscle growth.

Many medical professionals now recommend that over-40s consume 25–30 grams of high-quality protein at every meal to prevent Sarcopenia.

However, research has shown that one-third of older adults in Ireland have protein intakes below recommendations.

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland have recently recommended a more protein dense diet for older adults and that they should consume high-quality protein foods (e.g., fish, meat, poultry eggs) at a minimum of two meals per day in order to stimulate muscle protein synthesis.

The role of fish

Medical professionals recommend a high-quality protein intake at every meal to ward against Sarcopenia, and the consumption of either tuna, salmon, sardines or mackerel is particularly beneficial as they have a higher content of leucine, an essential amino acid that is of critical importance for the stimulation of muscle protein synthesis.

In fact, tinned tuna has the highest level of protein and leucine compared to most other protein foods (including beef, chicken and eggs) per typical serving!!!

John West products are naturally high in protein and are an easy and delicious way to consume protein at mealtimes.


Regular exercise is also a very important and effective way to prevent and reverse sarcopenia. Resistance exercises appear to be particularly effective, including using resistance bands, lifting weights or doing exercises like squats, push-ups and sit-ups. However, even simple exercises like walking is an important way in keeping active and healthy.


Press Statement Census 2016 Results Profile 3 – An Age Profile of Ireland

Goodpaster BH, Park SW, Harris TB, Kritchevsky SB, Nevitt M, Schwartz AV, Simonsick EM, Tylavsky FA, Visser M, Newman AB. The loss of skeletal muscle strength, mass, and quality in older adults: the health, ageing and body composition study. The Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences. 2006 Oct 1;61(10):1059-64.

Daly RM, Rosengren BE, Alwis G, Ahlborg HG, Sernbo I, Karlsson MK. Gender-specific age-related changes in bone density, muscle strength and functional performance in the elderly: a 10-year prospective population-based study. BMC geriatrics. 2013 Dec;13(1):1-9.

Janssen I, Heymsfield SB, Wang Z, Ross R. Skeletal muscle mass and distribution in 468 men and women aged 18–88 yr. Journal of applied physiology. 2000 Jul 1.

Dodds RM, Syddall HE, Cooper R, Benzeval M, Deary IJ, Dennison EM, Der G, Gale CR, Inskip HM, Jagger C, Kirkwood TB. Grip strength across the life course: normative data from twelve British studies. PloS one. 2014 Dec 4;9(12):e113637.

Mayhew AJ, Amog K, Phillips S, Parise G, McNicholas PD, de Souza RJ, Thabane L and Raina P (2019) The prevalence of sarcopenia in community-dwelling older adults, an exploration of differences between studies and within definitions: a systematic review and meta-analyses. Age Ageing, 48(1): 48–56

Experimental Gerontology Volume 65, May 2015, Pages 1-7

Kehoe L (2018) Nutritional status of older adults in Ireland. PhD Thesis. Cork: University College Cork

Nutrition for Sarcopenia J Clin Med Res 2015 Dec;7(12):926-31

Scientific recommendations for food based dietary guidelines for older adults in Ireland (FSAI 2021)

van Vliet S, Burd NA and van Loon LJ (2015) The Skeletal Muscle Anabolic Response to Plantversus Animal-Based Protein Consumption. J Nutr, 145(9): 1981–1991.

Bonewald L. Use it or lose it to age: A review of bone and muscle communication. Bone. 2019 Mar 1;120:212-8.

John West Ireland

Witten by Aileen Regan

Consultant Nutritionist