Can protein shakes build muscle mass in seniors?

British scientists are giving seniors a reason to get active, even if they’re only starting to take up exercise in their golden years.
A study taking place in Fredericton is looking at whether protein shakes can help seniors build muscle mass. The Canadian Press

Researchers at the University of New Brunswick have launched a study to find out whether a protein drink can help build muscle – without exercise.

Danielle Bouchard and Martin Senechal are concentrating the study on adults over the age of 65.

“We have been hitting our heads against the wall to get older adults to gain significant muscle mass by doing exercise or anything else. It’s hard to get older adults to gain muscle mass after a certain age,” Bouchard said Thursday.

U.S.-based company Plasma Nutrition believes its product, called Moto Protein, has greater benefits than other protein shakes because it is more easily digested, said Bouchard.

“If you take more protein you gain more muscle mass and for older adults, having more muscle mass equals less risk of different chronic conditions, having less need for help and having more function. Being independent longer is the ultimate goal,” she said.

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Bouchard said the 12-week study will assess whether test subjects, between the ages of 65 and 80, develop more muscle mass and have the associated benefits such as improved balance and mobility.

She said they will be compared with a second group that will be given a regular protein drink.

Bouchard said while Moto Protein has been on the market for some time and is approved by Health Canada, it has never been tested to see if it has clinical implications for older folks.

“Are they more able to get out of a chair? Are they more able to keep their balance? Are they more able to lift weights? At the end, that’s what older adults are looking for is the result of gaining muscle mass.”

Bouchard said getting adequate protein is important for everyone, especially seniors and others who may be inactive.

“Some people will never hit the gym. So this might be another option to get some of the benefits you can have with exercise. But it’s only one portion. Exercise gives you multiple benefits and this protein shake would maybe give you one benefit of gaining more muscle mass.”

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The researchers are still looking for a few more men and women in the Fredericton area to take part in the study.

Bouchard said actual exercise will always provide more benefits, and she is hoping to conduct a follow-up study combining the protein shake and exercise.

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