Study shows adding milk protein to breakfast and lunch benefits seniors

By Jim Cornall

- Last updated on GMT

Prof Philip Jakeman, FHI, University of Limerick, was the lead investigator on the study
Prof Philip Jakeman, FHI, University of Limerick, was the lead investigator on the study

Related tags Meal functional beverage beverage

Protein is a critical nutrient for building and maintaining muscle, and new research published in the January edition of The Journal of Nutrition has found that eating an even amount of protein at each meal throughout the day might be better than the current practice of having most of the protein at dinner time. 

One of the health challenges associated with aging is the loss of lean tissue mass or muscle.

Food for Health Ireland (FHI) funded the study with a focus on commercializing the results of the research through development of the specialized product that was created and given to participants.

Jens Bleiel, CEO of FHI, told DairyReporter that the idea behind the study was what can be done to improve the lives of elderly people.

“Our research was about mobility, and how can we do research that enables elderly people to live independently for longer, and a lot of that has to do with lean tissue mass and functionality of their muscles,”​ Bleiel said.

Participants all active and independent

Sixty participants, aged between 50 and 70, completed the six-month intervention study.

Prof Philip Jakeman, FHI University of Limerick and lead investigator on the study, told DR that the study was about two-thirds women, after narrowing down 350 respondents to about 150.  

Jakeman said it was important that the participants were all independent.

“In healthy aging, we're trying to keep healthy, active people active. These are active, ambulant, freely independent people.” 

Two meals supplemented with beverage

The volunteers consumed, at breakfast and lunch - traditionally the two low-protein containing meals of the day - either a beverage containing the newly formulated high-quality, milk-based protein or one with similar calories but no protein.

The portions given to all of the participants were proportionate to a median body mass.

The quality and amount of protein intake per meal in the intervention group was elevated to a level considered optimal for protein synthesis, providing the platform for the observed change in whole body lean tissue mass.

Most protein is consumed at dinner time, which is ok, but it comes often with a lack of protein at breakfast and at lunchtime,”​ Bleiel told DR.

“[The volunteers] had their normal dinner routine, which you can't change, but this was to supplement in the morning and at lunchtime.”

Repetition leads to change

Jakeman told DR that the two smaller doses people get in the morning and at lunchtime, “are probably sub-optimal to stimulate the process of a nutrient stimulation to muscle protein synthesis, and they're only getting one effective dose per day to augment the lean tissue mass, or to prevent the decrease in lean tissue mass. That would give you about 300 opportunities in a year.”

Add in the extra two meals per day with protein, he said, “you bring that up to about 1,000 opportunities a year.” 

“It's not a case that you're going to alter this process massively in any one session. It's a fractional change repeated and repeated day after day after day.”

Jakeman explained that there is a small change in daily life in the loss of protein from the age of about 40, “which leads to about a 5% decline in your lean tissue mass per decade thereafter. So what you're trying to do is ameliorate that.

“On completion of the study, the between-group difference in the amount of whole body lean tissue (muscle) mass was an impressive +0.6kg (1.3 pounds) in favor of those who consumed the milk-based protein supplement.”

Five industry partners

Bleiel told DR that FHI works with five industry partners (Carbery, Dairygold, Glanbia Ingredients Ireland Ltd., Kerry Group and Ornua).

Jakeman added that the companies have first option to take out a licensing agreement on the product that was developed.

“[The companies] get a license, so in this case, from the University of Limerick, and they can commercialize that in the global market in their respective market segments,” Bleiel said.

Jakeman told DR, It would appear we firstly have a novel formula, the composition is novel, and the way in which we applied the supplement is also novel. What we're trying to do here is get a very even distribution of the protein intake across the main meals of the day.”  

He added, “The clear indication would be that it would be profitable for us to screen a milk protein which had a much higher bioactive than the ones we've currently been using, and to test the effectiveness of the new proteins that are generated under FHI.

“That would have one of two effects, either you're going to get a better result, or you get the same result with less material. There are pros and cons to both approaches.”

Drawing from elite athletes program

He said that, commercially, there are huge parallels with sport.

“An older person is blunted in their response, so they don't react quite as well, or to a greater magnitude to a nutrient feed, but you can overcome that if you have a more potent bioactive. We're learning from what we do in the elite athletes program and applying it directly to healthy aging, which is a great way to look at it.

“All the growth is in aging. The key is, if you can keep people independent, the economics of that is huge. But you have to start early. Trying to reverse the process at 70 is much harder than trying to delay the process from 40 so that you get to 70 in a much better state.” 

Norton C, Toomey CM, McCormack W, Francis P, Kerin E, Saunders J and Jakeman P.

Protein supplementation at breakfast and lunch for 24 weeks beyond habitual intakes increases whole body lean tissue mass in healthy older adults.

Journal of Nutrition​ 2016 Jan;146(1):65-9.

doi: 10.3945/jn.115.219022.

Epub 2015 Nov 18;

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