Share this content

I’m writing this from the annual meeting of the American College of Nutrition in San Antonio, Texas. I presented data from my clinic on nutrients that help you shrink arterial plaque. One of my favorite presentations at the meeting was on building muscle mass by Elena Volpi, MD, PhD.

Muscle mass is absolutely essential to health. For older adults (over age 60), adding more muscle mass decreases the risk for falls, fractures, death, and loss of independence. Adding more muscle helps to ensure you recover better from infections, and from any potential surgeries.

Muscle mass also burns calories. If you add one pound of muscle and do everything else the same for the year, you’ll burn an extra 40 calories every day, meaning you will lose about 4 pounds of fat, which is the volume of 1 football. In contrast, if you are losing muscle (by not exercising regularly or from a prolonged illness), not only are you losing your health savings account (protein reserves), but for every pound of muscle you lose, you will likely gain fat (up to 4 pounds of pure body fat in 1 year). Muscle mass also makes you look sexy. That shapely definition is what makes people look great!

Dr. Volpi shared data on how much protein older adults need to build muscle mass. Her research shows that unlike younger adults who can build muscle with 15 to 20 grams of muscle per meal, older adults don’t store any significant protein unless they get close to 30 grams of protein per meal.  The sad reality is that older adults eat only 12 grams of protein for breakfast, 15 grams for lunch, and 32 grams for dinner. Meeting your protein needs at only one meal per day is just not enough. The bottom line is that to build and even to maintain muscle mass, older adults should be aiming for 30 grams of protein 3 times a day.

Protein content per serving:

Oatmeal (1 cup cooked, steel-cut) = 7 grams protein (truly inadequate, so you’d need to add 20 grams of whey or pea protein powder to get enough with a bowl of oatmeal)

Omelet (2 eggs) = 14 grams protein (you’d need 3 eggs to reach the minimum 21 grams per meal)

5 ounces of cooked animal protein:

  • chicken breast (44 grams)
  • chicken thigh (38 grams)
  • turkey (white meat = 43 grams, dark meat = 40 grams)
  • sirloin (42 grams)
  • tenderloin (35 grams)
  • hamburger (30 grams)
  • salmon, coho (34 grams)
  • tilapia (35 grams)
  • shrimp (29 grams)
  • crab (31 grams)
  • scallops (20 grams)
  • pork tenderloin (42 grams)
  • pork chop (42 grams)

1 cup of

  • black beans (12 grams)
  • chile con carne (24 grams)
  • chile con turkey (21 grams)
  • veggie chile (13 grams)
  • 2% yogurt (organic, plain) 13 grams
  • 2% Greek yogurt (organic, plain) 21 grams
  • 2% cottage cheese (organic) 31 grams
  • cow’s milk (8 grams)
  • soy milk (7 grams)
  • almond milk (1 gram)

From this, you can see that oatmeal won’t meet your needs without adding protein powder. Instead of 2 eggs for breakfast, you’d need at least 3 eggs per person. Even 4 ounces of any cooked meat or poultry would be enough, although please skip the hamburger (ground carcass) and select a cut of real meat. Servings of fish, crab, and shrimp should be 5 ounces, and for scallops you’d need 6 ounces to meet your optimal intake needs.

Please remember that ideally you should be getting wild seafood, grass-fed and organic fed animal protein to ensure it is clean and free of hormones, chemicals, and pesticides.

Your challenge is to ensure that you get at least 30 grams of protein at two meals per day to maintain your muscle mass, and preferably at 3 meals every day, especially if you need to build more muscle.

To calculate your 24 hour protein requirements, most people need 0.45 grams of protein every day per 1 pound of body weight (1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight). But if you are trying to lose weight, then I often suggest 0.64 grams of protein daily per pound of weight (1.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight). As an example, if Mary weighs 154 pounds, she needs (154 x 0.45) at least 69 grams of protein daily. But if she is trying to lose weight, then she should get (154 x 0.64) at least 99 grams of protein daily.

Often the easiest way to ensure you get enough protein is to add a couple of protein shakes daily, with either whey protein or pea protein. A sample protein smoothie with 30 grams of protein is listed below. I hope this info helps you ensure you enjoy adequate clean protein in your diet.

Protein Smoothie Recipe:  (31 grams of protein)

  • Whey protein, (25 grams) most protein powders need 2.5 scoops whey protein
  • Frozen blueberries, 1 cup
  • Chia seeds, (or ground flax seed) 1 Tbsp
  • Almond milk, 12 ounces
  • Frozen spinach, 1/3 cup


Add ingredients to a blender, and blend for two minutes until smooth. Enjoy!

I wish you the best of health!

Steven Masley, MD, FAHA, FACN, FAAFP, CNS

PS: Watch for our new Heart Shake® available next week. We have designed a new Heart Shake® protein powder to help you lose weight, build/maintain muscle mass, and support your heart.