Birmingham, UK—Most people eat proteins unevenly throughout the day, according tonew researchfrom the University of Birmingham—but eating more protein at breakfast or lunchtime could help older people maintain muscle mass as they age.

The body’s mechanisms for producing new muscle require regular stimulation in the form of protein intake to function efficiently, notes a press release. The mechanisms are less efficient in older people, who need to eat more protein to get the same response as younger people. However, simply eating more protein isn’t enough: Older people also need to spread that intake evenly across all meals to ensure maximal benefits of protein on muscle mass.
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Researchers at the School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences at the University of Birmingham studied the dietary intake of young, middle-aged, and old-aged individuals, focusing on the amount, pattern, and source of protein consumed, the press release says. The results: While the majority of individuals across all three groups met or exceeded current guidelines for protein intake, the distribution across daily meals and snacks were varied.

The study involved 120 participants divided into three age groups, with average ages of 23, 51, and 77. All participants completed a food diary over a three-day period, weight out every single food item consumed. The most noticeable result: Older people were more likely than the other two groups to eat a lower-quality protein source, such as bread, at lunchtime.

Dr. Benoit Smeuninx, First Author of the study, said in the release: “Most people are reaching the Recommended Daily Allowance of protein, but our results show that a one-size-fits-all guideline for protein intake isn’t appropriate across all age groups. Simply saying older people should eat more protein isn’t really enough either. We need a more sophisticated and individualized approach that can help people understand when and how much protein to consume to support muscle mass.”