By Christine Kasum Sexton
The short answer is yes. Protein deficiency, as well as lack of exercise, can contribute to age-related muscle loss. Vegan diets are no more likely to be protein deficient than are non-vegan diets. As you age, however, you likely require fewer calories in your diet, so it is important to make sure that the foods you eat are nutrient-dense and protein-rich.
Age-related muscle loss is extremely common. After the age of 50, most people lose about 1-2% of their muscle per year1,2. Rates of muscle loss in aging are higher in men than in women3,4. The name given to this loss of muscle that occurs with aging is sarcopenia. Sarcopenia can significantly impact quality of life by decreasing mobility and increasing risk of falls.
Some research has suggested that slightly higher protein intake, coupled with resistance training, can lead to improved muscle mass in older men5. The evidence suggests that an appropriate range of protein intake for older vegans is between 0.36 and 0.57 grams per pound of body weight per day. Using this range, a 65 year old vegan man who weighs 180 pounds would need between 65 and 103 grams of protein per day. You can definitely get this range of protein while following a vegan diet. Choose foods that are good sources of protein such as soybeans, quinoa, lentils, black beans, kidney beans, tempeh, seitan, and textured vegetable protein products such as vegetable burgers and vegetable sausage. Limit empty sources of calories such as soda and “junk” foods like chips or sweets. Some research has also suggested that sarcopenia may be slowed by consuming some protein with each meal (rather than carbohydrates at one meal, and protein at another, for example)6.
Lack of regular exercise is a significant factor contributing to age-related muscle loss. Men and women who are less physically active have less muscle mass, and are more likely to experience falls. Resistance training has been clearly shown to lead to increases in both muscle strength and muscle mass. The term resistance training refers to types of exercise that work to increase muscle strength and endurance through repetition of exercises using weights, weight machines, or resistance bands. No other intervention has proven to be as effective at reversing age-related muscle loss as resistance training. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services recommends that older adults perform muscle-strengthening activities at least 2 days each week. When resistance training is used, they recommend one set of 8 to 12 repetitions of each exercise. For maximum effectiveness, exercises should be done that involve all of the major muscle groups.
The sample menu below shows how easy it can be for a vegan to obtain a healthy amount of protein. This menu provides approximately 2000 calories and 92 grams of protein.
Oatmeal made with soymilk and raisins
2 links of veggie sausage
Vegan black bean burrito on whole wheat tortilla with avocado, soy cheese, and tomato
Strawberry soy yogurt
Stir-fry with mixed vegetables, tofu, and brown rice
1. Hughes VA, Frontera WR, Roubenoff R, Evans WJ, Singh MA. Longitudinal changes in body composition in older men and women: role of body weight change and physical activity. Am J Clin Nutr. 2002;76(2):473-81.
3. Gallagher D, Ruts E, Visser M, Heshka S, Baumgartner RN, Wang J, Pierson RN, Pi-Sunyer FX, Heymsfield SB. Weight stability masks sarcopenia in elderly men and women. Amer J of Physio – Endocr & Metab. 2000;279(2):E366-E375.
5. Haub MD, Wells AM, Tarnopolsky MA, Campbell WW. Effect of protein source on resistive-training-induced changes in body composition and muscle size in older men. Am J Clin Nutr. 2002; 76(3): 511–517.
6. Paddon-Jones D, Rasmussen BB. Dietary protein recommendations and the prevention of sarcopenia. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2009; 12(1): 86–90.
For more nutrition information, see http://www.vrg.org/nutrition/
The contents of this website and our other publications, including Vegetarian Journal, are not intended to provide personal medical advice. Medical advice should be obtained from a qualified health professional. We often depend on product and ingredient information from company statements. It is impossible to be 100% sure about a statement, info can change, people have different views, and mistakes can be made. Please use your best judgment about whether a product is suitable for you. To be sure, do further research or confirmation on your own.