The benefits of protein intake and resistance training for the ageing athlete

Study Reviewed: “Effects of High Intensity Dynamic Resistance Exercise and Whey Protein Supplements on Osteosarcopenia in Older Men with Low Bone and Muscle Mass. Final Results of the Randomized Controlled FrOST Study.”

Key Takeaway - It is never too late to make a difference in your health. To quote the authors:

- “In general, exercise or more dedicated resistance exercise—ideally supported by dietary supplements—might be the most promising strategy to positively affect all physiologic and functional outcomes related to the osteopenia/sarcopenia/obesity complex.”.  

- By utilizing a resistance training program that is structured and combined with a higher protein diet including a whey supplement, it is becoming clear that our parents and soon-to-be us can improve health in many ways.

- Bone health, lean muscle mass can all be improved with strength training and increased protein.

- This age group (72+) is at risk of further deterioration in muscle mass, bone structure, and mobility if a similar intervention is not applied​.

Why is this important?

Whilst I appreciate this paper does not relate directly to triathletes, I think we can all accept that we will all become old at one point in our life or know some people (read parents or grandparents) that are older than us and this can be applied. Recently there has been a lot of interest in sarcopenia, sarcopenic obesity, and osteosarcopenia. For those unaccustomed to these words, they relate to progressive loss of muscle as we age, loss of muscle as we age whilst getting fatter, and loss of muscle with concurrent loss of bone density respectively. A pretty grim reading and a very real issue in today’s society and potentially a major health crisis in the making.

​What was studied?

This study was cool because they recruited a group of 74+-year-old men - think about your dad right about now. Forty-three in total and had them follow a resistance training program on machines over the course of 18 months. The training was performed twice a week and they periodized the training with changes to repetitions, sets, time under tension and speed of lifting in line with a training program that someone much younger may follow.

In conjunction, they had the experimental group consume a higher amount of protein (1.6g/kg/body weight/day) versus 1.2g/kg/body weight/day in the control group and utilized a whey protein powder to assist hitting the target. They also supplied Vitamin D3 in differing doses depending on their blood test results at the start of the study. They were supplied either 10,000 IU/week for those with lower than 30ng/mL or 2,500 IU/week for those with more than 40ng/mL.  This is much higher than the RDI for Vitamin D3.

Further baselines including grip strength, DEXA, Sarcopenic Z-score and gait velocity were assessed. They tracked compliance with the training program through a microchip, gated entry to the gym, food diary review (4 days diary at baseline, 28,54 & 78 weeks) and supplements ordering.

Study results

The outcomes were significant and favored the high protein, resistance-based group in a big way. The chance of it being chance was 1 in 1000 (P<0.001). The exercise-high protein group had marked improvement in their Z-score (improved bone mineral density in the lumbar spine & hip)and a significant increase in lean muscle mass. The control group actually lost muscle mass during the same period. The functional markers were moderate in effect and this may be a reflection of lack of specific training to improve walking speed. Vitamin D levels did not rise significantly by the end of the trial despite the higher than RDI recommendations.

Fuelin Perspective

A few limitations need to be acknowledged in this study. The load applied was often underpowered and this was likely due to the population and an unwillingness to lift very heavy weights. The older men gave it a good shot yet perhaps could have gone a bit harder according to the authors. Also, the food diary aspect was limited in terms of tracking food intake and its accuracy.

The inclusion of creatine monohydrate would have been an excellent supplement to include as well. Finally, it would have been nice to see an even higher protein intake to around 1.6-1.8g/kg/body weight. This amount has been shown to be the range most beneficial for muscle growth and repair, certainly in younger men.

All athletes on the Fuelin program are recommended a protein target range of 1.8-2.2g/kg/bodyweight based on their individual details.

Final Thought

Interestingly, despite 10,000 IU/week Vitamin D supplementation, the vast majority remained insufficient or deficient in Vitamin D3. This further provides evidence that the current recommendation of 400 IU/week is completely outdated and requires urgent review.

At Fuelin we recommend that all of our athletes get blood work to test their Vitamin D levels along with many other key biomarkers to get an understanding of their current levels. Personally, I recommend 50,000 IU/week to individuals who are deficient or insufficient for at least 8 weeks before having a follow-up blood test. Always consult your physician before making any changes to your own personal supplement regimen.

Reference: Effects of High Intensity Dynamic Resistance Exercise and Whey Protein Supplements on Osteosarcopenia in Older Men with Low Bone and Muscle Mass. Final Results of the Randomized Controlled FrOST Study -

Scott Tindal
May 6, 2024
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