As part of the study, a team of researchers at the McGill University in Montreal examined 827 men and 914 women aged between 67 and 84 over a study period of three years. The experts evaluated the participants' muscle strength by measuring their hand grip as well as arm and leg strength.
On the other hand, the researchers measured the participants' mobility by assessing their walking speed and their ability to stand from a seated position. In addition, the scientists determined the subjects' protein intake by noting their food intake over two 24-hour periods.
The experts found that eating protein thrice daily was associated with increased muscle strength in both sexes. However, daily protein consumption was linked to better mobility in male participants alone. The researchers also noted that muscle strength decreased more than mobility over the study period.
Study author Stephanie Chevalier stressed the importance of creating three daily meals that would provide sufficient protein to facilitate muscle build up and ensure muscle strength in old age.
"Muscle protein is constantly being broken down and built back up. We need protein in our diet daily to make this happen. Eating protein throughout the day seems to be a means to stay in a positive protein balance longer than just eating most of your protein for the day in the evening meal. This research has also shown a benefit to spreading protein throughout meals over the day for increased muscle mass and strength benefits in active individuals and adults," outside expert and dietetic educator Lona Sandon explained in a Health Day article.
The recent findings were reflective of a previous study published in 2015, which underscored that importance of higher protein intake among middle-aged and older adults. (Related: As you age, build muscle with double the protein.)
To carry out the study, the researchers examined 20 healthy adults aged 52 to 75 years old. The participants were randomly assigned into four groups. The first two groups followed the recommended daily protein intake, each having either an even or an uneven protein distribution across meals. In contrast, the other two groups doubled the recommended amount.
The researchers found that protein distribution across meals did not make any difference in muscle mass. However, increased protein intake appeared to have a significant impact on muscle build up.
"Although there was no clear effect of the pattern of protein intake in our study, we observed a definitive effect of a higher amount of protein intake in mixed meals on whole body net protein balance and muscle protein synthesis. Whole body net protein balance was greater with protein intake above recommended dietary allowance," the authors wrote in the American Journal of Physiology—Endocrinology and Metabolism.
An article posted on the San Francisco Chronicle website features a list of healthy protein sources that may greatly benefit older adults.