Regular protein shakes reduce frailty in older women, study finds

Higher dietary protein reduces the "risk of frailty by maintaining muscle strength and balance"

Woman sitting outside drinking a protein shake
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Most of us associate protein shakes with muscle building, which makes sense since protein is an essential component of post-workout muscle recovery. But researchers are finding that it's just as important for staying active and healthy in our older years too.

Despite its reputation for helping along muscle growth, the best protein powders for women are suitable for a range of fitness goals and come in various flavors. Fortunately, then, adding protein into your diet doesn't have to be an unpleasant experience.

Even still, most of the discussion around your protein intake is focused on exercise rather than the macronutrient's wider effects. That's why a study looking at protein uptake in older women published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society is so interesting.

According to the study, "higher [protein] intake is associated with better physical function and performance and slower rates of decline in postmenopausal women" which reduces the "risk of frailty by maintaining functional status, muscle strength, and balance."

To reach these conclusions, the researchers explored data collected by the Women's Health Initiative Observational Study (WHIOS), a long-running research project launched in 1993 with over 93,000 participants aged 50-79 when they signed up. Alongside this, a Clinical Trials (CT) group was willing to join research projects, adding a further 68,132 women to the study. 

Woman drinking a protein shake

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Consequently, the researchers had access to a large set of participants with data stretching back almost two decades. To assess the women's physical activity, they considered self-reported ability to do everyday activities.

This included climbing stairs, carrying groceries, bending, walking, and bathing, tracked over an average of 11 years. Then there were physical performance measures, including grip strength, chair stands, and timed walks.

After analyzing the data, the team found that the women consuming the most protein had physical function levels 14% higher than those with the lowest intake. Incredibly, the self-reported decline in physical function was 52% lower in the high-protein group.

Similar links were found for the measured areas of physical function. The higher protein women initially had higher grip strength with a slower decline and could perform more chair sits at the start of the study, with a more gradual decrease over time.

As the study used self-reported dietary data, the authors couldn't say the ideal amount of protein you should eat per day. However, recent research showed that two daily 25g portions of whey protein could fight the effects of aging.

Protein clearly plays a vital role in how our bodies adapt to our older years, but maintaining muscle strength through exercise is just as crucial. You don't have to lift weights, though, as a set of the best resistance bands can help.

These are an affordable, lightweight alternative to weights, offering a low-impact way to develop muscle, stretch, and aid recovery. Plus, you can use them during yoga or Pilates classes. All you need is one of the best yoga mats to get started. 

James Frew
Fitness Editor

James is a London-based journalist and Fitness Editor at Fit&Well. He has over five years experience in fitness tech, including time spent as the Buyer’s Guide Editor and Staff Writer at technology publication MakeUseOf. In 2014 he was diagnosed with a chronic health condition, which spurred his interest in health, fitness, and lifestyle management.

In the years since, he has become a devoted meditator, experimented with workout styles and exercises, and used various gadgets to monitor his health. In recent times, James has been absorbed by the intersection between mental health, fitness, sustainability, and environmentalism. When not concerning himself with health and technology, James can be found excitedly checking out each week’s New Music Friday releases.