This article was checked for nutritional accuracy by: Kathryn Bubeck, Registered Dietician
If you’re past the age of 40, then you may have already begun to notice a decline in muscle mass. It’s estimated that most men lose between 3 and 5 percent of their muscle mass each decade.
This ongoing process is known as sarcopenia and it is associated with several health problems in seniors. Sarcopenia can increase insulin resistance, lead to chronic fatigue, and contribute to conditions like rheumatoid arthritis in women.
Sarcopenia is a serious problem, but there are ways that you can fight against its effects. Regular exercise is one clear way to promote muscle growth even as you age. You can boost the effectiveness of exercise by adding protein drinks to your daily routine. They are mixed ready-to-drink (RTD) and contain enough protein to encourage muscle growth and reduce the impact of sarcopenia.
I’ve compiled some helpful information for understanding protein drinks and their potential benefits. At the end, you’ll find a list of my 7 favorite protein drinks for seniors.
Should Seniors Use Protein Drinks?
People in various age ranges can benefit from the muscle-building properties of protein drinks. Protein actually performs several different functions inside the body. As protein is digested it breaks down into amino acids. The body produces some non-essential amino acids, but there are 9 essential amino acids that can only come from foods. Complete proteins generally come from foods like poultry, eggs, fish, and dairy.
Unfortunately, not every senior can eat all of the fish or poultry that is required to provide the recommended amount of proteins. A lack of adequate protein can have a significant impact on your immune system. That’s where protein powders and shakes come into play.
Protein powder is one viable option for seniors who need to add more protein to their daily routine. But you may benefit more from a full RTD protein drink due to the additional vitamins and nutrients that they contain. Some protein drinks can help address the causes of poor nutrition in older adults by including essential vitamins and nutrients.
If you suffer from dietary restrictions that prevent you from eating all of the whole food sources you need for daily protein, then it’s likely you are lacking in other nutrients as well. You may be missing out on key vitamins like B12, which are commonly found in the same foods that are high in protein.
The beneficial effects of protein supplements in seniors have been studied extensively in the last few years. A 2017 study showed that protein supplements helped improve muscle strength, aerobic capacity, and physical function in seniors more than just exercise alone.
Benefits of Protein Drinks for Seniors and Older Adults
Muscle mass is the first thing that comes to mind when we think of proteins. And that is an excellent benefit considering the harmful effects of sarcopenia in seniors. Protein foods in addition to protein drinks can help stimulate protein synthesis in muscles throughout the day. Experts recommend a daily intake of between 1.2 and 2 grams of protein per 2.2 pounds of body weight, which is actually higher than the daily recommended value provided by the Food and Nutrition Board.
The average weight of an American man above the age of 60 is 194 pounds. That would mean a recommended daily allowance of between 105 and 176 grams of protein. If you were consuming complete proteins from eggs, that would require between 17 and 29 eggs per day. Other options include 30 ounces of salmon or 70 ounces of Greek yogurt.
These amounts will vary based on your weight, but the point remains the same: it’s difficult to get all of your recommended protein from food sources alone. It’s even more difficult if you are a senior who struggles to eat whole foods or who has dietary restrictions due to a medical condition. The best way to add the protein you’re lacking is through an easy-to-consume protein drink.
Muscle mass isn’t the only factor that is affected by your protein intake. Protein is known to improve satiety, which can make it easier to lose unwanted weight.
Potential Disadvantages of Protein Drinks for Seniors and Older Adults
It is entirely possible to consume too much protein on a daily basis, which would lead to unwanted side effects and risks. It’s important that you calculate your daily protein intake using either the standard values of 0.8 grams per 2.2 pounds or the slightly higher recommendation of 1.2 grams per 2.2 grams. Exceeding this limit by too much will begin to cause harm that outweighs the benefits.
The potential for weight gain is a somewhat ironic disadvantage of consuming too much protein. If your body consumes more protein than it is able to use it will store the excess as fat and excrete the unused amino acids. This is why diets that rely heavily on replacing carbohydrates with protein have been shown to lead to weight gain.
If you’re consistently gaining weight that isn’t muscle mass while using protein drinks, then it’s a sign that something is wrong with your diet. You may need to decrease the number of drinks or protein sources you consume each day.
What Should Seniors Look For When Protein Drinks?
Not all protein drinks are created equal. Brands try to stay competitive by using different protein sources, adding extra ingredients, changing the flavor, or lowering the price. These are all factors you’ll want to consider when you are shopping for your next protein drink.
1. Amount of Protein
The amount of protein in each serving is going to influence how many times you consume the drink during the day. It may not seem like there’s a big difference between a drink with 15 grams of protein and one with 20 grams of protein, but there is. Each of those drinks will come with its own calorie count. So, try to maximize the amount of protein without increasing overall calories.
2. Additional Nutrients
It’s not uncommon for seniors to lack several of the nutrients and vitamins they need to meet the recommended daily allowance. One way to supplement these nutrients into your diet is by purchasing protein drinks that are packed with additional nutrients. There are many drinks that are labeled as “nutrition drinks” that contain more than enough protein to fall into the “protein drink” category. But you also want to avoid consuming too much of any given nutrient.
3. Quality of the Ingredients
The protein and the various nutrients can come from a variety of sources. The drink itself will also contain a liquid that serves as the base. You may want to avoid drinks that contain gluten, milk, or soy if you need to eliminate those for health reasons . You might also prefer protein that comes from all-natural or organic sources.
What Are the Best Protein Drinks for Seniors and Older Adults?
So, based on all the details and information above, here are some of the best supplemental protein drinks and shakes for seniors and the elderly.
1. Fairlife Core Power High Protein Shake
- 26 grams of protein in a single 14-ounce container
- Made with real milk and tastes delicious
- Contains a healthy amount of vitamin D and vitamin A
- Has a chalky aftertaste
- Lacks a variety of additional nutrients
If you love chocolate milk, then it doesn’t get much better than a Core Power high protein shake from Fairlife. It comes in a 14-ounce serving size with 26 grams of protein, 5 grams of sugar, 8 grams of carbs, and 170 calories.
The drink is made from ultra-filtered milk. That means it’s an acceptable protein source for seniors who suffer from lactose intolerance.
Fairlife is considered a complete protein source because it includes all 9 essential amino acids that the body requires. If you’re in a serious bind for protein you can upgrade to their Fairlife Elite with 42 grams of protein.
It contains a small variety of additional vitamins and minerals, including vitamin D, calcium, potassium, and vitamin A. It also doesn’t hurt that it tastes like a glass of delicious chocolate milk.
2. Kate Farms Organic Nutrition Shake
These delicious and convenient plant-based shakes come in flavors (vanilla, chocolate, and coffee) with USDA Organic protein and powerful phytonutrients for optimal health.
- 16 g of USDA organic pea protein
- High percentage of phytonutrients sourced from various nutrient-rich foods like green tea, acai, turmeric, and broccoli.
- Reputation for using the best ingredients for high-quality nourishment that keep your aging body fed, energized, and healthy.
- It comes in three flavors: vanilla, coffee, and chocolate.
These plant-based nutrition drinks from Kate Farms are always at the top of my list. They are made with only the best, natural, plant-based ingredients and are delicious too.
The folks at Kate Farms sent me some to try and I was surprised at how much I liked them! They didn’t have that chalky, gritty after taste that some protein drinks tend to have. I like them so much, I have become a customer myself!
These shakes contain 18 grams of USDA organic pea protein – no, that doesn’t mean they taste like peas. You actually get three flavor choices: vanilla, chocolate, and coffee. Pea protein is more easily digested than many other proteins you’ll find in these types of drinks and shakes.
The best part is, in addition to stomach-satisfying protein, these shakes are packed with phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals and lots of “good for you” stuff. Plus, all this goodness is made without gluten or dairy. And, did I mention they are delicious too?
3. Aloha Chocolate Sea Salt Plant-Based Protein Drink
Aloha is designed for seniors who want to step away from animal-based proteins and enjoy natural, vegan alternatives. They are also completely soy-free, dairy-free, and gluten-free. Seniors with dietary sensitivities or allergies can rest assured that the ingredient list won’t cause them discomfort. Aloha drinks are USDA certified organic, vegan, and non-GMO. That’s a lot of certifications for one protein drink.
This protein drink comes with 180 calories, 20 grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber, and 5 grams of sugar. That’s slightly less protein than the Fairlife alternative, but with the added benefit of natural, organic ingredients.
It’s also perfectly safe for seniors who are lactose intolerant. It uses coconut milk as a base and gets its protein from brown rice and pea protein. It’s sweetened with organic coconut sugar to boost the flavor.
4. Body Fortress High Protein Shake
- 40 grams of protein is higher than most alternatives
- Only a single gram of sugar
- Gluten-free ingredients
- Only 180 calories means it won’t be a filling meal replacement option
- It’s not the best tasting protein drink available
It’s common for protein drinks to have between 15 and 30 grams of protein. Body Fortress is one of the few brands not afraid to kick things up a notch with an impressive 40 grams of protein per drink.
Of course, you’ll need to keep a close track of how much protein you consume throughout the day from food sources. You don’t want to overindulge and experience any of the negative side effects of too much protein.
Each shake is 11 ounces and contains 180 calories and only 1 gram of sugar. That significantly reduced sugar ratio does affect the taste, but it makes it a somewhat healthier option for seniors who need to limit their sugar intake.
5. Dymatize ISO100 Clear Protein Drink
This protein drink is unique in a few different ways. The first and most obvious difference is that it is clear. This is a stark contrast to the white and brown protein drinks we’ve covered already.
Second, it contains no fats, no sugars, and no carbs. This is an excellent protein source for seniors who are trying to stay fit and avoid putting on extra weight.
The drink contains 25 grams of whey protein isolate which tends to be better tolerated by lactose-intolerant people. The whey isolate is absorbed quickly and gets to work inside the body immediately. It’s very popular among athletes and seniors who are trying to stay active at the gym.
6. BOOST High Protein Drink
- 27 different vitamins and minerals included with the protein
- Vitamin D and calcium help combat the effects of sarcopenia
- Can be used as a meal replacement
- Can lead to weight gain if not carefully managed due to higher calorie count
- 15 grams of sugar per serving
This is the first protein drink on the list to focus on delivering a wide variety of nutrients in addition to its protein source. It contains 20 grams of protein along with 27 different minerals and vitamins. It has a high concentration of vitamin D, calcium, vitamin B12, vitamin K1, and potassium. With 240 calories per bottle, this protein drink has the potential to serve as a meal replacement drink for seniors as well as a protein supplement boost.
7. Pure Protein Chocolate Protein Shake
- Ingredients to boost the immune system
- A great protein source for seniors on the ketogenic diet
- Milk isolate protein has fewer calories than traditional milk sources
- Shake comes in poor packaging that can easily rip
- Some customers complain about a “chalky” aftertaste
This is one of the most well-rounded protein drinks on the list. It contains 30 grams of protein and a surplus of vitamins A, E, D, and C. Many of the additional nutrients and vitamins were chosen to improve immune health in seniors. It is made with milk protein isolate but is considered safe for people who suffer from lactose intolerance. It’s also compatible with the ketogenic diet.
Summary and Final Recommendations
You have a lot of options for adding extra protein to your diet. If you’re a senior battling with sarcopenia, then it’s important to find a reliable source of protein as soon as possible.
Choosing one of these safe, healthy protein drinks will be a lot easier than adding 10 or 20 eggs to your meal plan each day. Take a look at your current dietary habits to decide if you need a drink that is primarily protein or one that includes additional nutrients, vitamins, and minerals.
About the Expert
Because I strive to provide you with accurate information, I had this article fact-checked by Kathryn Bubeck, RD, LDN a registered dietician in North Carolina. She has dual bachelor degrees in Nutrition and Health Behavior Management and is currently pursuing a medical degree with a focus on oncology.