Ask a Dietitian > Protein and energy: 2 key nutrients that nourish residents and keep them active & independent

Protein and energy: 2 key nutrients that nourish residents and keep them active & independent

July 9, 2018

What do you love doing? It might be catching up with close friends, cooking a delicious meal, gardening, playing your favourite sport or planning your next holiday.

What if you didn’t have the strength and energy to get up and go do the things you love everyday? This is quite often the case for aged care residents and it has a huge impact on their physical and emotional well being.

However, this can change with the help of food and its nutrients! 2 nutrients in particular; Protein & Energy. Protein provides the body with the strength to get up, and energy provides the body with the fuel to get going.

Strength to stay up: Protein

Protein helps support muscle growth and helps the residents to keep up their strength so they can take part in simple daily activities. These muscles need care and attention.

But protein’s about more than just muscles.  It’s also the building block our body needs to build, repair and support cells, including immune cells, skin cells, hormones and enzymes.  

Not enough protein

Not consuming enough protein can cause your residents problems with their mobility and stability. It also delays wound healing, causes oedema, increases their risk of fractures on falling, and puts them at more risk of infections.  

How much protein is enough?

Recommended Daily Intakes (RDI) are set to meet around 97-98 % of people in that age group.  For older people, using the RDI is the right choice.

RDI for men aged 70 years or older 81g/day, or 1.07g/kg (1)

RDI for women aged 70 years or older 57g/day or 0.94g/kg (1)

Older people need 25g-30g of protein from each of their 3 main meals a day (2), as they are less efficient at absorbing and synthethising the protein they consume.

When to eat protein?

Spreading protein intake out over the day is one way to make the most of proteins muscle building benefits.  Try dividing your residents daily protein requirements between the three meals, or enticing them with high protein snacks.  

Let’s take Tom as an example.  

However, Tom should still eat the 81g/day protein RDI as this will give him enough protein to help build his muscles and strength back up so he can get back to his normal weight.

What does this look over the day for Tom?

A daily amount of 81g protein for Tom, over 3 meals a day would be 27g protein per meal.  

Or 14g at breakfast, 14g through 2-3 snacks a day and 27g at both lunch and dinner.  

Great ways to get protein

Meat, chicken, fish, eggs and dairy are great sources of protein that the body can easily use to build muscle, heal wounds and keep our residents well.  

Fortified foods enriched with nutrients and protein are another great source.

A fortified puree meal (400g meal; serving of meat, vegetables, mash and a dessert) from The Pure Food Co provides on average 29.4g of protein– over a 1/3 of men’s protein RDI (>70yrs) and over 1/2 of women’s protein RDI (>70yrs).

Fuel to get going: Energy

Now they’ve got the strength to get up, energy gives older people the fuel to get going. Protein, fat and carbohydrates all provide the body energy. Energy is released from food components during the digestion process.

Not enough energy?

Many older people develop chronic conditions which become energy demanding and/or are unable to tolerate large amounts of food, so they struggle to meet their daily energy requirements.

Not having enough energy leads to weight loss as our bodies use up stores to try and keep it going. Our body uses up our fat stores first and then our muscles in an effort to make up for the energy it’s not getting from food.

Not getting enough energy from food means our older people are more at risk of pressure areas (because they don’t have the fat padding to protect bony areas), and falls (because their muscles are weak).  They also become at higher risk of developing infections as their immune system is also affected.

It’s not just our residents body, but their mind can be affected by not having enough energy.

How much energy?

Energy requirements aren’t as straightforward as protein, and depend on age, size and how mobile individuals are.  But here are some averages:

The estimated energy requirement for men aged 70 years or older is 7.3-8.3MJ/day – based on a fairly inactive man (3).

The estimated energy requirement for women aged 70 years or older is 6.5-7.2MJ/day – based on a fairly inactive woman (3).

Let’s take Pat as an example

How does this look over the day for Pat?

Two of The Pure Food Co fortified meals (which incl. dessert) would provide Pat with 5220kJ daily.  That’s over 70% of her daily requirements in just lunch and dinner. Add in breakfast and snacks, which is another 2000kJ – Altogether, Pat’s easily met her estimated energy requirements and is on her way to gaining her weight back.  

Great ways to get energy

Small, frequent meals and snacks focusing on high energy foods are great ways to help get more energy.  Think the foods we’re usually told to limit. Cream, full fat milk, cheese and sweet treats are all high energy.  Adding cream, full fat milk and a spoon of brown sugar to porridge really tops up the energy.

Ready to get up and get going?

Protein, check.  Energy, check. With these two key nutrients, we can help our residents get the strength they need to get up, and  the fuel they need to get going.

Things to think about

Whilst the RDI’s are great for most people you might need to talk to your local dietitian if you have a resident who is:

  • Underweight or has had unintentional weight loss
  • Has an infection
  • Has a pressure ulcer or wound
  • Is eating very little or on a texture modified diet
  • Has diabetes
  • If they have liver or kidney problems, think about getting tailored nutritional advice specific to protein

Visit our learning centre for training modules

Want to learn more about caring for your clients? Have a look at our e-learning database and learn procedural tasks from qualified nurses and therapists. Designed to help you provide the best care possible for your patients or residents.

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