Top 15 Protein Drinks for Elderly: From a Dietitian!

Protein drinks for elderly individuals can be the difference between malnutrition and optimal health. But with so many to choose from, how do you know which one to pick?

As a Registered Dietitian for over 9 years, I have compiled my list of top protein drinks, and how to choose the right one for you. So let’s get right to it.

protein drink in a glass with scoops of protein powder behind it.

Top 15 Best Protein Drinks for Elderly

Product NameProteinCarbohydratesSugarFat
Ensure Plus13g45g19g11g
Boost High Protein20g33g9g6g
Kate Farms Komplete16g33g9g17g
Fairlife Nutrition Plan20g24g6g6g
Premier Protein30g5g1g3g
Boost Calorie Smart15g23g4g5g
Orgain Organic Protein20g25g1g6g
Soylent20g37g9g21g
Glucerna Hunger Smart10g23g3g4g
Boost High Protein Complete Nutritional Drink15g26g6g6g
Muscle Milk16g12g2g9g
Atkins Protein-Rich Shake15g2g1g9g
ProNourish15g25g6g5g
Carnation Breakfast Essentials10g27g14g3g
Boost Max Nutritional Shake30g43g6g12g

What is a Protein Drink?

A protein drink is a nutritional drink that has protein added to it, typically in the form of whey protein in order to add additional protein to the mixture. These drinks come pre-made and are available in most major grocery stores and pharmacies.

Protein drinks are typically bought by elderly individuals who are unable to meet their daily protein needs through diet alone. Most Registered Dietitians recommend having protein drinks between meals as opposed to as meal replacements, to not take away from food intake.

They are a fantastic resource for elderly individuals struggling with malnutrition, pressure injuries, chronic disease requiring high protein needs to aid in health.

How Protein Drinks Work

Protein drinks aid in promoting protein synthesis and muscle growth within the body. This has been seen in elderly individuals in research. It is a protective factor against a health condition called Sarcopenia, which is age related muscle mass loss.

Having a protein drink daily prevents catabolism of their muscles, which is a breakdown when a body doesn’t get enough protein. Older adults need at minimum 1.0-1.2 grams per kilogram of body weight of protein daily.

This works out to be approximately 60-72 grams of protein daily for a 60 kilogram elderly person. For most this may be a difficult amount of protein to get strictly from the diet, which is why protein drinks are a huge benefit to have between meals.

Benefits of Protein Drinks for the Elderly

Protein drinks are not only fantastic to meet daily protein goals in the elderly, the health benefits extend far beyond that. Here are the top health benefits that I have seen when elderly individuals add a protein drink daily to their diet.

an elderly man drinking a protein shake outside.

Improved Muscle Mass

Research shows that when an elderly person has a protein drink daily, they have improved muscle mass and reduced muscle breakdown. Consuming protein drinks helps provide the necessary amino acids that are essential for muscle repair and growth.

Maintaining muscle mass is crucial for preserving functional independence and reducing the risk of falls and fractures, common issues in the elderly.

Bone Health

Proteins play a critical role in maintaining bone health by aiding in the repair and growth of bone tissue. Adequate protein intake is associated with higher bone mineral density, reducing the risk of osteoporosis, a condition that affects a significant majority of elderly people.

For elderly individuals, increased protein intake, when combined with calcium and vitamin D, can be particularly beneficial in preserving bone health and reducing fracture risks.

Malnutrition Prevention

Malnutrition is the result of inadequate food intake, chronic health conditions, difficulty chewing and swallowing, among a myriad of other reasons. Regular protein drinks can help to reduce and possibly prevent the impact of malnutrition on elderly individuals.

Meeting daily calorie and protein needs in the elderly can significantly reduce malnutrition, potentially improving overall health in the elderly.

Wound Healing

Protein is essential for the body’s healing process. It helps in the formation of collagen, a key component in skin and tissue repair. Elderly individuals may experience slower healing times, and adequate protein intake can help accelerate this process. Particularly in the case of post-surgical wounds, pressure sores, or ulcers.

Protein drinks provide a convenient source of high-quality protein which can support the body’s healing mechanisms, especially when regular food intake is inadequate to meet needs. Wound healing requires a minimum of 1.2 grams per kilogram of body weight for adequate healing. Protein drinks can help to meet this daily need.

Nutritional Supplementation

As people age, they may experience reduced appetite or face difficulties in consuming certain types of foods due to dental issues, decreased sense of taste, or other health-related problems. Protein drinks can supplement an elderly person’s diet by providing essential nutrients in an easily consumable form. This can be particularly helpful for those who struggle with solid foods.

These drinks can also be fortified with other essential nutrients like vitamins and minerals, ensuring a more comprehensive dietary supplement.

What to Look For

Selecting a protein drink the most important factor to consider is that the person drinking it loves it. You can have the most high quality protein drink to meet needs, but it won’t matter if they don’t drink it.

Besides that, a good protein drink is composed of:

  1. Protein Content:
    • The drink should have a high protein content, typically ranging from 15 to 30 grams per serving.
    • The protein should be of high quality, such as whey, casein, or soy protein. These are complete proteins containing all essential amino acids.
  2. Calorie Content:
    • Calorie content should align with the individual’s dietary needs, whether it’s for weight maintenance, gain, or loss.
    • If an elderly individual’s goal is wound healing but they don’t need extra calories, look for high protein, not high calorie.
  3. Type of Protein:
    • Whey protein is easily digestible and quickly absorbed, making it a good choice for elderly individuals.
    • Casein protein is digested slowly, it provides a sustained release of amino acids, which is beneficial between meals.
  4. Vitamins and Minerals:
    • Look for drinks fortified with essential vitamins and minerals, particularly those in which elderly are often deficient, such as Calcium, Vitamin D, B Vitamins, and Magnesium.
    • Some drinks may also contain additional nutrients like Omega-3 fatty acids, which are beneficial for heart and brain health.
  5. Sugar Content:
    • Opt for drinks low in added sugars to avoid unnecessary potential spikes in blood sugar levels.
    • Artificial sweeteners may be present, so it’s important to choose a product that aligns with personal preferences and health considerations.
  6. Fiber:
    • Fiber is important for digestive health. Some protein drinks include dietary fiber, which can help prevent constipation, a common issue in the elderly.
  7. Fat Content:
    • Consider the amount and type of fat. Ideally, the fat should come from healthy sources like MCTs (Medium Chain Triglycerides) or omega-3 fatty acids.
    • Low-fat or non-fat options may be preferable for those managing heart health or cholesterol levels.

Protein Drinks for Health Conditions

Protein SupplementTarget AudienceMain Benefits
Ensure EnliveElderly individualsSuitable for general nutritional support and maintaining or increasing protein intake. Provides a higher protein content for muscle maintenance and recovery.
Orgain Organic ProteinIndividuals looking for lactose-free, gluten-free optionsSuitable for various dietary needs. A general-purpose protein supplement.
Boost Glucose ControlIndividuals with diabetesFormulated to help manage blood sugar levels. Contains a balanced amount of carbohydrates and protein for steady energy.
Nepro with Carb SteadyIndividuals with kidney diseaseSpecifically formulated with lower protein, phosphorus, and potassium content. Important for those with compromised kidney function.
Kate Farms Komplete Meal Replacement ShakeIndividuals with dietary sensitivitiesLactose-free, gluten-free option. Can be used as a meal replacement. Provides a moderate amount of protein and calories.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are protein drinks good sources of protein?

Yes! Protein drinks are just as good as a protein source as food. I recommend a food first approach, but in the elderly, getting enough protein is the main goal. If a protein drink is needed, then that is a perfectly fine source of protein to meet needs.

How much protein do elderly people need daily?

The recommended minimum daily amount of protein an elderly individual should get is 1.0 grams per kilogram of body weight. This has been shown to be an adequate amount of meet minimum daily needs.

Are protein shakes good for elderly?

Yes, protein shakes are a good source of protein for elderly. Appetite and food intake tends to decrease as we age, a protein drink can help to achieve daily protein needs. If an elderly person meets their daily protein needs they have lower risk of fall and fractures. This can help to improve long term independence.

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Michelle Saari is a Registered Dietitian based in Canada. She has a Master's Degree in Human Nutritional Sciences and is a passionate advocate for spreading easy to understand, reliable, and trustworthy nutrition information. She is currently a full time online entrepreneur with two nutrition focused websites.

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