While protein consumption in the United States generally meets the minimum requirements, emerging research indicates a higher-protein diet — while staying within the range of 10% to 35% of total calories (the amount for weight management) — may have benefits for certain populations. Not only is protein beneficial for sports performance and weight management, but baby boomers in particular may need to emphasize protein in their diets since protein consumption tends to decline with age as does muscle, a body tissue that thrives on protein.

Milk and cheese together provide an average of 15% of protein in the diet of adults (19+ years), while yogurt accounts for less than 1%, according to the latest NHANES data.  The majority of consumers believe it is important to add more protein to their diets, and specific meal occasions may provide the best opportunity for protein innovation. The lowest amount of protein is consumed at breakfast (16%) and snacks (14%), according to the NPD Group.

Despite the fact that interest in protein has grown in recent years, unaided awareness of dairy as a source of protein is low (12% for milk and cheese).

High-protein and functional strength

Research indicates that older adults may be able to reduce the age-related decline of muscle mass by engaging in resistance training and eating a diet higher in protein, but the source of protein is an important factor to consider. We know that dairy proteins have been shown to enhance gains in muscle mass during strength training in young and older adults. This is the case no matter how you choose to consume your dairy, whether through dairy foods such as milk or in the form of whey protein.

But it’s not just muscle mass that is important. Strength — more specifically functional strength for everyday tasks — can make a difference for people’s well-being. Some evidence indicates that strength may not only be important for activities of daily living, but also an important indicator of long-term health. The Health ABC Study found that better leg and grip strength were strongly associated with reduced mortality in older men and women.

It is also important to note that muscle and bone health go hand in hand. Most people will reach their peak bone mass between the ages of 25 and 30. Research in men and women has shown that protein is also important for bone health, but even more interestingly, protein and calcium together act to reduce risk of fracture. Thus, consuming protein from dairy sources that also deliver calcium may not only be great for muscles, but also for bones.

Feel fuller and energized

An established body of science indicates, in general, protein is more satiating than an equal amount of calories from carbohydrate or fat. This is true after a single meal and could contribute to satiation throughout the course of a day. Given what we know about dairy sources of protein and satiety, it is possible that when people perceive having more energy when eating protein, rather than an increase in energy, what they may really be experiencing is a lack of hunger.  

Furthermore, a recently published study found that eating a greater proportion of calories from protein while dieting improved self-reported sleep quality in overweight and obese adults. This is the first study to have found such a relationship between protein and sleep, so more research is needed to confirm these results, but if these data are true for other populations, it could contribute to feeling more energized while eating a higher-protein diet.

Convenient and nutrient-rich

Protein is one of dairy’s most unique attributes. While protein is naturally found in a number of foods, the amount and quality varies. Dairy protein is of the highest nutritional quality, meaning it contains all essential amino acids the body needs, and it is highly digestible. 

Few other protein-rich foods come packed with essential nutrients like calcium, vitamin D, potassium and vitamin B12. In fact, when analyzing foods based on nutrients and affordability basis (that is, bang for your buck), dairy foods are at the top. Research found that milk and milk products, despite their relatively low contribution to total caloric intake, were by far the lowest-cost source of dietary calcium and were among the lowest-cost sources of riboflavin and vitamin B12.

Benefits dairy can bring 

Dairy foods provide potential health benefits related to maintaining muscle tone as well as bone health, strength and functional mobility – all critical to maintaining one’s independence. Dairy foods also fit boomers’ active lifestyle, whether working a 9-to-5 job, enjoying retirement activities such as travel, golf or cooking, or keeping up with the grandkids.

They are a good source of high-quality protein, which can help enhance satiety, slow age-related muscle loss and help in weight management. Dairy foods also help continue to offer benefits related to reducing risk of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and help lower blood pressure — all important to healthy aging and longevity.