A sedentary lifestyle and poor diet are key contributors to age-related loss in muscle mass, strength and function, also known as sarcopenia. This in turn increases the risk of falls in seniors.

Every year in Singapore, 1 in 5 older adults (aged 65 years and older) experiences a fall, resulting in injury and disability.

Why exercising first then eating after is beneficial

To tackle this problem of insufficient exercise and a lack of protein in diet, Dr Ng Lee Beng, Senior Consultant from the Department of Family Medicine Continuing Care at Singapore General Hospital (SGH), a member of the SingHealth group, shares a useful habit to cultivate:

  1. Do some exercise before each meal. Start with an easy 10mins each time. 
    This may make it easier for you to hit the recommended 150mins of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week (30mins per day for 5 days). If you’ve never or hardly exercised before, start slow with 10 minutes of these 7 easy exercises

    owever, if you’re afraid that exercising on an empty stomach may leave you feeling sluggish or lightheaded during exercise, eat something light an hour before exercising. You can snack on a banana, slice of whole-grain bread or small tub of yogurt. 
  2. After exercise, be sure to include protein in your meal. 
    Consuming protein after exercise helps with muscle regrowth and repair. Doing so for every meal will ensure that you have an adequate amount of protein throughout the day.

Daily recommended amount of protein

How much protein a person should consume daily is dependent on age. Health Promotion Board (HPB) recommends:

  • For younger adults under 50 years of age, aim for 60g of protein daily (about 20g per meal) 

  • For older adults aged 50 years and over, aim for 75g of protein daily (about 25g per meal).

Dr Ng adds, “Muscle synthesis is higher when you spread protein intake evenly among three or more meals, rather than having most of it in a single meal. This optimises amino acid levels in the blood and promotes muscle repair and growth."

Ways to include protein in your day

When consuming protein, choose from high-quality sources.

For 1 serving of protein, which is equivalent to 20-30g of protein, you can include either of these food items in your meal:

Small bowl of edamame 

1 cup (250ml) of mixed nuts trail (150g)

4 pieces of tempeh or ¾ small bowl of chopped tempeh

1 palm-sized piece of meat, fish or poultry (90g)

5 medium prawns (90g)

3 eggs (150g)

Two glasses of low-fat or soy milk (500ml)

¾ cups of cooked pulses (peas, beans, lentils)

2 small blocks of soft bean curd

Canned sardine (100g)

Table courtesy of Health Hub.

When cooking meals at home

For meals prepared at home, here are examples of how to add protein.

When eating out

When eating out, here are ways to incorporate protein for each meal.

When having a snack

If you are unable to meet the daily recommended amount of protein from your main meals, you can supplement with high-protein snacks between meals.

Handful of mixed nuts
and seeds 
≅ 4g of protein

1 bowl of bean curd (unsweetened) 
≅ 4g of protein
1 cup of soya milk 
≅ 7g of protein
1 slice of
whole grain bread 
≅ 4g of protein
1 cup of guava (unsweetened) 
≅ 4.2g of protein
1 cup of non-fat yogurt 
 8g of protein

≅ means approximately equals to

Is animal protein better than plant protein or vice versa?

This is a question that Dr Ng frequently gets from her patients. However, the answer is not as simple as one being better than the other. Animal protein may contain a greater amount and more complete set of essential amino acids for muscle formation, however it can be high in fat. On the other hand, plant protein is lesser in fat but often incomplete.

On this, Dr Ng advises, “When taking plant protein, combine plant-based proteins to achieve a complete set of amino acids in your diet. For example, have rice with bean/soya products.”

A simple formula to remember for this is: when taking grains or nuts and seeds, pair it with legumes to have a complete protein. For example, taking rice with bean curd, tempeh or dhall will already ensure that you are taking a complete set of essential amino acids.

Examples of grains, nuts and seeds, and legumes include:


Nuts and Seeds


As you can see, there clearly are benefits to making time to squeeze in some exercise before each meal. But equally important of cultivating the habit of doing regular exercise, is the importance of proper nutrition during meals – which includes having a portion of protein for each meal to maintain muscle mass.

Ref: I23

Check out more articles on exercise tips:

Top Exercises for a Healthy Heart

Exercises to Lower Bad Cholesterol (LDL), Blood Pressure, Blood Sugar and Beat Obesity

Exercises for Strong Bones

Top Exercises for Seniors