I am a healthy male who just turned 63. I have been diagnosed with chronic kidney disease (mid-range) and have been told to watch my protein intake.  Can you suggest some alternative foods/ingredients that might benefit me for muscle health & growth but will not impact me negatively as a protein supplement would? Or, is protein the same in any form? I’ve been working out steadily for the past year and a half and have lost weight and inches but have not gained that much muscle. I was with a trainer for a year and he taught me new exercises which I have maintained. He also had me focus on fat burning heart rates rather than high impact exercising. 

– Paul G.


Gaining muscle weight & strength is possible without additional protein intake. Just look at the many vegan athletes! For muscle growth with moderate protein intake, I’d suggest you focus on the best sources of carbohydrate and fat at optimal ingestion times.  

Right before your workouts, a simpler carbohydrate will fuel muscles readily so they can do the greater work required to stimulate muscle growth. Lower-fiber fruits (e.g. applesauce, grapes, melon) and starches (e.g. animal crackers, white bread, saltines, pretzels) are choices to consume in the hour preceding exercise and in the half-hour following exercise. For your regular meals, concentrate on higher-fiber complex carbohydrates like whole grains, potatoes and vegetables which break down slowly and provide sustained energy. 

Consider incorporating medium chain triglycerides, known as MCTs. This type of fat is readily absorbed and metabolized so it may offer an alternative fuel source during longer workouts. Food sources include coconut, palm kernel oil, and dairy fat, particularly sheep and goat’s milk. As a supplement, a tablespoon of MCT oil contains 115 calories and 14 grams of fat, similar to cooking oils. Gut tolerance dictates that you should start with a teaspoon and increase dose slowly, reaching no more than 4 tablespoons daily. A modest 6-gram MCT dose in combination with other factors was used with success to treat muscle wasting in frail elderly*. 

* Medium-Chain Triglycerides in Combination with Leucine and Vitamin D Increase Muscle Strength and Function in Frail Elderly Adults in a Randomized Controlled Trial. Abe S, Ezaki O, Suzuki M. Journal of Nutrition 2016 May: 146 (5): 1017-1026. 

Consult with your medical care professional before using a dietary supplement or starting on an exercise program, especially if you have been diagnosed with a medical condition. 

– Debbie J., MS, RD

This article should not replace any exercise program or restrictions, any dietary supplements or restrictions, or any other medical recommendations from your primary care physician. Before starting any exercise program or diet, make sure it is approved by your doctor.

Some questions have been edited for length and/or clarity.

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