The Manchester Metropolitan University study has found that taking carbohydrate and protein supplements just before and just after low-resistance exercise could boost muscle performance and slow muscle wastage in older people.
Also, this combination appears to deliver greater fitness benefits than undertaking heavy-resistance training with or without changing one's nutritional habits.
This was the first-ever study of the combination of structured exercise and nutritional supplements to focus wholly on older people, and involved a carefully selected sample of around 60 healthy, independent-living adults aged 65 and over.
All the volunteers were randomly divided into groups who underwent different 12 week programmes of physical exercise and nutritional supplementation. Everyone was then re-assessed at the end of the programme.
Some groups undertook low-resistance exercise once a week, while others undertook high-resistance exercise twice a week. Within each group, some of the volunteers took protein and carbohydrate supplements while others did not.
When all the participants were re-assessed at the end of the 12 week programme, it was observed that muscle size and strength had increased in all groups.
However, according to the results, older people would derive the most benefits if they took appropriate supplements coupled with low-intensity exercise.
"Maintaining muscle performance and arresting muscle wastage can offer older people real improvements in their quality of life. Though we still need to assess precisely what level of exercise gives the best results, we believe we've shown that regular low-resistance exercise complemented by the right nutritional supplements could boost the well-being of the UK's ageing population," said Dr Gladys Pearson, who led the research.
The researchers are now aiming to look at the effectiveness of novel combinations of strength training and nutritional supplementation as a way of speeding recovery and improving mobility for old and young orthopaedic surgery patients.
The findings of the study were discussed at this year's BA Festival of Science in Liverpool.