Plant or animal nutrition to maintain muscle mass?

Plant or animal nutrition to maintain muscle mass?

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Effect of proteins on skeletal muscle mass

When it comes to maintaining skeletal muscle mass in advanced age, the question arises as to which proteins are more effective for maintaining, animal or vegetable proteins.

A study by King’s College London found that animal proteins are apparently more effective in maintaining muscle mass than soy or wheat protein. The results were at the event The Physiological Society’s virtual early career conference Future Physiology 2020 presents.

Why do muscles break down in old age?

A main reason for the muscle loss in old age in healthy people is a reduction in the muscle proteins built up from amino acids, reports the research group. These amino acids come from proteins that are ingested from food or from proteins that are formed during exercise.

Protein from soy and wheat or animal sources?

The number of vegetarian or vegan people continues to increase. A plant-based diet is definitely very good for the environment, but the question of how effective such a diet is for maintaining muscle mass in old age remains open. To clarify this question, the researchers specifically examined proteins from soy and wheat and compared them with animal sources.

Higher dose of animal proteins needed

A comparison of animal proteins and proteins from soy and wheat showed that a larger dose of these plant proteins is required in order to achieve a comparable reaction when building muscle. A simple transition from an animal to a plant-based diet without adjusting the total protein intake would therefore likely have an adverse effect on muscle health during aging, the researchers explain.

Diet should be balanced

A more balanced and less extreme approach to changing eating habits appears to be best for maintaining muscle mass in old age, the research team continues. In other words, the consumption of both animal and vegetable proteins should be combined, the researchers explain in a press release on the study results.

How quickly do muscles build up from amino acids?

Carefully controlled laboratory studies were conducted on volunteers who consumed vegetable proteins compared to animal protein sources. In order to analyze changes in the muscles of the participants, the research group applied various techniques, for example the method of stable isotopes, blood samples and skeletal muscle biopsies. The research group wanted to find out how quickly the muscles were built up from amino acids.

Animal protein is more effective

The results show that on a gram-by-gram basis, animal proteins are actually more effective than vegetable proteins in helping to maintain skeletal muscle mass with advancing age, the research team concluded.

Other vegetable proteins should be examined

The research work dealt exclusively with two vegetable protein sources (soy and wheat). Therefore, further studies are needed, which include other promising plant proteins from oats, quinoa and maize. (as)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • Soy and wheat proteins helpful for building aging muscles, but not as potent as animal protein, The Physiological Society (published 07.07.2020), The Physiological Society

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