The role of dietary protein in optimizing muscle mass, function and health outcomes in older individuals

Br J Nutr. 2012 Aug:108 Suppl 2:S88-93. doi: 10.1017/S0007114512002590.


The determination of whether increased dietary protein can positively affect health outcomes is hindered by the absence of prospective, randomized trials directly addressing this issue in which all pertinent variables are controlled. Consequently, we can only address the question deductively by considering the support for the rationale underlying the notion of a beneficial effect of increased dietary protein intake. With regard to health outcomes, we have focused on older individuals. Muscle mass and function are progressively lost with aging, so that by the age of 60 many individuals have reached a threshold where function begins to be affected. An association between reduced muscle mass and strength and unfavourable health outcomes is more likely to be revealed in individuals who have significant decrements in muscle mass and strength. In this article support for the rationale underlying the notion of a beneficial effect of increased dietary protein intake is considered. Dietary protein intake, and the resulting increased availability of plasma amino acids, stimulates muscle protein synthesis. If all other variables are controlled, increased muscle protein synthesis leads to improved muscle mass, strength and function over time. Increased muscle mass, strength and function are related to improved health outcomes in older individuals. Since adverse effects of reasonable increases in protein intake above the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of 0·8 g protein/kg/day have not been reported, it is reasonable to conclude that the optimal protein intake for an older individual is greater than the RDA.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging / physiology
  • Amino Acids / blood
  • Body Composition*
  • Dietary Proteins / metabolism
  • Dietary Proteins / pharmacology
  • Dietary Proteins / therapeutic use*
  • Energy Intake
  • Health
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Muscle Proteins / biosynthesis*
  • Muscle Strength / drug effects
  • Muscle, Skeletal / drug effects*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / metabolism
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology
  • Nutrition Policy
  • Nutritional Requirements*
  • Organ Size
  • Protein Biosynthesis / drug effects*
  • Sarcopenia / metabolism
  • Sarcopenia / prevention & control*


  • Amino Acids
  • Dietary Proteins
  • Muscle Proteins