The role of dietary protein intake in the prevention of sarcopenia of aging

Nutr Clin Pract. 2013 Dec;28(6):684-90. doi: 10.1177/0884533613507607. Epub 2013 Oct 25.


Sarcopenia is defined as an age-related decrease in muscle mass and performance. Several consensus definitions of sarcopenia exist, each providing different cut points and methodologies for assessing muscle mass and muscle strength. Thus, wide variation in the prevalence of sarcopenia has been reported, generally ranging up to 45% for men and 26% for women. Risk factors for sarcopenia include age, malnutrition, and physical inactivity. Additional evidence suggests a protective role for protein supplementation in older adults to preserve lean body mass and prevent frailty, accepted intervention targets for reducing the risk of sarcopenia. Protein supplements vary widely in their composition, and small trials of heterogeneous study designs have made it difficult to extrapolate findings to develop data-driven, evidence-based recommendations for protein supplementation in sarcopenia prevention. Short-term randomized controlled trials of muscle protein synthesis have demonstrated that whey protein increases synthesis more so than casein or soy isolates. Studies also suggest that essential amino acids stimulate muscle protein synthesis to a greater extent than nonessential amino acids. This review summarizes the epidemiological and clinical trial evidence establishing the current definitions for sarcopenia and provides an overview of the state of the evidence for protein supplementation to prevent and/or mitigate sarcopenia.

Keywords: aging; amino acids; diet; muscle atrophy; proteins; sarcopenia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging*
  • Amino Acids / therapeutic use
  • Body Composition*
  • Dietary Proteins / therapeutic use*
  • Dietary Supplements*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Malnutrition / complications
  • Milk Proteins / therapeutic use
  • Muscle Strength*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / pathology*
  • Sarcopenia / epidemiology
  • Sarcopenia / etiology
  • Sarcopenia / prevention & control*
  • Whey Proteins


  • Amino Acids
  • Dietary Proteins
  • Milk Proteins
  • Whey Proteins