The growing recognition of sarcopenia, the age-related loss of skeletal muscle mass and function, has highlighted the need to understand more about its etiology. Declines in muscle mass and strength are expected aspects of aging, but there is significant variability between individuals in rates of loss. Although some of these differences can be explained by fixed factors, such as sex, much of the remaining variation is unexplained. This has led to increasing interest in the influence of adult lifestyle, particularly in the effects of modifiable factors such as physical activity and diet, and in identifying intervention opportunities both to prevent and manage sarcopenia. A number of trials have examined the separate effects of increased exercise or dietary supplementation on muscle mass and physical performance of older adults, but less is known about the extent to which benefits of exercise training could be enhanced when these interventions are combined. In a comprehensive review of the literature, we consider 17 studies of older adults (≥65 years) in which combined nutrition and exercise interventions were used to increase muscle strength and/or mass, and achieve improvements in physical performance. The studies were diverse in terms of the participants included (nutritional status, degree of physical frailty), supplementation strategies (differences in nutrients, doses), exercise training (type, frequency), as well as design (duration, setting). The main message is that enhanced benefits of exercise training, when combined with dietary supplementation, have been shown in some trials - indicating potential for future interventions, but that existing evidence is inconsistent. Further studies are needed, particularly of exercise training combined with dietary strategies that increase intakes of a range of nutrients, as well as bioactive non-nutrients, to provide the evidence on which public health and clinical recommendations can be based.
Keywords: diet; exercise; intervention; sarcopenia.