Clinical and consumer market interest is increasingly directed toward the use of plant-based proteins as dietary components aimed at preserving or increasing skeletal muscle mass. However, recent evidence suggests that the ingestion of the plant-based proteins in soy and wheat results in a lower muscle protein synthetic response when compared with several animal-based proteins. The possible lower anabolic properties of plant-based protein sources may be attributed to the lower digestibility of plant-based sources, in addition to greater splanchnic extraction and subsequent urea synthesis of plant protein-derived amino acids compared with animal-based proteins. The latter may be related to the relative lack of specific essential amino acids in plant- as opposed to animal-based proteins. Furthermore, most plant proteins have a relatively low leucine content, which may further reduce their anabolic properties when compared with animal proteins. However, few studies have actually assessed the postprandial muscle protein synthetic response to the ingestion of plant proteins, with soy and wheat protein being the primary sources studied. Despite the proposed lower anabolic properties of plant vs. animal proteins, various strategies may be applied to augment the anabolic properties of plant proteins. These may include the following: 1) fortification of plant-based protein sources with the amino acids methionine, lysine, and/or leucine; 2) selective breeding of plant sources to improve amino acid profiles; 3) consumption of greater amounts of plant-based protein sources; or 4) ingesting multiple protein sources to provide a more balanced amino acid profile. However, the efficacy of such dietary strategies on postprandial muscle protein synthesis remains to be studied. Future research comparing the anabolic properties of a variety of plant-based proteins should define the preferred protein sources to be used in nutritional interventions to support skeletal muscle mass gain or maintenance in both healthy and clinical populations.
Keywords: aging; animal protein; exercise; muscle mass; plant protein; vegetarian.
© 2015 American Society for Nutrition.