The Biological Value of Protein

Nestle Nutr Inst Workshop Ser. 2015;82:39-51. doi: 10.1159/000382000. Epub 2015 Oct 20.


The biological value of a protein extends beyond its amino-acid composition and digestibility, and can be influenced by additional factors in a tissue-specific manner. In healthy individuals, the slow appearance of dietary amino acids in the portal vein and subsequently in the systemic circulation in response to bolus protein ingestion improves nitrogen retention and decreases urea production. This is promoted by slow absorption when only protein is ingested (e.g. casein). When a full meal is ingested, whey achieves slightly better nitrogen retention than soy or casein, which is very likely achieved by its high content of essential amino acids (especially leucine). Elderly people exhibit 'anabolic resistance' implying that more protein is required to reach maximal rates of muscle protein synthesis compared to young individuals. Protein utilization in inflammatory or traumatic conditions increases substantially in the splanchnic tissues containing most of the immune system, and in wounds and growing tissues. This happens especially in the elderly, which often suffer from chronic inflammatory activity due to disease, physical inactivity and/or the aging process itself. Consequently, the proportion of protein absorbed in the gut and utilized for muscle protein synthesis decreases in these situations. This compromises dietary-protein-induced stimulation of muscle protein synthesis and ultimately results in increased requirements of protein (∼1.2 g/kg body weight/day) to limit gradual muscle loss with age. To optimally preserve muscle mass, physical exercise is required. Exercise has both direct effects on muscle mass and health, and indirect effects by increasing the utilization of dietary protein (especially whey) to enhance rates of muscle protein synthesis.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Amino Acids / administration & dosage
  • Caseins / administration & dosage
  • Dietary Proteins / administration & dosage*
  • Exercise
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Muscle Proteins / biosynthesis*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / metabolism
  • Nitrogen / metabolism
  • Recommended Dietary Allowances
  • Soybean Proteins / administration & dosage
  • Whey Proteins / administration & dosage


  • Amino Acids
  • Caseins
  • Dietary Proteins
  • Muscle Proteins
  • Soybean Proteins
  • Whey Proteins
  • Nitrogen