Characterising the muscle anabolic potential of dairy, meat and plant-based protein sources in older adults

Proc Nutr Soc. 2018 Feb;77(1):20-31. doi: 10.1017/S002966511700194X. Epub 2017 Aug 29.


The age-related loss of skeletal muscle mass and function is caused, at least in part, by a reduced muscle protein synthetic response to protein ingestion. The magnitude and duration of the postprandial muscle protein synthetic response to ingested protein is dependent on the quantity and quality of the protein consumed. This review characterises the anabolic properties of animal-derived and plant-based dietary protein sources in older adults. While approximately 60 % of dietary protein consumed worldwide is derived from plant sources, plant-based proteins generally exhibit lower digestibility, lower leucine content and deficiencies in certain essential amino acids such as lysine and methionine, which compromise the availability of a complete amino acid profile required for muscle protein synthesis. Based on currently available scientific evidence, animal-derived proteins may be considered more anabolic than plant-based protein sources. However, the production and consumption of animal-derived protein sources is associated with higher greenhouse gas emissions, while plant-based protein sources may be considered more environmentally sustainable. Theoretically, the lower anabolic capacity of plant-based proteins can be compensated for by ingesting a greater dose of protein or by combining various plant-based proteins to provide a more favourable amino acid profile. In addition, leucine co-ingestion can further augment the postprandial muscle protein synthetic response. Finally, prior exercise or n-3 fatty acid supplementation have been shown to sensitise skeletal muscle to the anabolic properties of dietary protein. Applying one or more of these strategies may support the maintenance of muscle mass with ageing when diets rich in plant-based protein are consumed.

Keywords: Animal-derived protein source; Healthy musculoskeletal ageing; Muscle protein synthesis; Plant-based protein source.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging / physiology
  • Amino Acids, Essential / physiology
  • Anabolic Agents*
  • Humans
  • Meat Proteins / metabolism*
  • Milk Proteins / metabolism*
  • Muscle Proteins / biosynthesis
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Plant Proteins, Dietary / metabolism*
  • Postprandial Period


  • Amino Acids, Essential
  • Anabolic Agents
  • Meat Proteins
  • Milk Proteins
  • Muscle Proteins
  • Plant Proteins, Dietary