Plant-sourced proteins offer environmental and health benefits, and research increasingly includes them in study formulas. However, plant-based proteins have less of an anabolic effect than animal proteins due to their lower digestibility, lower essential amino acid content (especially leucine), and deficiency in other essential amino acids, such as sulfur amino acids or lysine. Thus, plant amino acids are directed toward oxidation rather than used for muscle protein synthesis. In this review, we evaluate the ability of plant- versus animal-based proteins to help maintain skeletal muscle mass in healthy and especially older people and examine different nutritional strategies for improving the anabolic properties of plant-based proteins. Among these strategies, increasing protein intake has led to a positive acute postprandial muscle protein synthesis response and even positive long-term improvement in lean mass. Increasing the quality of protein intake by improving amino acid composition could also compensate for the lower anabolic potential of plant-based proteins. We evaluated and discussed four nutritional strategies for improving the amino acid composition of plant-based proteins: fortifying plant-based proteins with specific essential amino acids, selective breeding, blending several plant protein sources, and blending plant with animal-based protein sources. These nutritional approaches need to be profoundly examined in older individuals in order to optimize protein intake for this population who require a high-quality food protein intake to mitigate age-related muscle loss.
Keywords: animal-based proteins; critical review; muscle protein synthesis; older people; plant-based proteins; skeletal muscle.