Decline in skeletal muscle strength and mass (sarcopenia) accelerates with age, leading to adverse health outcomes and poor quality of life. Diet plays a crucial role in muscle ageing being an important element of a healthy lifestyle. However, unlike single nutrients, such as dietary protein, or dietary patterns, such as the Mediterranean diet, the relationship between individual whole foods and muscle health has not been systematically evaluated. We aimed to investigate which whole foods (meat, fish, eggs, fruit and vegetables, and non-liquid dairy) may be beneficial (myoprotective) for ageing muscle and sarcopenia in adults aged ≥ 50 years. Nineteen observational and nine intervention studies were identified through systematic searches of the four electronic databases (last search: March 2020). The synthesis of findings showed strong and consistent evidence for a beneficial effect of lean red meat on muscle mass or lean tissue mass in both observational and intervention studies. Higher intake of fruit and vegetables was associated with better muscle function in observational studies, but the evidence from intervention studies was scarce. Non-liquid dairy foods were beneficial for muscle mass in both observational and intervention studies. There was moderate evidence for the role of these foods in muscle strength and sarcopenia, and limited or inconclusive evidence for the benefits of other whole foods (e.g., fish, eggs) for muscle health in older adults. Although current nutritional recommendations are often based on a single nutrient approach, further research about the role of protein-rich and other foods in muscle health will allow for the development of guidelines that are based on whole foods, also highlighting the potential importance of non-protein nutrients within these foods for myoprotection in older adults.
Keywords: intervention studies; muscle function; myoprotective; observational studies; older adults; sarcopenia; whole foods.