Protein Source and Muscle Health in Older Adults: A Literature Review

Nutrients. 2021 Feb 26;13(3):743. doi: 10.3390/nu13030743.


Research shows that higher dietary protein of up to 1.2 g/kgbodyweight/day may help prevent sarcopenia and maintain musculoskeletal health in older individuals. Achieving higher daily dietary protein levels is challenging, particularly for older adults with declining appetites and underlying health conditions. The negative impact of these limitations on aging muscle may be circumvented through the consumption of high-quality sources of protein and/or supplementation. Currently, there is a debate regarding whether source of protein differentially affects musculoskeletal health in older adults. Whey and soy protein have been used as the most common high-quality proteins in recent literature. However, there is growing consumer demand for additional plant-sourced dietary protein options. For example, pea protein is rapidly gaining popularity among consumers, despite little to no research regarding its long-term impact on muscle health. Therefore, the objectives of this review are to: (1) review current literature from the past decade evaluating whether specific source(s) of dietary protein provide maximum benefit to muscle health in older adults; and (2) highlight the need for future research specific to underrepresented plant protein sources, such as pea protein, to then provide clearer messaging surrounding plant-sourced versus animal-sourced protein and their effects on the aging musculoskeletal system.

Keywords: dietary protein; muscle protein synthesis; older adult population; pea; sarcopenia.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Animal Proteins, Dietary / analysis*
  • Dietary Supplements*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Muscle Strength / drug effects
  • Muscle, Skeletal / drug effects*
  • Plant Proteins, Dietary / analysis*
  • Plants, Edible / chemistry
  • Sarcopenia / prevention & control


  • Animal Proteins, Dietary
  • Plant Proteins, Dietary