The effect of animal versus plant protein on muscle mass, muscle strength, physical performance and sarcopenia in adults: protocol for a systematic review

Syst Rev. 2022 Apr 13;11(1):64. doi: 10.1186/s13643-022-01951-2.


Background: The evidence base for the role of dietary protein in maintaining good muscle health in older age is strong; however, the importance of protein source remains unclear. Plant proteins are generally of lower quality, with a less favourable amino acid profile and reduced bioavailability; therefore, it is possible that their therapeutic effects may be less than that of higher quality animal proteins. This review aims to evaluate the effectiveness of plant and animal protein interventions on muscle health outcomes.

Methods: A robust search strategy was developed to include terms relating to dietary protein with a focus on protein source, for example dairy, meat and soy. These were linked to terms related to muscle health outcomes, for example mass, strength, performance and sarcopenia. Five databases will be searched: MEDLINE, Scopus, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, Embase and Web of Science. Studies included will be randomised controlled trials with an adult population (≥ 18) living in the community or residential homes for older adults, and only English language articles will be included. Two independent reviewers will assess eligibility of individual studies. The internal validity of included studies will be assessed using Cochrane Risk of Bias 2.0 tool. Results will be synthesised in narrative format. Where applicable, standardised mean differences (SMD) (95% confidence interval [CI]) will be combined using a random-effects meta-analysis, and tests of homogeneity of variance will be calculated.

Discussion: Dietary guidelines recommend a change towards a plant-based diet that is more sustainable for health and for the environment; however, reduction of animal-based foods may impact protein quality in the diet. High-quality protein is important for maintenance of muscle health in older age; therefore, there is a need to understand whether replacement of animal protein with plant protein will make a significant difference in terms of muscle health outcomes. Findings from this review will be informative for sustainable nutritional guidelines, particularly for older adults and for those following vegan or vegetarian diets.

Systematic review registration: PROSPERO CRD420201886582.

Keywords: Animal protein; Muscle mass; Muscle strength; Physical performance; Plant protein; Sarcopenia; Systematic review.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Animals
  • Dietary Proteins / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Meta-Analysis as Topic
  • Muscle Strength
  • Muscles
  • Physical Functional Performance
  • Plant Proteins / pharmacology
  • Sarcopenia* / prevention & control
  • Systematic Reviews as Topic


  • Dietary Proteins
  • Plant Proteins