Diets high in protein from any source – animal or plant – may help maintain muscle mass and keep muscles strong as people age. That’s according to a new study from the University of Massachusetts in Lowell.
The researchers found that people with higher overall protein intake had higher muscle mass and stronger quadriceps, the muscle in front of the thigh.
Protein is found in meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy, vegetables, whole grains, beans and lentils, soy and nuts and seeds.
How much protein do you need?
The Institute of Medicine recommends sedentary adults consume 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight each day.
That translates to 56 grams of protein for someone who weighs 70 kg (about 154 pounds), an amount that’s easily obtained by eating, for example, four ounces of chicken, two cups of milk, one egg and one-half cup of black beans.
An adequate protein intake has been shown to protect bone density, muscle mass and strength, but it's been unclear whether the protein must come from specific food sources.
For example, do people who get their protein from animal sources, like meat, benefit more than people who get their protein from plant foods, or vice versa.
To answer the question, the researchers used data from 2,986 men and women, ages 19 to 72, who filled out questionnaires about their diets between 2002 and 2005.
Overall, about 82 percent of participants were getting the recommended daily amount of protein. Their diets fell into one of six patterns: fast food and full fat dairy, fish, red meat, chicken, low fat milk, and legumes.
The researchers then looked to see if the participants' dietary patterns were tied to their muscle mass, muscle strength and bone density.
Higher muscle strength in people who ate the most protein
Unlike past studies, the researchers found no links between dietary protein consumption and bone density, although they did find that dietary protein was tied to muscle mass and strength.
Muscle mass and strength were higher among people who consumed the most protein, compared to those who consumed the least.
People with the highest amounts of protein in their diets were eating about 1.8 grams per kilogram of body weight per day, compared to 0.8 grams per kilogram among those eating the least.
The results did not change based on people's dietary patterns. A person getting a large amount of protein from red meat was benefiting as much as a person getting it from beans and lentils.
All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.