Increasing plant protein intake can improve muscle health in Chinese elderly population

Although overall protein intake recommendations are insufficient to counteract muscle loss, protein intake from plant-based sources may help improve muscle health in China’s elderly population, researchers say.

Since most of the existing data on the relationship between dietary protein intake and muscle mass come from Western countries, researchers in China conducted a cross-sectional study to investigate how different amounts and sources of protein intake affect aging Chinese Human muscle mass. The article titled “Association of Dietary Protein Intake with Muscle Mass in Elderly Chinese: A Cross-Sectional Study” was published in Nutrients recently.

The study analyzed data based on the 2018 China Health and Nutrition Survey (CHNS), which included 4,826 participants aged 60 and over from 15 provinces.

Protein intake data were assessed using three days (two weekdays and one weekend) of 24-h dietary recall obtained through face-to-face interviews with participants.

Their limb skeletal muscle mass (the sum of muscle mass in all limbs) was assessed by bioelectrical impedance analysis, a method of measuring body composition based on the rate at which electrical current passes through the body.

vegetable protein

Proteins from plant-based sources are defined as grains, plant tubers, starches, legumes, vegetables, fruits, fungi, algae, nuts, and seeds, while animal proteins are included as meat, poultry, milk, eggs, and aquatic products.

According to the findings, two-thirds of the participants’ dietary protein intake came from plant sources.

What’s more, the study found that higher levels of total dietary protein intake and plant-based protein intake were positively associated with higher muscle mass. Meanwhile, the association between animal protein and muscle mass was negligible.

In the group of participants with the highest total protein intake, men gained 0.96 kg of muscle mass and women gained 0.48 kg.

Likewise, in the group of participants with the highest intake of plant-based protein, men gained 0.76 kg of muscle mass and women gained 0.35 kg.

Furthermore, the study suggests that dietary protein intakes of more than 78 grams of protein per day (g/d) for men and 68 g/d for women may be ideal for preventing low muscle mass in older adults.

“The traditional Chinese diet is characterized by high amounts of grains and vegetables. Therefore, plant protein intake contributes more to total protein intake than animal protein intake. Although animal protein is widely considered to contain more nutritional properties than plant protein , but the antioxidants and vitamins in vegetables and fruits can enhance the absorption of plant protein. It is also possible that eating more plant protein can achieve the same anabolic (muscle building) response as a small amount of animal protein.”