Dietary Proteins: Effects on Musculoskeletal Health

Proteins are essential macronutrients that are the building blocks of muscle mass, and they’re the biggest source of dietary energy for humans.

They are composed of amino acids necessary for the proper growth and functioning of the body.

This includes the parts of the body that provide stability and support - the bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, joints, and other connective tissues that make up the musculoskeletal system.

Dietary protein is crucial for keeping the musculoskeletal system healthy and protecting it from age-related muscle and bone mass decline or function.

For years, animal-derived protein has been the main source of protein for humans.

However, there have been growing concerns regarding the sustainability of this type of protein, therefore, plant and other sources of protein are being widely researched.

The different types of dietary protein are:

  • Animal - proteins that originate directly from animal sources, like meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy; regarded as complete proteins because they contain all the essential amino acids necessary for humans;
  • Plant - proteins derived from plant sources, like soy, peas or wheat;
  • Collagen - proteins derived from gelatin and/or collagen hydrolysis; technically, they’re animal-derived, but they’re not regarded as complete proteins;
  • Blended - different types of protein combined together.

A recently published review in the journal Nutrients discusses the effects of these different types of protein on maintaining musculoskeletal health.

Some Details

Let’s see some details about the way different types of proteins affect the muscles and bones.

Animal-Derived Proteins

Animal-derived protein intake in young populations has long been positively linked with muscle health across the lifespan.

Dairy and meat protein sources have been demonstrated to stimulate muscle protein synthesis in older adults, thereby repairing the damaged muscle fibers.

Similarly, the intake of animal-derived protein seems to positively affect bone strength in older adults (over 65).

Plant-Derived Proteins

Plant-derived proteins have been widely studied in recent years and there have been some conflicting results.

Research has shown that when it comes to muscle health, animal protein is superior to plant protein, even when the amount of amino acids is the same for both.

However, the current consensus is that consuming greater amounts of plant protein may yield similar results as animal protein.

Collagen-Derived Proteins

Collagen supplementation has become a popular alternative protein for maintaining muscle and bone health.

Even though collagen doesn’t contain all the essential amino acids like animal protein, it has been demonstrated that it’s very beneficial for muscular health because of its high bioavailability and digestibility.

Blended Proteins

Even though they usually contain some percentage of animal or collagen protein, blended proteins are a more sustainable option than animal ones.

They have not been extensively studied, however, there is some evidence that they stimulate muscle protein synthesis.

Blended proteins may not be suitable for everyone, though (eg. vegans).

But, there has been ongoing research on blending different types of plant protein that combined provide all the essential amino acids and in this way meet all nutritional requirements.

Bottom Line

Further research on this topic is still required, but for now, let the conclusion be that no matter the source, dietary protein is vital for maintaining musculoskeletal health.


Resource: Deane, C.S.; Bass, J.J.; Crossland, H.; Phillips, B.E.; Atherton, P.J. Animal, Plant, Collagen and Blended Dietary Proteins: Effects on Musculoskeletal Outcomes. Nutrients 2020, 12, 2670. doi:https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12092670 

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