Plant protein can help older adults maintain muscle mass, but users must adjust for any loss of animal protein when making dietary changes, say researchers. 

In a new study, plant-based proteins helped to maintain the size and quality of aging muscles, wrote investigators from King’s College London. But animal proteins were more effective at helping to form muscle. A larger dose of plant protein is therefore necessary to achieve the same muscle-building response, they concluded.

“Simply transitioning from an animal-based protein diet to a plant-based diet, without adjusting total protein intake, will likely be detrimental to muscle health during aging,” said Professor Oliver Witard, an expert in exercise metabolism and nutrition. “A more balanced and less extreme approach to changing dietary behavior, meaning eating both animal and plant-based proteins, is best,” he concluded.

Plant-based diets have numerous health benefits and are becoming more popular. In fact, 39% of Americans responded that they are actively trying to eat more plant-based foods, according to a 2017 Nielsen Homescan survey.

The research was presented this week at The Physiological Society’s virtual early career conference Future Physiology 2020.