Dietary Protein is Associated with
Musculoskeletal Health Independently
of Dietary Pattern: The Framingham
Third Generation Study

This section is compiled by Frank M. Painter, D.C.
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FROM:   Am J Clin Nutr. 2017 (Mar); 105 (3): 714–722

Mangano KM1, Sahni S, Kiel DP, Tucker KL, Dufour AB, Hannan MT

Department of Biomedical and Nutritional Sciences,
University of Massachusetts,
Lowell, MA;

The Meat Myth is Dead: Plant-Based Proteins Build Muscle
Same as Animal Protein, Study Finds

By Jill Ettinger

Organic Authority ~ February 14, 2017

If you’re vegan for any length of time, you may hear this common question: “Where do you get your protein?”   Well, according to science, plants will do you just fine.   The long-standing myth about the necessity of meat for building muscle has been disproven as a new study found plant-based proteins benefit muscle health the same as animal protein.

The study, published last week in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that the type of protein consumed — be it plant or animal — didn’t matter to muscle mass or strength.   Only the amount consumed; those subjects who consumed the least amount of protein had the lowest levels of muscle mass, but type of protein they ate had no impact on their muscoskeletal health.

The University of Massachusetts Lowell researchers compared the health records of close to 3,000 adult mean and women between the ages of 19 and 72, including detailed dietary questionnaires the subjects completed.   Dietary habits, particularly the sources of protein (meat, eggs, fish, chicken, or vegetarian sources like legumes, nuts, or seeds), were compared with lean muscle mass, bone mineral density, and quadriceps strength, “all measures that are important for fitness, health, and better functioning, especially as we get older,” notes

The conclusion was that increased protein intake from any clean source is directly connected to healthier, stronger muscles, an important consideration as we age and begin to lose muscle mass.

Lead study author Kelsey Mangano, PhD, assistant professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, told,

“As long as a person is exceeding the recommended daily allowance for protein, no matter the source in their diet, they can improve their muscle health.”

Background:   Above-average dietary protein, as a single nutrient, improves musculoskeletal health. Evaluating the link between dietary protein and musculoskeletal health from a whole-diet perspective is important, as dietary guidelines focus on dietary patterns.

Objective:   We examined the prospective association of novel dietary protein food clusters (derived from established dietary pattern techniques) with appendicular lean mass (ALM), quadriceps strength (QS), and bone mineral density (BMD) in 2986 men and women, aged 19-72 y, from the Framingham Third Generation Study.

Design:   Total protein intake was estimated by food-frequency questionnaire in 2002-2005. A cluster analysis was used to classify participants into mutually exclusive groups, which were determined by using the percentage of contribution of food intake to overall protein intake.

General linear modeling was used to

1)   estimate the association between protein intake (grams per day) and

bone mineral density (BMD),
appendicular lean mass (ALM),
ALM normalized for height (ALM/ht2), and
quadriceps strength (QS) (2008-2011) and to

2)   calculate adjusted least-squares mean outcomes across quartiles of protein
(grams per day) and protein food clusters.

Results:   The mean ± SD age of subjects was 40 ± 9 y; 82% of participants met the Recommended Daily Allowance (0.8 g · kg body weight-1 · d-1).

The following 6 dietary protein food clusters were identified:

fast food and full-fat dairy,
red meat,
low-fat milk, and

Bone mineral density (BMD) was not different across quartiles of protein intake (P-trend range = 0.32-0.82); but significant positive trends were observed for appendicular lean mass (ALM), ALM/ht2 (P < 0.001), and quadriceps strength (QS) (P = 0.0028).

Individuals in the lowest quartile of total protein intake (quartile 1) had significantly lower appendicular lean mass (ALM), ALM/ht2, and quadriceps strength (QS) than did those in the higher quartiles of intake (quartiles 2-4; (P ranges = 0.0001-0.003, 0.0007-0.003, and 0.009-0.05, respectively). However, there were no associations between protein clusters and any musculoskeletal outcome in adjusted models.

Conclusions:   In a protein-replete cohort of adults, dietary protein is associated with appendicular lean mass (ALM) and quadriceps strength (QS) but not with bone mineral density (BMD). In this study, dietary protein food patterns do not provide further insight into beneficial protein effects on muscle outcomes.


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