Daily and per-meal animal and plant protein intake in relation to muscle mass in healthy older adults without functional limitations: an enable study

  • Anne GingrichEmail author
  • Alexandra Spiegel
  • Julia E. Gradl
  • Thomas Skurk
  • Hans Hauner
  • Cornel C. Sieber
  • Dorothee Volkert
  • Eva Kiesswetter
Original Article



Animal protein sources are considered to be of higher quality than plant protein sources in terms of stimulating muscle metabolism. Our objective was to investigate whether protein intake from animal and plant sources on a daily and per-meal basis differs between healthy older adults with normal and with low muscle mass.


In this cross-sectional study including 100 healthy, community-dwelling adults (51 women) aged 75–85 years without functional limitations dietary intake was assessed using 7-day food records. Protein intake was classified by six animal and six plant protein sources. Skeletal muscle index (SMI) was determined based on bioelectrical impedance analysis and categorized into ‘normal’ or ‘low’ (men ≤ 8.50, women ≤ 5.75 kg/m2). The absolute animal and plant protein intake and their proportion of total protein intake were compared between these groups using Mann–Whitney U test.


Daily protein intake was 0.96 ± 0.27 g/kg body weight (BW), 61 ± 10% hereof were from animal origin with no difference between men and women. SMI was low in 39% of men and 35% of women. No differences in absolute daily animal and plant protein intake between participants with normal vs. low SMI were observed. The proportion of animal protein was not different on neither a daily nor a per-meal basis between those with normal and those with low SMI. Women with low SMI consumed less animal protein (in g) for breakfast (4.8 ± 4.1 g vs. 8.5 ± 6.9 g, p = 0.031) and fewer meals per day with at least 50% animal protein (2.2 ± 0.9 vs. 2.7 ± 1.0, p = 0.046) compared to those with normal SMI.


On a daily basis, the absolute and relative animal protein intake does not differ between healthy older adults without functional limitations with normal vs. low SMI. However, our results indicate that in women animal protein intake on a per-meal basis might be of relevance for the maintenance of muscle mass.


Protein intake Food source Protein distribution Muscle mass Aging 



We thank Dr. Lynne Stecher for her statistical advice and Julius Hannink for his technical support in data preparation.

Author contributions

DV, HH, TS, CCS, EK and AG conceived and designed the experiments. AG and AT performed the experiments. AG analyzed the data. JEG analyzed the 7-day food records and supported the data analysis. AG, EK and DV interpreted the data. AG wrote the paper and EK and DV revised it critically. All authors have read and approved the final version of the article. The present work was performed in fulfillment of the requirements for obtaining the degree Dr. rer. biol. hum (Doctoral Degree in Human Biology).


This work was funded by a grant of the German Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF) 01EA1409C. The German Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF) had no role in design, methods, subject recruitment, data collections, analysis and preparation of paper. The preparation of this paper was supported by the enable Cluster and is catalogued by the enable Steering Committee as enable 012 ( We acknowledge support by Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft and Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) within the funding programme Open Access Publishing.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

All authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Ethics approval

All procedures were approved by the ethics committee of the Friedrich-Alexander-Universitat Erlangen-Nurnberg (number: 291_15 B).

Statement of human and animal rights

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed consent

Written informed consent was obtained from all participants prior to the assessments.

Supplementary material

40520_2018_1081_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (457 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 457 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Anne Gingrich
    • 1
    Email author
  • Alexandra Spiegel
    • 1
  • Julia E. Gradl
    • 1
  • Thomas Skurk
    • 2
  • Hans Hauner
    • 2
    • 3
  • Cornel C. Sieber
    • 1
    • 4
  • Dorothee Volkert
    • 1
  • Eva Kiesswetter
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute for Biomedicine of AgingFriedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-NürnbergNurembergGermany
  2. 2.Chair of Nutritional MedicineTechnische Universität MünchenFreising, WeihenstephanGermany
  3. 3.Institute of Nutritional Medicine, Klinikum rechts der IsarTechnical University of MunichMunichGermany
  4. 4.Krankenhaus Barmherzige Brüder RegensburgRegensburgGermany

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