Systematic review and meta-analysis of protein intake to support muscle mass and function in healthy adults

We performed a systematic review, meta-analysis, and meta-regression to determine if increasing daily protein ingestion contributes to gaining lean body mass (LBM), muscle strength, and physical/functional test performance in healthy subjects. A protocol for the present study was registered (PROSPERO, CRD42020159001), and a systematic search of Medline, Embase, CINAHL, and Web of Sciences databases was undertaken. Only randomized controlled trials (RCT) where participants increased their daily protein intake and were healthy and non-obese adults were included. Research questions focused on the main effects on the outcomes of interest and subgroup analysis, splitting the studies by participation in a resistance exercise (RE), age (<65 or ≥65 years old), and levels of daily protein ingestion. Three-level random-effects meta-analyses and meta-regressions were conducted on data from 74 RCT. Most of the selected studies tested the effects of additional protein ingestion during RE training. The evidence suggests that increasing daily protein ingestion may enhance gains in LBM in studies enrolling subjects in RE (SMD [standardized mean difference] = 0.22, 95% CI [95% confidence interval] 0.14:0.30, P < 0.01, 62 studies, moderate level of evidence). The effect on LBM was significant in subjects ≥65 years old ingesting 1.2-1.59 g of protein/kg/day and for younger subjects (<65 years old) ingesting ≥1.6 g of protein/kg/day submitted to RE. Lower-body strength gain was slightly higher by additional protein ingestion at ≥1.6 g of protein/kg/day during RE training (SMD = 0.40, 95% CI 0.09:0.35, P < 0.01, 19 studies, low level of evidence). Bench press strength is slightly increased by ingesting more protein in <65 years old subjects during RE training (SMD = 0.18, 95% CI 0.03:0.33, P = 0.01, 32 studies, low level of evidence). The effects of ingesting more protein are unclear when assessing handgrip strength and only marginal for performance in physical function tests. In conclusion, increasing daily protein ingestion results in small additional gains in LBM and lower body muscle strength gains in healthy adults enrolled in resistance exercise training. There is a slight effect on bench press strength and minimal effect performance in physical function tests. The effect on handgrip strength is unclear.