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The #1 Protein for Stronger Muscles As You Age, New Study Finds

One type of protein is best for preventing frailty risk.
FACT CHECKED BY Kristen Warfield

If you want to stay healthy and fit as you get older, then you'll want to eat the kind of diet that will keep your bones strong while also doing the same for your muscles.

In order to do the latter, you'll want to ensure that you're getting plenty of protein in your meals. However, it turns out that there's one kind of protein that's better than others when it comes to keeping your muscles strong as you age.

A study that was published in the Journal of Cachexia, Sarcopenia, and Muscle took a look at data from over 85,000 women who were all over 60 years old and noted who among them was experiencing a greater "risk of frailty" which includes "low strength." The outcome was apparently tied to protein.

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Although meat was the primary way that those in the study were getting protein, researchers found that eating plant protein—as opposed to either animal or dairy protein—had better results when it came to reducing the frailty risk.

tofu bowl with veggies, avocado, and quinoa

"Among the general population, diets that lack animal protein are often met with unfounded skepticism," Trista Best, a Registered Dietitian at Balance One Supplements, Environmental Health Specialist, and Adjunct Nutrition Professor, tells Eat This, Not That!."While I know that a plant-based diet will have better health outcomes than a primarily animal-based diet, these findings surrounding frailty are still quite interesting to hear."

Best also notes that it makes sense that a plant-based diet rich in plant protein would produce positive outcomes in these areas. The primary difference in animal and plant proteins is the amino acids most of them contain, she says.

According to the National Library of Medicine's MedlinePlus, "when proteins are digested or broken down, amino acids are left."

When this happens, our bodies then use amino acids to make proteins to help the body do various things like repair body tissue. Muscle tissue is among the four main types of tissue in our bodies which surely benefits in this way.

"Protein is made of 20 amino acids, nine of which must be taken in through outside sources as the body cannot make them on its own," Best says. "Animal proteins contain all nine of these essential amino acids while most plant proteins do not—though there are a few."

However, this is not too concerning considering a few intentional combinations of plant foods can make a complete protein (a protein that contains all nine essential amino acids).

"For instance, hummus and pita chips and beans and rice can be combined to make a complete plant protein," Best says.

To find out more about how your diet can keep your muscles in tip-top shape, be sure to read 25 Best Foods to Eat for Muscle Definition and Toning.

Desirée O
Desirée O is a freelance writer who covers lifestyle, food, and nutrition news among other topics. Read more about Desirée