Clinical Studies and Practice

Protein intake and lean body mass preservation during energy intake restriction in overweight older adults



Dietary-induced weight loss is generally accompanied by a decline in skeletal muscle mass. The loss of muscle mass leads to a decline in muscle strength and impairs physical performance. A high dietary protein intake has been suggested to allow muscle mass preservation during energy intake restriction.


To investigate the impact of increasing dietary protein intake on lean body mass, strength and physical performance during 12 weeks of energy intake restriction in overweight older adults.


Sixty-one overweight and obese men and women (63±5 years) were randomly assigned to either a high protein diet (HP; 1.7 g kg−1 per day; n=31) or normal protein diet (NP; 0.9 g kg−1 per day; n=30) during a 12-week 25% energy intake restriction. During this controlled dietary intervention, 90% of the diet was provided by the university. At baseline and after the intervention, body weight, lean body mass (dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry), leg strength (1-repetition maximum), physical performance (Short Physical Performance Battery, 400 m) and habitual physical activity (actigraph) were assessed.


Body weight declined in both groups with no differences between the HP and NP groups (−8.9±2.9 versus −9.1±3.4 kg, respectively; P=0.584). Lean body mass declined by 1.8±2.2 and 2.1±1.4 kg, respectively, with no significant differences between groups (P=0.213). Leg strength had decreased during the intervention by 8.8±14.0 and 8.9±12.8 kg, with no differences between groups (P=0.689). Physical performance as measured by 400 m walking speed improved in both groups, with no differences between groups (P=0.219).


Increasing protein intake above habitual intake levels (0.9 g kg−1 per day) does not preserve lean body mass, strength or physical performance during prolonged energy intake restriction in overweight older adults.

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We thank the dedication and cooperation of the participants of the study. Similarly, we acknowledge the help of all dietitians and students involved in the practical work.

Author contributions

EB, MT, LL and LG designed research; EB, MT, KB and PC conducted research; EB analyzed data; EB, MT, LL and LG wrote the paper; LG had primary responsibility for final content. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Corresponding author

Correspondence to L C P G M de Groot.

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Competing interests

The project is funded by TI Food and Nutrition, a public–private partnership on precompetitive research in food and nutrition. The researchers are responsible for the study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish and preparation of the manuscript. The industrial partners have contributed to the project through regular discussion. The authors declare no conflict of interest.

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Backx, E., Tieland, M., Borgonjen-van den Berg, K. et al. Protein intake and lean body mass preservation during energy intake restriction in overweight older adults. Int J Obes 40, 299–304 (2016).

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