By Cliff Harvey PhD
The musculoskeletal system is actually two systems, the skeletal system (the bones that make up the ‘structure’ of the body for movement and protection of organs) and the muscular system, consisting of all the muscles that allow us to move the body around, and to move things within the body itself (like efficient movement of food through the gut, and helping to shift lymph back to circulation for processing). Muscles are connected to bones by fibrous bundles of collagen tissue (tendons) and when muscles contract, they pull the bones and allow for human movement.
The importance of protein for the musculoskeletal system
Strong, healthy muscles and bones are critical for health and performance, and protein is the king of nutrients for supporting the musculoskeletal system. All tissue is made up of protein structures that are, in turn, built from the amino acids that we get from proteins in foods. So, it is essential to get enough protein in order to thrive… and protein isn’t just important for muscles. Bone is made up of protein structures that are ‘mineralised’ (especially by calcium) and protein is equally important for strong, healthy bones!
Although most people get enough protein to survive, (1, 2) few actually get enough protein to support muscle and bone-loss as we age, (3) or to support optimal body composition (the fat-to-muscle ratio). Although ‘food comes first’ and is the most important thing to try to get right for your health, because many people do not get sufficient protein from diet alone, protein powders offer a convenient solution, either before or after exercise, or as the base for a nutrient-dense smoothie.
Key benefits of protein for the muscles and bones:
- More lean mass and less fat mass (4-8)
- Increased strength and power (4)
- Reduced bone loss and increased bone strength (5, 9, 10)
- Note: Increased protein also helps to improve lipid profiles, increase immunity and reduce infection! (11-13)
How to use protein
- Take 1-2 serves of Clean Lean Protein either before, or preferably after exercise
- For breakfast, or morning or afternoon snack: Blend 1-2 serves of Clean Lean Protein with berries, veggies (like kale or spinach), healthy fats (nut butter, hempseed or flaxseed oil, or MCTs or extra virgin olive oil), with water or your favourite milk or substitute for a ‘Carb-Appropriate’ protein ‘meal in a glass’!
- University of Otago and Ministry of Health. A Focus on Nutrition: Key findings of the 2008/09 New Zealand Adult Nutrition Survey. Wellington; 2011.
- Moshfegh A, Goldman J, Cleveland L. What we eat in America, NHANES 2001-2002: usual nutrient intakes from food compared to dietary reference intakes. US Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. 2005;9.
- Fulgoni VL. Current protein intake in America: analysis of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2003–2004. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2008;87(5):1554S-7S.
- Pasiakos SM, McLellan TM, Lieberman HR. The Effects of Protein Supplements on Muscle Mass, Strength, and Aerobic and Anaerobic Power in Healthy Adults: A Systematic Review. Sports Medicine. 2015;45(1):111-31.
- Genaro PdS, Martini LA. Effect of protein intake on bone and muscle mass in the elderly. Nutrition reviews. 2010;68(10):616-23.
- Kim JE, O’Connor LE, Sands LP, Slebodnik MB, Campbell WW. Effects of dietary protein intake on body composition changes after weight loss in older adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Nutrition reviews. 2016;74(3):210-24.
- Kim JE, Sands L, Slebodnik M, O’Connor L, Campbell W. Effects of high-protein weight loss diets on fat-free mass changes in older adults: a systematic review (371.5). The FASEB Journal. 2014;28(1 Supplement).
- Helms ER, Zinn C, Rowlands DS, Brown SR. A Systematic Review of Dietary Protein during Caloric Restriction in Resistance Trained Lean Athletes: A Case for Higher Intakes. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism. 2014;24(2):127-38.
- Hannan MT, Tucker KL, Dawson-Hughes B, Cupples LA, Felson DT, Kiel DP. Effect of dietary protein on bone loss in elderly men and women: the Framingham Osteoporosis Study. Journal Of Bone And Mineral Research: The Official Journal Of The American Society For Bone And Mineral Research. 2000;15(12):2504-12.
- Bell J, Whiting SJ. Elderly women need dietary protein to maintain bone mass. Nutrition reviews. 2002;60(10 Pt 1):337-41.
- Altorf – van der Kuil W, Engberink MF, Brink EJ, van Baak MA, Bakker SJL, Navis G, et al. Dietary Protein and Blood Pressure: A Systematic Review. PloS one. 2010;5(8):e12102.
- Santesso N, Akl EA, Bianchi M, Mente A, Mustafa R, Heels-Ansdell D, et al. Effects of higher- versus lower-protein diets on health outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2012;66(7):780-8.
- Lesourd BM, Mazari L. Immune responses during recovery from protein-energy malnutrition. Clinical Nutrition. 1997;16, Supplement 1:37-46.