Essential amino acids are more effective at maintaining muscle than a high-protein supplement
Essential amino acids are more effective at maintaining muscle than a high-protein supplement

Essential amino acid-enriched meal replacements promotes superior net protein balance in older, overweight adults


Obesity is commonly accompanied by a condition called sarcopenia, which is the progressive loss of lean muscle mass alongside an increase in fat mass. Sarcopenia’s impact on body composition isn’t superficial. It contributes greatly to reductions in functional capacity and inhibits the ability to perform daily activities, particularly among the elderly population. Treatment isn’t as simple as calorie restriction and weight loss, since a reduction in calories often leads to even greater losses in muscle mass. 

Researchers previously showed that supplementation with a precise formula of essential amino acids was 3 times more effective than a whey protein meal replacement at stimulating muscle protein synthesis in older adults. However, individuals still lost some lean muscle mass.

In this current study, researchers theorize that elderly men and women need to meet more than just minimal protein requirements (0.8 g protein/kg/day) to fully maintain lean muscle mass. To test this hypothesis, they developed an essential amino acid blend that exceeds daily protein minimums. 

Trial Length

Acute metabolic study

Number of Subjects



All genders

Age Range

65 - 80

The Goal

To test the effects on muscle protein synthesis and lean tissue preservation of an essential amino acid (EAA)-enriched meal replacement (EMR) against those of a meal replacement with the highest amount of intact protein on the market (Bariatric Advantage) using stable isotope methodology.

The Results

Researchers examined changes in protein synthesis (PS), protein breakdown (PB), and net protein balance (NB). Results showed that the essential amino acid blend produced significantly greater gains in protein synthesis and greater reductions in protein breakdown, with a 2.5-fold higher increase in net balance compared to Bariatric Advantage. Whole body protein synthesis, protein breakdown, and net balance in response to BA and EMR

Because net protein balance is a direct indicator of increases and decreases in protein mass, it is apparent that a greater amount of precise essential amino acids can help preserve and build lean tissue to a greater degree than a meal replacement made of the highest amount of high-quality protein.


Researchers concluded that essential amino acids lead to greater gains in net protein balance and are an effective meal replacement that can help maintain lean muscle mass in elderly obsese adults.

The Why?

The loss of lean muscle and increase in fat mass in elderly obese individuals greatly reduces quality of life and future health outcomes. Supplementing with a targeted essential amino acid formula can help encourage weight loss while preserving lean muscle mass, a benefit not able to be replicated to the same degree with current meal replacements made up of the highest quality protein. 


Coker RH, Shin K, Scholten K, et al. Essential amino acid-enriched meal replacement promotes superior net protein balance in older, overweight adults. Clin Nutr. 2019;38(6):2821-2826. doi:10.1016/j.clnu.2018.12.013