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We could talk all day about the benefits of protein intake from whole food sources and supplementation. (And believe us, here at ProSource HQ, that's basically what we do.)
High-quality protein, obviously, increases muscle mass and strength. It's literally the building block of muscle cells. It will help you burn fat and get lean. Protein has a higher thermic effect than fats or carbs (that is, it requires more energy to digest) and can also reduce food cravings between meals and late at night.
Protein will help your body repair itself after injury, which is why hospitals prioritize protein formulas for patients in extended-stay scenarios. It can actually mitigate cardiovascular disease risk (more on this in a bit) and support healthy bone mass.
Most importantly, enhanced protein ingestion is a key to a long, healthy life. Scientists are recognizing that one of the key markers of early-onset aging and disease is a loss of muscle mass and strength (also known as sarcopenia). We all lose some muscle as we age, but advanced rates of sarcopenia are the main cause of frailty, bone fractures, reduced quality of life, and the diseases associated with these health statuses.
Given all we know about protein's benefits, and the thousands upon thousands of clinical studies performed to acquire this knowledge, you would think that scientists have long ago moved on to more arcane subjects of sports nutrition research.
You would be wrong. Scientists are still engaged in ongoing research on the many benefits of protein intake, adding to our already copious stores of knowledge of this precious muscle fuel. Here's a science update on the newest studies in the field of protein research.
Meta-Analyses of Protein Intake, Muscle Mass/Strength and Cardiovascular Health
While we know that protein intake and muscle mass/strength increases are inextricably linked, systemic reviews of large numbers of relevant studies can put the extent of the value of protein intake into sharp relief. In a systematic review and meta-analysis published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in 2107, researchers considered the effect of protein supplementation on resistance training-induced gains in muscle mass and strength in healthy adults, derived from 49 recent studies with 1863 participants.
They found that dietary protein supplementation significantly enhanced changes in muscle strength and size during prolonged resistance exercise training in healthy adults. Specifically, dietary protein supplementation significantly increased changes in strength in one-repetition-maximum capacity, fat-free mass composition and muscle size/muscle fibre cross-sectional area (1 Robert W Morton, et al).
We don't normally associate protein ingestion with heart health, but researchers have long been aware of a connection. In fact, a systematic review of over 40 published clinical studies indicated that increased protein intake lowered systolic blood pressure (the top number of a reading) by 1.76 mm Hg on average and diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number of a reading) by 1.15 mm Hg (2 Wieke Altorf-van der Kuil, et al).
Adding to this accumulated evidence, a systemic review and meta-analysis published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition in 2018 found that whey protein supplementation not only improved body composition in overweight patients, it reduced cardiovascular risk as well. The review was conducted on randomized control trials comparing whey protein supplementation to placebo or controls where both changes in body composition and changes in cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors as secondary outcomes were recorded. In the nine research trials included in the meta-analysis, there was a significant reduction of body weight, lean mass, and fat mass favoring the whey protein group. There were also improvements in multiple CVD risk factors including levels of systolic blood pressure, diastolic blood pressure, glucose, high-density lipoprotein, and total cholesterol (3 Kamonkiat Wirunsawanya, et al).
Whey Protein, Exercise Performance and Recovery
In a 2017 study published in the journal Nutrients, researchers investigated whether whey protein ingestion enhances whole body net protein balance and recovery of exercise performance during overnight (10 hours) and 24-hour recovery after whole body resistance exercise in trained men. In a double-blind placebo-controlled crossover fashion, participants performed a strenuous bout of whole body resistance exercise in the evening prior to consuming one serving of 25g of whey protein or an energy-matched placebo. They also ingested a similar shake in the morning after exercise.
The researchers found that consumption of 25g of whey protein after an evening bout of resistance exercise tended to improve whole body net protein balance over 10 hours of overnight recovery compared to isocaloric carbohydrate supplementation (the control group). Consuming an additional 25g of whey protein in the morning after exercise contributed to the maintenance of a greater whole body protein balance over the 24-hour recovery period. Whey protein supplementation was also associated with enhanced recovery exercise performance after an intense bout of resistance exercise. They concluded that resistance-trained individuals benefit from protein supplementation after an evening bout of resistance exercise as well as the following morning to attenuate overnight fasted-state protein losses and enhance exercise performance recovery (4 Daniel W. D. West, et al).
Whey protein offers benefits for weight-training athletes, but can it help endurance athletes? One recent study suggests it can. In a 2017 study published in the International Journal of Medical Sciences, researchers conducted a randomized, double-blind study to compare the effects of consuming whey protein vs. maltodextrin (a placebo) with regard to the exercise performance of male track team athletes. To measure endurance, several clinical biochemical parameters were considered biomarkers for evaluating physiological functions or status after exercise. These included measurements of aspartate aminotransferase (AST), lactate dehydrogenase (LDH), creatine kinase (CK) and blood urea nitrogen (BUN), with higher levels of each indicating increased physiological fatigue.
At the end of the test, the researchers observed that AST, LDH, CK, and BUN were significantly lower in the whey group compared to the placebo group. Whey protein supplementation demonstrated functional activities in terms of physiological protection and recovery promotion. As to the body composition, whey protein supplementation significantly increased the weight compared to the placebo, via elevating the muscle mass. Thus, it was determined that whey protein supplementation can ameliorate exercise fatigue and promote recovery (5 Wen-Ching Huang, et al).
Whey protein supplementation has also been shown to support the recovery of older adults who have experienced extended periods of immobility (such as after surgery or recovery from illness). In a clinical study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2018, researchers aimed to determine if protein supplementation, with proteins of substantially different quality, would alleviate the loss of lean mass by augmenting muscle protein synthesis (MPS) while inactive during a hypoenergetic state. Men and women between the ages of 65 and 80 were subjected to a two-week simulated hospital stay or bout of inactivity and also given either a whey protein formula or a collagen protein shake. When activity returned to normal during the one-week recovery period, muscle protein synthesis and muscle rebuilding was significantly greater in the group consuming whey protein. The collagen group did not see any improvements (6 Sara Y Oikawa).
Combining Amino Acid Supplements With Whey Protein Shakes
One question we get asked a lot here at ProSource is, "Why do I need a BCAA product if there are already plenty of aminos in the whey protein shake I drink?" A clinical study published this year (2020) in the Journal of the International Society Of Nutrition sought to answer that question. In the study, test subjects were supplemented with either a combination of an essential amino acid supplement and whey protein formula or whey protein alone.
Whole-body rates of protein synthesis, breakdown and net balance, as well as muscle protein fractional synthetic rate (FSR) were measured post-supplementation. Plasma EAA levels increased following consumption of each beverage, with the greatest response in the high-dose EAA/protein combination. Similarly, the increase in net balance between whole-body protein synthesis and breakdown was greatest following consumption of the high-dose EAA/protein combination, compared to whey alone. Indeed, the researchers concluded that there may be an interactive effect between free EAA and whey protein that makes their combination highly anabolic in a dose dependent manner that exceeds the anabolic response to a whey-protein based supplement alone by approximately 3- and 6-fold for the low- and high-doses of free EAA/protein, respectively, when evaluated on a gram-to-gram basis (7 Sanghee Park).
Clearly, daily supplementation with a whey protein shake is well-indicated for support of strength and muscle mass increase. But combining that whey protein with an essential amino acid supplement may offer proportionally greater benefits. On this subject, more investigation is needed.
Every day, in laboratories around the world, scientists are adding to our stores of knowledge regarding every aspect of sports nutrition and physique/performance enhancement. Here at ProSource, we follow these new developments with great interest and dedication as we strive to incorporate the latest and most innovative science into our respected line of sports supplements. We take pride in being your #1 source for sports science news and information.
1 Robert W Morton, Kevin T Murphy, Sean R McKellar, Brad J Schoenfeld, Menno Henselmans, Eric Helms, Alan A Aragon, Michaela C Devries, Laura Banfield, James W Krieger, Stuart M Phillips. A systematic review, meta-analysis and meta-regression of the effect of protein supplementation on resistance training-induced gains in muscle mass and strength in healthy adults. Brit Journal Sports Med, Vol 52, Issue 6
2 Wieke Altorf-van der Kuil, Mariëlle F Engberink, Elizabeth J Brink, Marleen A van Baak, Stephan J L Bakker, Gerjan Navis, Pieter van 't Veer, Johanna M Geleijnse. Dietary protein and blood pressure: a systematic review. PLoS One. 2010 Aug 11;5(8):e12102.
3 Kamonkiat Wirunsawanya, Sikarin Upala, Veeravich Jaruvangvanich and Anawin Sanguankeo. Whey Protein Supplementation Improves Body Composition and Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Overweight and Obese Patients: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, Vol 37 2018, Issue pp. 60-70.
4 Daniel W. D. West, Sidney Abou Sawan, Michael Mazzulla, Eric Williamson, and Daniel R. Moore. Whey Protein Supplementation Enhances Whole Body Protein Metabolism and Performance Recovery after Resistance Exercise: A Double-Blind Crossover Study. Nutrients. 2017 Jul; 9(7): 735.
5 Wen-Ching Huang, Yung-Cheng Chang, Yi-Ming Chen, Yi-Ju Hsu, Chi-Chang Huang, Nai-Wen Kan, and Sheng-Shih Chen. Whey Protein Improves Marathon-Induced Injury and Exercise Performance in Elite Track Runners. Int J Med Sci. 2017; 14(7): 648–654.
6 Sara Y Oikawa, Chris McGlory, Lisa K D'Souza, Adrienne K Morgan, Nelson I Saddler, Steven K Baker, Gianni Parise, Stuart M Phillips. A randomized controlled trial of the impact of protein supplementation on leg lean mass and integrated muscle protein synthesis during inactivity and energy restriction in older persons. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 108, Issue 5, November 2018, Pages 1060–1068.
7 Sanghee Park, David D. Church, Gohar Ahar, Scott E. Schutzler, Amy a. Ferrando, Robert R. Wolfe. Anabolic response to essential amino acid plus whey protein composition is greater than whey protein alone in young healthy adults. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. Vol 17, Article 9, 10 Feb 2020.
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