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Unaccustomed exercise can lead to moderate to severe muscle damage that persists for several days to weeks.
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 The disruption to muscle fibers causes significant decrements in strength and thereby limits the athlete's ability to perform subsequent exercise. Adequate recovery is highly dependent on provision of essential amino acids. Therefore providing a high quality protein such as whey may mitigate the strength loss associated with intense unaccustomed exercise. Australian researchers had two groups of untrained men perform a bout of single leg resistance exercise consisting of 4 sets of leg press, leg extension, and leg flexion emphasizing the eccentric portion of the movement. The load was 120% of their maximum concentric lift for each exercise. Immediately after exercise and continuing for 14 days, subjects consumed a supplement consisting of a hydrolyzed whey protein isolate. The protein was consumed three times per day (about 35 grams per meal).   The other group received an equal amount of carbohydrate. Both isometric and isokinetic strength were significantly decreased compared to pre-exercise levels. In the carbohydrate group, isometric strength declined 21% after 1 day and progressively returned to pre-exercise levels over the next 14 days. In contrast, the whey protein group only showed a 12% decline in strength and they were nearly back to pre-exercise strength levels by 4 days. A similar pattern was shown with the isokinetic strength with whey protein showing less of a decline and faster recovery to baseline. This study shows that whey protein isolate consumed repeatedly after damaging exercise results in less loss in strength and faster recovery.

  •   Cooke MB, Rybalka E, Stathis CG, Cribb PJ, Hayes A. Whey protein isolate attenuates strength decline after eccentrically-induced muscle damage in healthy individuals.  J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2010 Sep 22;7:30.