November 1, 2007
by Greg Miller and Matt Pikosky
Research Confirms Health Benefits of Whey Protein
Whether today’s health-focused consumer wants to add lean muscle, improve overall body composition, feel full longer after eating or battle high blood pressure, science points to whey protein as a source of health benefits.
As a natural component of milk and yogurt or as a healthy ingredient added to nutrition bars and beverages, whey protein is one of the most concentrated sources of essential amino acids available. It also has the highest biological value of any ingredient protein (104 for whey protein versus 100 for eggs, 74 for soy protein and 54 for wheat gluten), making it easily absorbed by the body.
A growing body of research affirms whey’s health benefits in several promising areas.
Synthesizing Lean Muscle
Workouts develop muscle by breaking it down and rebuilding it from protein stores in the body. This process is enhanced by consuming certain foods shortly before or after exercise.
Leucine, in particular, is linked to enhanced muscle protein synthesis. Whey protein delivers more muscle-building branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) than most other proteins (26 grams of BCAAs leucine, isoleucine and valine per 100 grams of whey protein). More leucine is found in whey protein isolate (14 percent) than in other protein sources such as casein (10 percent), egg protein (9), soy protein isolate (8) or wheat (7).
Several studies have documented whey protein’s positive influence on muscle protein synthesis following a single resistance training session. Additional research with young men has shown that combining whey protein supplementation with regular resistance training leads to lean muscle tissue increases greater than those seen when resistance training is combined with consumption of a carbohydrate supplement.
New research shows proximity of consumption to exercise session may be key. Participants who consumed 20 grams of whey protein in combination with resistance exercise saw comparable improvement in muscle protein balance whether consumption took place immediately before or after training.
Maintaining muscle mass is a vital factor in preventing diabetes, obesity, sarcopenia and osteoporosis.
Proteins are typically better than carbohydrates at inducing satiety, or a feeling of fullness. Research is beginning to examine whether different types of protein are better than others in providing this effect. Science suggests that whey proteins further support satiety due to bioactive components that increase serum amino acid levels and slow digestion. By controlling satiety, whey protein can help people regulate their food intake and manage weight.
Researchers have looked at the impact of whey protein on satiety. Young men who were given a 200-calorie beverage containing 45 to 50 grams of sweet whey protein one hour before a pizza meal ate less than those who consumed drinks containing carbohydrates or egg protein. Further research will clarify whey protein’s effect on satiety and food intake.
Managing Blood Pressure
Whey proteins also may play a role in reducing high blood pressure. Bioactive peptides from whey can inhibit angiotensin converting enzymes (ACE), a key enzyme affecting blood pressure. ACE inhibitors are a leading high blood pressure treatment. In a six-week study, mildly hypertensive individuals who took 20 grams of a certain hydrolyzed whey protein daily saw significant drops in systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Such findings suggest whey proteins could manage hypertension with fewer side effects than medication.
To learn more about the potential health benefits of whey proteins, visit www.innovatewithdairy.com .
Greg Miller, Ph.D., M.A.C.N., is executive vice president of science and research for Dairy Management Inc. and the National Dairy Council. Matt Pikosky, Ph.D., R.D., is director of research transfer for DMI.