Clearly, protein is an essential nutrient for all living organisms. With the exception of water, it is the largest component in our bodies and represents about 15 % of body weight. One of the most important factors affecting the absolute protein/amino acid needs of strength athletes is energy intake. Now, protein supplements are widely consumed by athletes, recreationally active adults, and soldiers, who generally believe that combining the consumption of protein supplements with exercise will promote gains in lean mass, resulting in improved physical performance. This belief is based on information typically obtained from coaches, teammates, advertising, and family or friends, and not based on understanding the peer-reviewed evidence base for the efficacy of protein supplementation. We need to understand the research and evidence if or not the protein supplements are actually beneficial. We also need to understand the fact that whey proteins/supplements are not only beneficial for the strength and conditioning of athletes or active adults, research has also proven that it has shown a considerable amount of improvement in the elderly population and patients with different musculoskeletal and neurological conditions.
Cermak et al. provided a strong evidence-based analysis to show that protein supplementation augmented gains in lean mass and muscle strength in both younger and older adults. Another recent study has addressed the evidence that protein supplementation accelerates glycogen repletion, thereby enhancing acute or repeat exercise endurance. Whey protein supplements have also been proven to promote a greater gain in lean muscle mass and muscle strength in both trained and untrained individuals. A systematic review by S.M. Pasiakos et al. included 32 articles in their study and concluded that protein supplementation may enhance muscle mass and endurance when the training stimulus is adequate.
Unaccustomed exercise typically causes muscle soreness, which usually begins within 24 hours and peaks within 48 hours after exercise. Eccentric exercise, which occurs when a skeletal muscle lengthens as it produces force, provides a common exercise mode to induce muscle damage. Hence, nutrition supplements before or after eccentric exercise may significantly impact muscle damage and muscle recovery; specifically, a protein supplement has considerable potential to decrease muscle damage and soreness (Ohtani et al. 2006; Sugita et al. 2003).
It has been established that certain types of proteins affect the whole body protein anabolism and therefore have the potential to affect muscle and strength development during exercise. Whey protein (WP) is the collective term for the soluble protein fractions extracted from dairy milk. WP supplements, that is, 80%+ protein concentrates (WPC 80) or 90%+ protein isolates (WPI 90) have become popular among athletes and others interested in gaining muscle mass . Rather than merely increasing the quantity of protein in the diet, these particular proteins may also provide some unique nutritional advantages. Characteristically, these WP supplements contain a very high concentration of EAA (45- 55g/100g of protein) with minimal fat, carbohydrate and lactose. They are the richest known source of branch chain amino acids (BCAA), in particular, leucine (up to 14g/100g protein) . In a study conducted by Alan Hayes and Paul J Cribb, the authors found that whey protein isolate (WPI) supplementation resulted in greater eccentric strength after 12 weeks training period in healthy young adults. The authors have found out that aside from the use of supplementation during an exercise routine, regularly incorporating whey protein supplements in the daily diet may also promote the maintenance of lean body mass (LBM). In the same study, the authors concluded that whey proteins have advantages over other proteins in terms of promoting muscle accretion and hypertrophy. In trials involving healthy participants, supplementation with WPI is shown to promote better gains in strength, lean body mass and muscle fiber hypertrophy compared to equivalent does of protein or carbohydrate.
Dr. Sandeep Kadam
Master of Science in Physiotherapy (MSc PT),
Manchester Metropolitan University, U.K.