Our Whey Protein Research, with Whey Protein Research

Since the Consortium’s first study by Dr. David Baer of the USDA in 2011, the WPRC has been dedicated to discovering and sharing whey’s benefits through science. Follow the links below to explore our progress…


Whey protein isolate improves vitamin B12 and folate status in elderly Australians with sub-clinical deficiency of vitamin B12 (Mol Nutri Food Ress, 2016)

Whey protein has been historically recommended to increase muscle mass when combined with resistance exercise due to its high leucine content – an essential amino acid that plays a central role in muscle protein synthesis. However, this study showed that whey protein could provide other potential benefits beyond its muscle mass effects. Whey protein contains vitamin B12 and folate, important micronutrients for healthy aging. For instance, vitamin B12 deficiency has been associated with increased risk of anemia, peripheral neuropathy, macular degeneration, cognitive decline, and dementia in adults. Older people can be more susceptible to vitamin B12 deficiency because of loss of appetite, diminished nutrient absorption, and problems with metabolism, all factors that can negatively affect vitamin B12 levels. In this study, whey protein isolate supplementation resulted in a significant increase in serum active B12 and serum folate compared with soy protein isolate (SPI) supplementation, in older adults with vitamin B12 sub-clinical deficiency. Biomarkers associated with increased risk of heart and neurodegenerative diseases were increased only by SPI supplementation. “These results indicate that whey protein isolate appeared to be of more benefit than SPI in those who have sub-clinical vitamin B12 deficiency”. Therefore, the results from this study provide evidence that further support whey protein’s beneficial attributes compared to other protein sources. In addition to providing all the amino acids required to maintain muscle mass, it can also provide other micronutrients, such as vitamin B12 and folate; nutrients also needed for healthy aging.


Whey Protein Supplementation and Higher Total Protein Intake Do Not Influence Bone Quantity in Overweight and Obese Adults Following a 36-wk Exercise and Diet Intervention (J Nutr, 2016)

To determine if whey protein supplementation, high total protein intake and change in total protein intake effect bone mineral density (BMD) and content (BMC), researchers conducted a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled 36-week exercise and supplement trial with overweight and class I obese middle-aged adults. Regardless of dose (0, 20, 40 or 60 grams of whey protein per day), whey protein supplementation was not associated with BMD or BMC. Total protein intake was also not associated with changes in total or regional BMD or BMC over time.


Relation Between Mealtime Distribution of Protein Intake and Lean Mass Loss in Free-living Older Adults of the NuAge Study (Am J Clin Nutr, 2016)

The goal of this study was to evaluate the association between protein quantity and timing with lean mass (LM) and appendicular LM in community-dwelling older adults (aged 67-84 years). During the two-year study, both men and women lost LM (P <0.05), however appendicular LM loss was not statistically significant. Those with evenly distributed protein intakes and men with high protein intakes had higher LM or appendicular LM throughout follow-up. The findings suggest that higher protein intakes, evenly distributed throughout meals, may be associated with higher muscle mass in older adults, but may not inhibit overall muscle loss.


Ingestion of Wheat Protein Increases In Vivo Muscle Protein Synthesis Rates in Healthy Older Men in a Randomized Trial (J Nutr, 2016)

In a randomized clinical trial, postprandial amino acid concentrations and muscle protein synthesis (MPS) rates were assessed following consumption of 35 grams of wheat protein, wheat protein hydrolysate, micellar casein, whey protein and 60 grams of wheat protein hydrolysate. Plasma essential amino acid (i.e., lysine, methionine and leucine) concentrations were highest with whey protein. Ingestion of 35 grams of whey protein or wheat protein hydrolysate did not significantly increase MPS above baseline. Myofibrillar MPS rates were higher with 35 grams of micellar casein versus 35 grams of wheat protein hydrolysate. MPS rate increased significantly from baseline with a higher dose (60 grams) of wheat protein. The study concluded that 35 grams of casein produced greater MPS responses than 35 grams of wheat protein, but a higher dose of wheat protein may increase MPS rates in healthy older men.


The Response of Muscle Protein Synthesis Following Whole-Body Resistance Exercise is Greater Following 40 g than 20 g of Ingested Whey Protein (Physiol Rep, 2016)

The purpose of this study was to determine how lean body mass (LBM) status influences myofibrillar protein synthesis (MPS) with a supplement of 20 or 40 grams of whey protein following whole-body resistance exercise. In a randomized, double-blind, crossover study of young resistance-trained men, it was found that men with higher and lower LBM had a similar MPS response during exercise recovery, however ingestion of 40 grams of whey protein stimulated a greater MPS compared to 20 grams whey protein in young resistance-trained men. LBM status showed no significant differences on MPS with whey supplementation after exercise.


Protein Supplementation Has Minimal Effects on Muscle Adaptations During Resistance Exercise Training in Young Men: A Double-Blind Randomized Clinical Trial (J Nutr, 2016)

This double-blind, randomized clinical trial determined the effect of a soy-dairy protein blend (PB) during resistance exercise training (RET) on muscle adaptation. Healthy young men (aged 18-30 years) participated in whole-body RET, three days per week for 12 weeks and received either 22 grams per day of PB, whey protein (WP) isolate, or an isocaloric maltodextrin (carbohydrate) placebo (MDP). Lean body mass (LBM) increased in all groups, however there was a greater change in LBM in the PB group compared to the MDP group. There was little difference in LBM changes between the WP and MDP groups. All groups had similar gains in strength with no significant differences between treatments.


Insulinotropic Effects of Whey: Mechanisms of Action, Recent Clinical Trials, and Clinical Applications (Ann Nutr Metab, 2016)

This review explores the composition of whey protein and the multifactorial mechanisms that may affect the production or activity of insulin. There is increasing evidence that whey protein in medical nutrition therapy may help manage blood glucose levels – particularly with acute and chronic hyperglycemia – however more research is required to determine duration, dose, form and delivery method. The effect on HbA1c levels also requires investigation. However, authors conclude that while more research is needed, whey protein may be a low-cost and low-risk option that may have potential in the management of glycemia and may offer novel medical/nutritional therapies in individuals at risk for the development of type 2 diabetes.


Whey Protein with Potassium Bicarbonate Supplement Attenuates the Reduction in Muscle Oxidative Capacity During 19 Days of Bed Rest (J Appl Physiol, 2016)

In a 21-day crossover bed rest study, ten healthy men received a whey protein plus potassium bicarbonate-enriched diet and a standardized isocaloric diet. After 19 days of bed rest, whey protein with potassium bicarbonate supplement lessened the reduction in muscle fiber oxidative capacity caused by inactivity. No significant impact on muscle capillarization or fatigue resistance of thigh muscles was observed from bed rest.


Biochemical and Clinical Effects of Whey Protein Supplementation in Parkinson’s Disease: A Pilot Study (J Neurol Sci, 2016)

In a pilot, placebo-controlled, double-bind study, researchers investigated the effect of six-months of undenatured whey protein isolate supplementation on plasma glutathione, plasma amino acids and plasma homocysteine in people with Parkinson’s disease. Compared to the control, patients who received the whey protein supplement had significant increases in reduced plasma glutathione and the ratio of reduced to oxidized glutathione. These changes were associated with a significant reduction in plasma homocysteine levels. Plasma levels of total glutathione were not significantly different between groups, but plasma BCAA and essential amino acids (EAA) were significantly increased with whey protein only. Larger, long-term, randomized clinical studies are warranted.


Including whey protein and whey permeate in ready-to-use supplementary food improves recovery rates in children with moderate acute malnutrition: a randomized, double-blind clinical trial (Am J Clin Nutr, 2016)*

Researchers evaluated the effectiveness of peanut-based ready-to-use supplementary food (RUSF) with soy protein compared to RUSF containing whey permeate and whey protein concentrate in the treatment of children with moderate acute malnutrition (MAM). A randomized, double-blind clinical effectiveness trial was conducted with rural Malawian and Mozambican children with MAM that were 6-59 months old. The children were treated with ∼75 kcal/kg/day either soy RUSF or whey RUSF for up to 12 weeks. The proportion of children that recovered was significantly higher in the group receiving the whey RUSF versus soy RUSF. However, the proportion of children who developed severe acute malnutrition during treatment was similar in both groups and the proportion of children who remained moderately malnourished after 12 weeks of treatment were also similar between both groups. While no significance was seen with length gain, there was significant improvement in mid upper arm circumference and weight-for-height ratio. Although the whey RUSF provided less total protein and energy than the soy RUSF, whey RUSF resulted in higher recovery rates and improved growth parameters (i.e. mid upper arm circumference/weight for height ratio), indicating the importance of milk protein in the treatment of MAM.


Whey protein, amino acids, and vitamin D supplementation with physical activity increases fat-free mass and strength, functionality, and quality of life and decreases inflammation in sarcopenic elderly (Am J Clin Nutr, 2016)*

Researchers investigated if a nutritional supplementation including whey protein, essential amino acids, and vitamin D combined with regular physical activity would increase fat-free mass, strength, physical function, and quality of life, and reduce the risk of malnutrition in 130 elderly adults (average age 80 years) with sarcopenia. Following the 12-week randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, participants taking the supplement and performing the physical activity improved aspects related to well-being in older adults with sarcopenia, including increased fat-free mass, strength and activities of daily living, compared to the group taking a placebo and performing exercise. Interventions including a supplement containing whey protein, essential amino acids and vitamin D in combination with regular physical activity may be important in helping reduce the negative effects of age-related loss of skeletal muscle and function.


Lesser suppression of energy intake by orally ingested whey protein in healthy older men compared with young controls(Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol, 2015)*

The goal of this study was to investigate the effects of protein intake on energy intake, appetite and gastric emptying in healthy older men (69-80 years old) compared to young men (18-35 years old) in a randomized, double-blind, cross-over trial. Compared with flavored water (0 g protein/2 kcal), energy intake was suppressed following protein drinks containing 30 g (120 kcal) or 70 g (280 kcal) of whey protein, but less in older men compared to young men. Total energy intake on days with the whey protein drink increased more in older men than young men. Gastric emptying of all three drinks was slower in older men than young men. In addition, appetite decreased in young men and increased in older men after consuming the whey protein drinks.


Dietary Protein Intake Is Protective Against Loss of Grip Strength Among Older Adults in the Framingham Offspring Cohort (J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci, 2015)*

The loss of both muscle mass and muscle strength are important public health issues that could contribute to impairments many older adults face performing daily activities. This observational study of 1,746 men and women over 6 years found that higher intakes of total and animal protein, but not plant protein, were protective against loss of muscle strength in community-dwelling adults over the age of 60. However these trends were not statistically significant in those younger than 60 years old. While more research is needed, increasing protein intake may help maintain muscle strength and help prevent mobility impairment in older adults.


Leucine partially protects muscle mass and function during bed rest in middle-aged adults (Am J Clin Nutr, 2015)*

In older adults, physical inactivity can induce rapid loss of muscle mass and function in situations such as bed rest due to illness or hospitalizations. The results in this randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study showed that leucine supplementation of 0.06 g/kg/meal may help protect muscle health during bed rest in middle-aged adults. After 7 days, participants consuming leucine had better knee extensor peak torque and endurance, and prevented an increase in body fat percentage and reduced whole-body lean muscle mass loss after 7 days, but not 14 days of bed rest. Additionally, muscle quality was maintained in the group consuming leucine after 14 days. Whey protein is rich in leucine and future research may involve whey protein’s role in protecting muscle health in older adults who are physically inactive and hospitalized.


Eight weeks of pre- and postexercise whey protein supplementation increases lean body mass and improves performance in Division III collegiate female basketball players (Appl Physiol Nutr Metab, 2015)*

Researchers investigated the effects of 8 weeks of whey protein supplementation on body composition and performance of NCAA Division III female basketball players. Subjects consumed 24 g of whey protein or 24 g maltodextrin (MD) immediately before and after anaerobic and resistance training (4 days/week) for 8 weeks. The whey protein group gained lean mass, while the MD group only trended toward gains in lean mass. The group consuming whey protein also lost fat mass and improved agility while the MD group did not. The whey protein group had larger gains in 1-repetition maximum (1RM) bench press, compared to the MD group, however, both groups increased leg press 1RM, vertical jump and broad jump performances. Eight weeks of whey protein supplementation improved body composition and some performance variables in trained female athletes.


Whey Protein Supplementation Preserves Postprandial Myofibrillar Protein Synthesis during Short-Term Energy Restriction in Overweight and Obese Adults (J Nutr, 2015)*

The double-blind, randomized controlled trial of 40 obese and overweight adults found that twice-daily whey protein supplementation, as part of an energy-restricted diet, is better than soy protein or carbohydrate supplementation at preserving muscle protein synthesis after a 14-day weight loss intervention. Including whey protein as part of an energy-restricted weight loss regimen can result in a reduced rate of the decline normally seen in muscle protein synthesis during an energy deficit. This could translate to preserving lean body mass in longer-term weight loss.


Effects of Whey Protein and Resistance Exercise on Body Composition: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials (JACN, 2014)*

A meta-analysis including 14 randomized controlled trials with a total of 626 adult participants concluded that whey protein, either as a supplement combined with resistance exercise or as part of a weight-loss or weight-maintenance diet, may provide men and women benefits related to body composition. In groups consuming whey protein, body weight and body fat significantly decreased from the baseline and there was a significant increase in lean body mass among studies that included resistance exercise in addition to whey protein consumption.


Whey Protein but Not Soy Protein Supplementation Alters Body Weight and Composition in Free-Living Overweight and Obese Adults (J Nutr, 2011)*

This double-blind, randomized clinical trial found that 23 weeks of daily consumption of ~56 g of whey protein led to lower body weight, body fat and waist circumference in overweight and obese, but otherwise healthy, adults compared to participants consuming carbohydrates. After 23 weeks, there was no difference in body weight and composition between the participants consuming soy protein and whey protein, or between soy protein and carbohydrates. However, body weight and fat mass of the group consuming the whey protein were lower by 1.8 kg and 2.3 kg, respectively, than the group consuming carbohydrates.


Effects of Whey Protein Supplements on Metabolism: Evidence from Human Intervention Studies (Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care, 2011)

This review examined 25 published intervention trials examining the effects of whey protein supplementation on metabolic disorders, blood pressure, vascular function and the musculoskeletal system. Little data was available for whey’s effect on bone metabolism, however, whey protein appears to have a blood glucose and/or insulin lowering effect and may increase muscle protein synthesis. The evidence for a clinical efficacy is not strong enough to make final recommendations to a specific dose or duration of supplementation.


The Chronic Effects of Whey Proteins on Blood Pressure, Vascular Function, and Inflammatory Markers in Overweight Individuals (Obesity, 2010)

In a randomized, single blind, parallel design study, diastolic blood pressure significantly decreased in groups of overweight and obese adults consuming whey protein and casein supplements over 12 weeks compared to the control group. Systolic blood pressure also decreased in groups receiving whey and casein supplements for 12 weeks compared to the baseline. At the end of the study, augmentation index (AI), measuring arterial status, was decreased in the whey protein group compared with baseline measures. AI was also significantly decreased in the whey group compared to the control and casein groups at 12 weeks. The findings demonstrate that supplementation with whey protein may improve blood pressure and vascular function in overweight and obese adults.


Effects of Whey Protein Isolate on Body Composition, Lipids, Insulin and Glucose in Overweight and Obese Individuals (Br J Nutr, 2010)

A 12-week, randomized, parallel design study found that overweight and obese adults that consumed whey protein (54 g/day) had no significant change in body composition or serum glucose compared to the control and casein-consuming groups. However, fasting triglyceride levels, fasting insulin levels and insulin resistance scores were significantly lowered in the whey group compared with the control group. Participants consuming whey protein also had a significant decrease in total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol compared to the casein and control groups. These findings demonstrate that whey protein supplementation may help improve fasting lipids and insulin levels in overweight and obese individuals.


Effect of Whey Protein Isolate on Strength, Body Composition and Muscle Hypertrophy During Resistance Training (Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care, 2008)

Because sarcopenia may be related to age-related health issues, it is important to study exercise and nutrition-based strategies to help build muscle mass earlier in life. Whey proteins are a rich source of essential amino acids, including leucine. Consuming whey protein can rapidly elevate plasma amino acids, which may help support the preservation of muscle mass. Studies involving whey protein supplementation have been shown to be effective in improving the effects of resistance exercise, especially when consumed in the hours around exercise training.

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Whey Resources You Can Use!

To help professionals share the benefits of whey protein with their peers and consumers, the WPRC created The Whey to Help Achieve a Better Body Composition toolkit. Based on a recently published meta-analysis and the growing body of research, the toolkit provides evidence-based information on whey protein’s role on body composition and weight management

Click here to view The Whey to Help Achieve a Better Body Composition toolkit and download tools and resources


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