Protein is one of the six nutrients that provide energy for the body. Protein not only provides energy, but also aids in regulation of hormones, enzymes, the immune system, and fluid balance, and aids in body structure—bones and connective tissue.1

Protein supplementation is one means by which the body can consume protein. Furthermore, protein supplementation can help increase muscle mass. Whey protein is one such protein supplement that can help in this process as it provides an abundant supply of essential amino acids necessary to preserve muscle mass. Whey protein describes the soluble protein fractions taken from dairy milk. Consumption of whey protein may promote lean body fat. Taking a protein supplementation (like whey protein) close to resistance training can help increase stimulation of muscle anabolism.5

So, what effects do whey protein supplements have on muscle growth and resistance training? Whey protein supplementation has been thought to provide some benefits in gaining lean tissue mass; however, some studies have shown that whey protein supplementation has no effect on fat-free mass and no added benefits.

Hoping to discover the impact of whey protein supplementation on lean tissue mass and muscle strength after resistance training, researchers designed an experiment to test the effects of whey protein compared to whey protein with creatine monohydrate.

Individuals involved in strength training often turn to supplementation; whey protein is one such supplement that has gained recent popularity. Additionally, creatine monohydrate is also frequently used for supplementation during exercise bouts. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to evaluate how whey protein on its own and whey protein with creatine monohydrate affected resistance training.

In this metabolic double-blind study, subjects were 42 males between the ages of 18 and 31—with no previous steroid use, no use of supplementations within the past 6 weeks, and at least 3 years experience weight training. Random assignment was used to assign each subject one of three supplementations: whey protein, whey protein with creatine monohydrate, or a placebo. Subjects consumed their supplement daily in four equal servings. Each subject weight trained for 12 weeks—during the first 6 weeks subjects consumed their supplement, the following 6 weeks subjects continued training without any supplements.

Results showed that the groups consuming whey protein and whey protein with creatine monohydrate had significant gains in lean tissue mass after 6 weeks of training; however, no significant fat mass changes were observed.

All groups experiences significant gains in body mass after 6 weeks. After 12 weeks, no group experienced significant changes occurred for strength, lean tissue, fat mass, or body mass. Subjects who supplemented with whey protein plus creatine monohydrate had significantly greater increases in lean tissue mass and strength than the other two groups.

It is possible that creatine monohydrate allows individuals to train more and increase protein synthesis, thus increase protein requirements2.

Further studying the effects of whey protein, creatine, and whey protein/creatine combinations, one study examined the effects in older men. Specifically, the purpose was to discover what effect whey protein, creatine and whey with creatine have on middle-aged men’s body composition during resistance training. The subjects were 42 men between 48 and 72, assigned either a placebo, creatine, whey protein, or whey protein/creatine supplement. Over 14 weeks, 3 days a week, the men participated in resistance training and consumed their supplements on training days. Body composition was measure one week before and one week after training. No significant changes in body mass were seen between groups. All groups experienced significant arm bone free-fat free mass, while the supplementation groups saw significant gains in bone free-fat free mass.

Because the results showed similar gains across all groups, this suggests that neither whey protein nor creatine have significant effects on fat-free mass.4 While many combinations and protein supplementations exist, there remain questions as to which provides the best benefits. Furthermore, it is important to know how supplementations like whey or soy protein can help prevent disease by enhancing strength gains and body composition through resistance training.

One metabolic double-blind study sought to evaluate the effects of whey protein as compared to soy protein (combined with resistance training) on strength gains, body composition, and serum lipid. The subjects were 28 overweight males with serum cholesterol above 200mg/dL. Each subject was assigned to consume a supplement daily—soy protein, whey protein, or a placebo—while completing a 12 week resistance training program. Results showed that all groups had a significant reduction in percent body fat, fat mass, and waist-to-hip ratio, and an increase in fat free mass and strength. No significant serum lipid changes were seen between groups. Because strength gains were similar in all groups, the study suggests that a sufficient amount of protein rather than the source of protein allows strength gains to occur.

Furthermore, the study suggests that as long as overweight men consume an ample amount of amino acids, protein supplementation is not necessary to simulate protein synthesis.3

The three studies at hand suggest that whey protein supplements have little to no effect on muscle growth and resistance training. Rather, it appears that adequate protein intake and resistance training, on their own, lead to significant gains in muscle growth. Additionally, creatine monohydrate may affect protein synthesis thus affecting muscle growth; however, further investigation into studies on creatine monohydrate would be needed to support such claim.

References

1. Applegate, Liz. Nutrition Basics for Better Health and Performance. 2nd Edition. Kendall-Hunt, pp. 35-36 2006.

2. Burke, D.G., Chilibeck, P.D., Davison, K.S., Candow, D.G., Farthing, J., Smith-Palmer, T. The effect of whey protein supplementation with and without creatine monohydrate combined with resistance training on lean tissue mass and muscle strength. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism. 11: 349-364, 2001.

3. DeNysschen, C.A., Burton, H.W., Horvath, P.J., Leddy, J.J., Browne, R.W. Resistance training with soy vs whey protein supplements in hyperlipidemic males. Journal of International Society of Sports Nutrition. 6(8): 1-9, 2009.

4. Eliot, K.A., Knehans, A.W., Bembem, D.A., Witten, M.S., Carter, J., Bemben, M.G.. The effects of creatine and whey protein supplementation on body composition in men aged 48 to 72 years during resistance training.The Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging. 12(3): 208-212, 2008.

5. Hayes, A., Cribb, P.J. Effect of whey protein isolate on strength, body composition and muscle hypertrophy during resistance training. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care. 11: 40-44, 2008.