12 January - 20 June 2016

Whey protein-based supplement increases muscle strength in older men

A study conducted by researchers from McMaster University, Canada, published in the journal PLOS ONE, has found that a whey protein-based nutritional supplement can improve muscle strength in older men, independent of exercise with added increases when combined with exercise.

A study conducted by researchers from McMaster University, Canada, published in the journal PLOS ONE, has found that a whey protein-based nutritional supplement can improve muscle strength in older men, independent of exercise with added increases when combined with exercise.

The age-related decline of muscle mass and strength, sarcopenia, is known to increase the risk of several negative outcomes including metabolic disorders. In the study, Phillips et al. note that muscular strength is a “strong and independent predictor of all-cause mortality in older adults”. Previous studies have shown that supplementation with vitamin D and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (n-3 PUFA) might help muscle strength and additionally that resistance exercise training (RET) and protein and creatine supplementation can help counter muscle mass and strength loss in older adults.

Phillips et al. state their primary objective was to see if multi-ingredient supplementation could “stimulate gains in strength, physical function, lean body mass and metabolic health” in a group of older men. The study split 49 healthy men, aged 60 years or over, into two groups, one of which received a supplement drink and one a control drink. The drinks, made at home from sachets with 425ml water, were taken twice daily and contained whey protein, creatine, calcium and vitamin D. The participants also took 10ml of oil daily. The supplement group took oil containing 3000mg n-3 PUFA while the control group took safflower oil. Prior to the study and at weeks 6 and 19, participants were assessed for isotonic strength, aerobic fitness, physical function, body composition, oral glucose tolerance and dietary intake. The participants consumed their drink for 6 weeks (phase 1) followed by an additional 12 weeks (phase 2) whilst also then undergoing an exercise program involving twice weekly RET sessions and a weekly high-intensity interval training session.

Following statistical analysis, Philips et al. found that isotonic muscle strength increased in the supplementation group by 3% during phase 1 and by an additional 20% during phase 2. The control group showed a 21% increase during phase 2. For body composition, the study found that in the supplementation group during phase 1, whole body lean mass increased by 0.7kg compared to baseline but did not alter further in phase 2. Blood levels of vitamin D (as 25(OH)D) increased in the supplementation group from 44.3 ±2.6 nM at baseline to 50.5 ±3.1 nM and 57.1 ±3.9 nM at weeks 6 and 19 respectively. The control group showed no change in lean mass or 25(OH)D levels. In addition, Phillips et al. found that triglyceride and total cholesterol were reduced by 35% and 7% respectively for the supplementation group after phase 1 with no further reduction after phase 2. The control group showed no change in triglycerides but did show a 3% reduction in cholesterol after phase 2. Measures of insulin sensitivity improved for all participants after phase 2.

In discussion, Phillips et al. note that each ingredient in the supplement has been previously shown to “independently affect aspects of sarcopenia” and so earned its place. They state that their study “clearly shows increases in muscle strength and lean mass in response to a multi-ingredient supplement in the absence of exercise training” and note that muscle strength, physical function, aerobic capacity and metabolic health were improved further with a 12-week exercise programme. In conclusion, Phillips et al suggest that additional, longer, trials with a larger sample size and including women would be required to confirm if their supplement represents a “viable anti-sarcopenic strategy with the potential for broader use”.

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