Athletes develop whey-better muscles

From San Diego, at the Experimental Biology 2003 meeting

Shops that cater to body builders sell large volumes of dietary supplements, especially products that combine the natural compound creatine with whey protein, a waste product of cheese making. Despite the supplements’ popularity, “no study had actually examined [their] impact on muscle-fiber characteristics,” notes Paul Cribb, of Victoria University in Melbourne, Australia.

His team recruited 33 men in their mid-20s, all highly trained bodybuilders, for a 13-week dietary trial. New data from the study confirm muscle-building benefits from the supplement combo.

The researchers divided their volunteers into four groups, giving each man the same caloric bonus per day: a flavored drink containing a gram of supplement per kilogram of bodyweight. One supplement contained just carbohydrates, another just whey powder, and the last two a mix of creatine with either carbohydrates or whey.

Neither the athletes nor the scientists knew which supplement any volunteer received until the trial was over.

Throughout, the men performed supervised resistance training three times a week, and all experienced strength gains. However, men supplemented with whey made bigger gains than those getting just extra carbohydrates did. Adding creatine further boosted gains, with the whey-creatine supplement offering the biggest strength enhancement. The gains roughly correlated with increases in the cross-sectional area of type-II muscles–those that bulk up in response to exercise and produce maximum force, Cribb notes. In the men taking whey-creatine supplements, the cross-sectional area of such muscles increased 12 times as much as it did in the men getting just a carbohydrate drink.

Whey’s bodybuilding benefits might also help elderly people, who typically lose muscle and strength over time, says Cribb (SN: 8/10/96, p. 90: Indeed, his colleagues are now investigating whey supplementation for the geriatric set.


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Janet Raloff is the Editor, Digital of Science News Explores, a daily online magazine for middle school students. She started at Science News in 1977 as the environment and policy writer, specializing in toxicology. To her never-ending surprise, her daughter became a toxicologist.

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