Whey protein works better combined with added extras


Strength athletes with a bit of nous don’t just consume whey, but mix it with substances like creatine, beta-alanine, HMB and sodium bicarbonate, to name but a few. And of course you can buy readymade mixtures in supplement stores, although unfortunately they often contain frighteningly high amounts of fast carbohydrates. So do these mixtures really work better than whey on its own? A British meta-study, which will soon be published in Sports Medicine, says they do.

In their meta-study the sports scientists Fernando Naclerio and Eneko Larumbe-Zabala collected data from nine previously published studies and re-analysed the data. The studies compared the effect of supplementation using whey alone with that of supplementation using whey-plus.

The ‘plus’ varied depending on the study: usually it was creatine, sometimes combined with vitamins, minerals such as chrome, inositol-arginine, N-acetyl-cysteine, casein, BCAAs, L-glutamine, beta-alanine, caffeine, HMB or sodium bicarbonate.

All studies had been done with subjects who did weight training. Sometimes the subjects were experienced strength athletes, sometimes not. The studies lasted from 6-12 weeks.

Many of the studies were sponsored or performed by the manufacturers or inventors of sports supplements. The authors remain quiet on that subject. They themselves, by the way, were sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline-Maxinutrition [uk.gsk.com], a manufacturer of sports bars, meal substitutes and pre- & post-workout products.

Strength athletes responded better to supplementation with whey-plus [WP-MTN] than to supplementation with whey alone [WP]. The figure below shows the results for lean body mass.


The whey-plus supplementation also resulted in bigger increases in strength. The figure below shows the increase in 1RM for bench presses – or other exercises for muscle groups in the upper body.


The researchers also looked at the increase of strength in the lower body muscle groups. For these, supplementation with whey-plus works the same as supplementation with whey alone.

“Overall, the currently available evidence from randomized controlled trials would support the use of either whey protein or WP-MTN as an effective strategy to improve fat free mass, as well as upper and lower body strength in resistance-trained individuals”, the researchers concluded. “The extra beneficial effects of whey protein-containing supplement on fat free mass and maximal strength are most evident when consumed as a part of a multi-ingredient containing creatine, whilst whey protein alone seems to produce less clear results.”

The results will be music to the ears of the sponsor.

Effects of Whey Protein Alone or as Part of a Multi-ingredient Formulation on Strength, Fat-Free Mass, or Lean Body Mass in Resistance-Trained Individuals: A Meta-analysis.


Even though the positive effects of whey protein-containing supplements for optimizing the anabolic responses and adaptations process in resistance-trained individuals have been supported by several investigations, their use continues to be controversial. Additionally, the administration of different multi-ingredient formulations where whey proteins are combined with carbohydrates, other protein sources, creatine, and amino acids or derivatives, has been extensively proposed as an effective strategy to maximize strength and muscle mass gains in athletes.

We aimed to systematically summarize and quantify whether whey protein-containing supplements, administered alone or as a part of a multi-ingredient, could improve the effects of resistance training on fat-free mass or lean body mass, and strength in resistance-trained individuals when compared with other iso-energetic supplements containing carbohydrates or other sources of proteins.

A structured literature search was conducted on PubMed, Science Direct, Web of Science, Cochrane Libraries, US National Institutes of Health clinicaltrials.gov, SPORTDiscus, and Google Scholar databases. Main inclusion criteria comprised randomized controlled trial study design, adults (aged 18 years and over), resistance-trained individuals, interventions (a resistance training program for a period of 6 weeks or longer, combined with whey protein supplementation administered alone or as a part of a multi-ingredient), and a calorie equivalent contrast supplement from carbohydrates or other non-whey protein sources. Continuous data on fat-free mass and lean body mass, and maximal strength were pooled using a random-effects model.

Data from nine randomized controlled trials were included, involving 11 treatments and 192 participants. Overall, with respect to the ingestion of contrast supplements, whey protein supplementation, administered alone or as part of a multi-ingredient, in combination with resistance training, was associated with small extra gains in fat-free mass or lean body mass, resulting in an effect size of g = 0.301, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.032-0.571. Subgroup analyses showed less clear positive trends resulting in small to moderate effect size g = 0.217 (95% CI -0.113 to 0.547) and g = 0.468 (95% CI 0.003-0.934) in favor of whey and multi-ingredient, respectively. Additionally, a positive overall extra effect was also observed to maximize lower (g = 0.316, 95% CI 0.045-0.588) and upper body maximal strength (g = 0.458, 95% CI 0.161-0.755). Subgroup analyses showed smaller superiority to maximize strength gains with respect to the contrast groups for lower body (whey protein: g = 0.343, 95% CI -0.016 to 0.702, multi-ingredient: g = 0.281, 95% CI -0.135 to 0.697) while in the upper body, multi-ingredient (g = 0.612, 95% CI 0.157-1.068) seemed to produce more clear effects than whey protein alone (g = 0.343, 95% CI -0.048 to 0.735).

Studies involving interventions of more than 6 weeks on resistance-training individuals are scarce and account for a small number of participants. Furthermore, no studies with an intervention longer than 12 weeks have been found. The variation regarding the supplementation protocol, namely the different doses criteria or timing of ingestion also add some concerns to the studies comparison.

Whey protein alone or as a part of a multi-ingredient appears to maximize lean body mass or fat-free mass gain, as well as upper and lower body strength improvement with respect to the ingestion of an iso-energetic equivalent carbohydrate or non-whey protein supplement in resistance-training individuals. This enhancement effect seems to be more evident when whey proteins are consumed within a multi-ingredient containing creatine.

PMID: 26403469 DOI: 10.1007/s40279-015-0403-y [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26403469