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Researchers have now begun to study the benefits of whey protein as a food that promotes more that just muscle growth.
Two recent studies show whey protein may have beneficial effects on both the body and mind. Stress
The researchers concluded after one study involving subjects under acute stress, that the "Consumption of a dietary protein enriched in tryptophan increased the plasma Trp-LNAA (large neutral amino acids) ratio and, in stress-vulnerable subjects, improved coping ability, probably through alterations in brain serotonin."
(Note: Alpha-lactalbumin is a major sub fraction found in whey, which has an especially high tryptophan content.)
Cognitive performance declines under chronic stress and it is theorized that the effect of chronic stress on performance may be partially due to reduced brain serotonin levels. As this study found, whey increased serotonin levels by dramatically increasing tryptophan levels. Tryptophan is an amino acid that is the direct precursor to serotonin
The same group of researchers sought to find out if whey protein could improve cognitive performance under stress.
Similar to the other study, they found a significantly greater increase in the plasma trp-LNAA ratio after consumption of whey rather than after casein (the control). Most interesting was a significant improvement in memory test performance observed only in the stress-vulnerable subjects. Worthy of note is the fact that participants who were not vulnerable to stress did not show an improvement in memory. These findings show that those prone to stress may benefit greatly from the use of whey protein and other nutrients known to raise serotonin levels. Fat Loss
Another study looked directly at the effects of different pre-workout drinks on muscle mass and body fat. The study came to some very interesting conclusions. The composition of the pre-exercise meal does affect substrate utilization during exercise and thus might affect long-term changes in body weight and composition. That is, what you eat before you work out can dictate what you use for energy (i.e. carbs, fats, and/or proteins), which alters what you burn (oxidize) for energy.
The researchers took groups of rats and made them exercise two hours daily for over five weeks (talk about over training!), either in the fasted state or one hour after they ingested a meal enriched with a simple sugar (glucose), whole milk protein or whey protein.
By the end of a five week study period, not surprisingly, body weight was greater in the glucose, whole milk protein and whey fed rats than in the fasted ones.
No shock there!
Here is where it gets interesting: In the group getting the glucose or the whole milk protein, the increase in weight was from body fat, but in the whey fed group...
the increase in weight was from an increase in muscle mass and a decrease in body fat!
Only the rats getting the whey before their workout increased muscle mass and decreased body fat. The researchers theorized this was due to whey's ability to rapidly deliver amino acids during exercise.
Is this the next big find in sports nutrition and populations (i.e. elderly, people with wasting diseases such as HIV, cancer, etc.) looking to preserve muscle mass and lose body fat? Hard to say at this time since the study was done in rats. But if it turns out to be true in humans-and there is no reason people can't try it now-it would indeed be a breakthrough in the quest to add muscle and lose fat.
Also, according to expert Will Brink...
Numerous studies on whey proteins demonstrate their potential for improving immunity, boosting glutathione and protecting against cancer. Sales of whey proteins are increasing worldwide and there has been a severe shortage of whey as producers attempt to meet the high consumer demand.
Researchers are finding possible medical uses for whey that are quite unexpected and different from whey's traditional role as an immune booster and anticancer functional food.
As with all cutting edge science, the new research is preliminary but exciting nonetheless. For example, whey may be able to reduce stress and depression by lowering cortisol and increasing brain serotonin, improve liver function (in those suffering from certain forms of hepatitis) and reduce blood pressure.
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