Protein-based supplement may aid in elderly muscle gains, study suggests

By Tim Cutcliffe

- Last updated on GMT

© iStock/ Kurhan
© iStock/ Kurhan

Related tags Lean body mass Muscle Omega-3 fatty acid Metabolism

Elderly men who consumed a whey protein based multi-ingredient supplement increased both muscle strength and lean mass, reveals a new study conducted at McMaster University in Canada.

The study, published in PLOS ONE,​ supplemented healthy older men with a combination of whey protein, creatine, vitamin D, calcium and omega-3 fatty acids (eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)).

The principal finding was “that twice daily consumption of a whey protein-based, multi-ingredient supplement resulted in significant gains in muscle strength and lean mass,” ​wrote lead author Kirsten Bell.

In the second phase of the trial, participants undertook a 12-week program of resistance exercise training (RET) and high-intensity interval training (HIIT), while still taking either the supplement or placebo.

During this exercise regime, both groups improved muscle strength, physical function, aerobic capacity and metabolic health. However, the only significant difference between the supplement and control groups was improved upper body strength in the former.

“The current results demonstrate that this multi-ingredient supplement may be beneficial in patients for whom structured exercise is not possible or who are undergoing periods of muscle disuse,”​ explained the team.

Mitigating sarcopenia

The findings are significant in the battle against sarcopenia – the decline in muscle mass and strength that occurs among the elderly - which increases their risk of falls and need for assisted living.

Previous research has indicated that even brief periods of physical inactivity can lead to substantial declines in strength and lean mass as well as metabolic health.

“This is of particular importance since the relatively slow and steady decline in strength and muscle mass with age is often punctuated by brief periods of muscle disuse (i.e., during hospitalisation) where losses are accelerated,”​ the researchers emphasised.

 “The gains in strength and lean body mass we observed would be the equivalent of offsetting about one year of age-related decline in these variables, suggesting that this formulation, especially when combined with exercise, could mitigate the progression of sarcopenia.”

"Clearly, exercise is a key part of the greatly improved health profile of our subjects," says Bell, "but we are very excited by the enhancements the supplement alone and in combination with exercise was able to give to our participants​."

Supplement composition

The trial participants were either supplemented  twice daily or given placebo.

Each supplement contained whey protein (30 grams (g)),  Creatine (2.5 g), Vitamin D3 (500 International Units (IU)), Calcium (400 milligrams (mg)) EPA (700 mg) and DHA (445 mg).

The researchers acknowledged that they could not isolate the effects of individual ingredients within the supplement. Nevertheless, “each ingredient has been shown to independently affect aspects of sarcopenia and thus has a rational basis for inclusion,” ​they explained.

Additionally, subgroup analysis suggested that improved vitamin D status influenced the increased strength in those in the supplement group who had been insufficient (serum vitamin D less than 50 nanomoles per litre) at baseline. (These individuals transitioned to adequate status by the end of the trial).

The researchers also proposed that the combination of ingredients could be more effective than any of the compounds alone.

Source: PLOS ONE

Published online: doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0181387

“A whey protein-based multi-ingredient nutritional supplement stimulates gains in lean body mass and strength in healthy older men: A randomized controlled trial”

Authors: Kirsten E. Bell, Stuart M. Phillips et al.

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