Loss of muscle mass with age (sarcopenia) may be caused by a reduction of muscle protein synthetic response to food intake. A group of researchers set out to find which milk protein was the best for muscle protein accretion, and would therefore help stave off sarcopenia.
Three groups of older men were fed a meal-like amount of whey, casein, and casein hydrolysate proteins. Their protein ingestion was combined with an intravenous tracer which was used to assess digestion and absorption kinetics, and their muscle synthesis rates were also calculated from the ingested tracer.
According to the study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition:
“Whey protein stimulates postprandial muscle protein accretion more effectively than do casein and casein hydrolysate in older men. This effect is attributed to a combination of whey’s faster digestion and absorption kinetics and higher leucine content.”
Dr. Mercola’s Comments:
It may seem like common sense that if you don’t use your muscles, they’ll eventually atrophy away, yet so many people fail to apply this information.
The older you get, the faster your muscles atrophy if you’re not regularly engaging in appropriate exercise. Additionally, older muscles do not respond well to sudden or intense bouts of exercise, so the key to avoiding sarcopenia (age-related muscle loss) is to challenge your muscles with intense exercise on a regular basis throughout your life—although it’s never too late to start.
Protein is essential for healthy muscle growth and maintenance, but as you age, your body becomes increasingly less able to utilize the protein in your food for building muscle, which makes the following information all the more important.
Is Strength Training Sufficient to Prevent Age-Related Muscle Loss?
Sarcopenia, or age-related muscle loss, affects about 10 percent of those over 60, with higher rates as age advances.
- Hormonal changes
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Oxidative damage
- Insulin resistance
It’s a major challenge that many elderly go through, and, as I just mentioned, regular exercise is essential to counteract muscle loss. However, it’s important to realize that simply lifting weights will not necessarily result in gaining muscle mass. Additionally, if you are involved in prolonged catabolic exercises like aerobics or running, you will not have the hormonal influences to build muscle, even if you lift weights.
It’s important to understand that in order to effectively build muscle you also need to incorporate high-intensity exercises such as Sprint 8, in addition to strength training.
This is one of the types of exercise that allows your body to produce human growth hormone (HGH) naturally. HGH is also known as “the fitness hormone,” and is essential for healthy aging, fitness, and yes, muscle building.
Additionally, you need to supply your muscles with the appropriate fuel at the appropriate time to provide them with the proper signals and building blocks to build new muscle tissue.
This is where whey protein, which is often referred to as the gold standard of protein, comes into play. Ideally you’ll want to consume the whey about 30 minutes before your workout to help increase both fat burning and muscle building. The whey meal will stop the catabolic process in your muscle and promote protein synthesis towards recovery and growth. If you have done a strength training workout you can repeat the dose about one hour later.
There is ONLY a two hour window after exercise that allows your body to fully use the proteins you ingest for optimizing muscle repair and growth, so it is important to get the timing right here. One of the reasons whey protein works so well is that it is a protein that assimilates very quickly, and will get to your muscles within 10-15 minutes of swallowing it, supplying your muscles with the right food at the right time.
A study published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports & Exercise showed the amino acids found in high quality whey protein activate certain cellular mechanisms, including a mechanism called mTORC-1, which in turn promote muscle protein synthesis, boost thyroid, and also protect against declining testosterone levels after exercise.
Whey Protein to Improve Muscle Building
High-protein, low-carbohydrate diets have been repeatedly shown to be the most effective both for muscle building and weight loss.
Amino acids and protein are the building blocks of your muscles, but certain amino acids, such as leucine, can also signal genes in your muscle to grow and build protein, and they do that even during times of food deprivation as long as these amino acids are circulating through your blood stream.
Hence, there are two primary factors involved in effective fitness nutrition (regardless of your age):
- A high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet
- A diet high in certain amino acids, the most notable of which is leucine
Whey protein is the perfect “fitness food” as it contains not only high quality protein, but also extremely high amounts of leucine.
Ori Hofmekler, author of The Warrior Diet, and Unlock Your Muscle Gene, is an expert on how to use food to build muscle and improve your health, and we have previously discussed the profound benefits of whey protein on your general health, and for muscle building in particular.
Leucine—A Powerful Muscle Builder
Leucine is part of branched-chain amino acid that serves multiple functions in your body, one of which is signaling the mTOR (Mammalian Target of Rapamycin) mechanism, to increase protein synthesis and builds your muscle.
However, according to Hofmekler, you need VERY HIGH amounts of leucine to reap the optimal effect—FAR more than the recommended daily allowance (RDA)—because most of it gets used up as an energy substrate or building block rather than an anabolic agent.
The highest concentrations of leucine are found in dairy products; particularly quality cheese and whey protein.
Be aware that taking leucine as a free form amino acid supplement can be counterproductive and wrought with side effects. For example, intravenous administration of free form leucine has shown to cause severe hyperglycemic reactions and insulin resistance.
Hence, to get the benefits without the side effects, make sure you get your leucine from food only. The typical requirement for leucine to maintain body protein is 1-3 grams daily. However, to optimize its anabolic pathway, you need an estimated 8-16 grams of leucine daily, according to Hofmekler.
The following chart presents leucine content in common foods:
Leucine Content in food / per 100g
Whey Protein Concentrate 8.0g Raw Cheddar Cheese 3.6g Lean Beef 1.7g Salmon 1.6g Almonds 1.5g Chicken 1.4g Chick Peas 1.4g Raw Eggs 1.0g Egg Yolk 1.4g Sheep Milk 0.6g Pork 0.4g Cow Milk 0.3g
This means that to obtain the minimum eight gram leucine requirement for anabolic purposes, you’d have to consume a pound and a half of chicken, or about 16 eggs, or half a pound of raw cheddar cheese!
Most would agree that eating these amounts of food each day simply isn’t feasible. However, you only need three ouncesof high-quality whey to reach the eight gram requirement, making whey an obvious choice.
Beware: Most Whey Proteins are Inferior and Will Actually Harm You
There’s no shortage of whey products on the market, but unfortunately, most of them will NOT give you the health benefits associated with high-quality whey. First of all you want to use a whey protein concentrate. High quality whey protein concentrates also have glutamylcysteine, the major precursor to glutathione, which is another phenomenal anti-aging nutrient.
There is probably no other area of processed foods where you need to be careful than in selecting a high quality whey supplement.
Most whey proteins are processed from ultrapasteurized milk and many are exposed to acid processing. Heat and acid damages the protein and makes it insoluble in water. This is one of the key ways to differentiate high quality whey protein from inferior ones.
But the whey manufacturers know this, and know that insoluble powders are not appealing for a variety of reasons, so they add chemical flavors and detergents to restore flavor and solubility. They put in genetically modified soy lecithin, and also dump chemical surfactants, which are used in soap, like polysorbate 80, propylene glycol, and ethoxylated mono-diglycerides along with maltodextrin, caseinates, and hydrolyzed proteins, which are really disguised MSG. They also use artificial sweeteners, like aspartame and sucralose.
The overheated whey protein is a clearly inferior form of whey that should be avoided because it contains putrid proteins, which are actually more damaging to your health than rancid fats. They also change their molecular shape to the wrong form. If you have taken biochemistry you will be familiar with optical isomers. Proteins in foods and in your body are in the L form, but processing used to produce whey isolates produces damaging D optical isomers, which are not designed to be in your body. Depositing these D proteins in your bone, brain and muscle is associated with accelerated aging. Accumulation of D proteins in the brain has been linked to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson.
Also beware of whey protein isolates. These should be avoided for reasons discussed below..
Whey Protein Isolates have Dangerous Forms of Protein
All whey protein isolates are devoid of nutritional co-factors including alkalizing minerals, naturally occurring vitamins, and lipids, which are lost in the processing… This renders them deficient and overly acidifying. Unlike whole protein food concentrates which does not acidify your body due to its alkalinizing minerals, whey protein isolate are over acidifying.
Whey isolate can be a serious liability.
If chronically consumed in large amounts (such as with bodybuilders or athletes) without alkalizing foods, it can acidify your body and over time may lead to metabolic acidosis with consequences that include waste of muscle and bone tissues, total metabolic shut down, and increased vulnerability to degenerative disease.
Many cheap whey protein isolates are produced from acid cheese; they’re byproducts of acid processing, which is a cheap way to separate whey from the curd. Most of these whey products are rated below pet foods because of the inferior quality of the protein, which is actually more of a nitrogen waste product than one that will produce health benefits that are mentioned in the featured study.
Additionally, once the fat has been removed from whey protein isolate, you lose some of the most important components of its immunological properties, such as phospholipids, phosphatidylserine and CLA. All of the IgG immunoglobulins, which are an excellent source of glutamine and glutamylcysteine, are also bound to the fat globule, and therefore lost in the processing of whey isolates.
So the bottom line is that if you want to use whey protein, PLEASE do not use an inferior whey isolate as there is no doubt in my mind it will cause more damage to you than benefit.
Guidelines for Finding a High-Quality Whey
To ensure you’re getting a high-quality product, make sure the whey you’re buying fulfills the following requirements:
Organic (hormone-free) Grass-fed Made from unpasteurized (raw) milk Cold processed, since heat destroys whey’s fragile molecular structure Minimally processed Rich, creamy, full flavor Water soluble Sweetened naturally, not artificially, and without sugar Highly digestible—look for medium chain fatty acids (MCTs), not long chain fatty acids
Hofmekler recommends using whey derived from raw milk cheese manufacturing as it’s the highest quality whey you can possibly find today.
One of the most important components of the whey is glycomacropeptides (GMP), which has amazing immuno components that are critically important for your gut flora. However, only whey produced from raw milk can grant you these benefits. Other varieties do not.
Insulin Resistance Also Impacts Muscle Wasting
Another factor that adds to the problem of age-related muscle loss is insulin resistance. As you age, insulin no longer prevents your muscle from breaking down between meals and overnight as it normally does when you’re young. The same phenomenon occurs when you’re insulin resistant or diabetic.
Why is that?
It’s because the muscle-building mechanism mentioned earlier, called mTOR, is part of the insulin pathway, so insulin sensitivity is essential to the mechanism that builds protein in your muscles. In order to grow muscle, the mTOR mechanism must be activated.
If your insulin receptors are insensitive, this cannot occur, and muscle wasting becomes inevitable. So, needless to say, it’s very important to keep your insulin levels low to avoid becoming insulin resistant—not just for your overall health, but also to maintain healthy muscle.
Here, again, whey protein is a phenomenal choice, because it increases GLP-1, a satiety peptide that promotes healthy insulin secretion, and helps your insulin work more effectively.
Additionally, testosterone and human growth hormone (HGH) can also activate the mTOR mechanism, and as mentioned earlier, the only way to promote HGH naturally is through Sprint 8-type exercises. So, in a nutshell, the combination of high intensity exercises and high quality whey protein 30-60 minutes before and after your workout is ideal for preventing insulin resistance and muscle wasting.
Other Beneficial Supplements for Optimal Muscle Performance
Lastly, I’d like to mention two additional supplements that can help optimize muscle performance:
- Carnosine in the form of beta-alanine, and
Carnosine is a pluripotent dipeptide composed of two amino acids (beta-alanine and histadine), found most notably in your muscles, where it helps buffer lactic acids and serves as a potent antioxidant that can help quell muscle inflammation.
It appears particularly useful for improving anaerobic high intensity exercise performance, which is why I mention it here.
While you can easily purchase these as supplements, please understand that I do NOT recommend doing that. Rather it is far better to get them from whole foods. Vegans need to be particularly careful here as only animal foods are high in carnosine and beta alanine.
However, carnosine is rapidly broken down by enzymes into its constituent amino acids, which are then absorbed by your muscles and re-formed back into carnosine. This makes carnosine supplementation ineffective. Most studies find that if you want to increase athletic performance with carnosine, your best bet is to use beta-alanine instead, because it appears to be the rate limiting amino acid in the formation of carnosine.
Beta-alanine has also been shown to be helpful for preventing muscle soreness when working out.
Astaxanthin is another “supernutrient”—a phenomenally potent antioxidant—well worth mentioning here as it has been shown to help improve muscle endurance, workout performance and recovery. It also reduces inflammation from all causes, including workout injuries, and even enhances your ability to metabolize fat.
So, as you can see, age-related muscle wasting doesn’t have to happen to you… Following the advice detailed above can go a long way toward maintaining healthy muscle mass as you age.