Written by justis berg
10 June 2011

By Robbie Durand, M.A. and Juha Hulmi, Ph.D.


The Whey To Go

Latest Whey Protein Research


Muscle anabolism due to exercise and nutrient intake is influenced by various factors, such as the type of protein consumed. Previous research documented that a rapidly-absorbed protein such as whey is going to lead to a greater insulin and amino acid response than a casein protein. New research suggests that having a whey protein shake may be the most anabolic supplement you can take.

In a previous study, Finnish researchers randomly assigned subjects to consume a whey protein shake before and immediately after exercise, while another group consumed a drink that looked and tasted exactly the same, but was just a placebo. Neither the subjects nor the researchers knew who was getting the whey protein and who was getting the placebo. There was no difference in daily protein, carbohydrate, fat, and total calorie consumption between the two groups. The only difference was a whey protein shake added before and after exercise. The protein consumption of the subjects was already pretty high, ~1.4-1.5 g/kg. And importantly, nutrition was not restricted— so the study examined whether the addition of a timed, high-quality protein to meals can be as important as suggested.

So how much effect can two little timed whey protein shakes have? The men performed whole-body resistance exercise for 21 weeks. At the end of the study, subjects who consumed as little as 15 grams of whey protein before and after exercise, twice weekly, had greater increases in muscle hypertrophy than the placebo and control group.1 The group that consumed whey protein before and after exercise had an increase in muscle quadriceps area of ~10 percent, while the placebo group had an increase of ~7.5 percent. Of the muscle strength variables, whey protein intake also had a minor positive effect on isometric leg force production in the leg press. So, here you have two groups doing the exact same exercises and workouts, yet a simple whey protein shake was the only difference for those who got bigger.  A new study took the earlier study and examined the signaling pathways for protein synthesis.


Dr. Hulmi’s New Whey Protein Research

Dr. Hulmi’s study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology further supporting the use of whey protein before and after exercise. Dr. Hulmi looked at key signaling pathways for stimulating protein synthesis and stimulating muscle hypertrophy (p70 S6K, 4E-BP1). Activation of the Akt/mTOR pathway and its downstream targets, p70S6K/4E-BP1, is requisitely involved in regulating skeletal muscle fiber size.

In the study, young men consumed either a whey protein drink (15 grams of whey protein isolate) before and after resistance exercise, or a placebo. The men performed a heavy resistance training protocol at 80 percent of a 1 RM with 2-minute rest periods. At the end of the study, the whey protein group had rapid increases in the key signaling pathways for muscle protein synthesis and also accelerated muscle hypertrophy— increased activation of p70S6K which prevented the decrease in 4E-BP1 and also enhanced and prolonged the activation of mTOR— all good for muscle protein synthesis and growth.

Dr. Hulmi’s research showed that taking whey protein strengthens and prolongs the key signaling pathways for protein synthesis after resistance exercise.2

I spoke Dr. Hulmi about the study and he said, “It is not a surprise that whey is such an effective source for growth, as early milk in lactation (mother milk) has ~90 percent whey! Compared to normal bovine milk which has only ~20 percent of whey. So nature has made a wise selection to support growth. The practical applications of the study are clearly ‘whey to go’ at least immediately after workout but possibly also before exercise to effectively support muscle anabolism.”



1. Hulmi JJ, Kovanen V, Selänne H, Kraemer WJ, Häkkinen K, Mero AA. Acute and long-term effects of resistance exercise with or without protein ingestion on muscle hypertrophy and gene expression. Amino Acids, 2008 Jul 27.

2. Hulmi JJ, Tannerstedt J, Selanne H, Kainulainen H, Kovanen V, Mero AA. Resistance exercise with whey protein ingestion affects mTOR signaling pathway and myostatin in men. J Appl Physiol, 2009 Mar 19.