If you think whey protein is just for bodybuilders, think again. Researchers have discovered the popular protein supplement also helps the elderly build muscle.
A group of men and women, aged 60 to 85 years, were fed different forms of protein. One trial had subjects ingest 15g of whey protein. In two other trials, they ingested either 7g of essential amino acids (the same as is found in 15g of whey) or 8g of nonessential amino acids (the same as 15g of whey). Protein balance was measured for 3.5 hours after ingestion.
The nonessential amino acid trial resulted in no change in muscle protein balance, whereas the essential amino acid trial resulted in a small increase of about 25 mmol/kg lean leg mass. After whey ingestion, phenylalanine balance was markedly increased to over 100 mmol/kg lean leg mass.
The findings indicate that a given amount of whey protein provides added benefit beyond just that of its essential amino acid content. Ingestion of 15-25g of whey protein is a reasonable strategy for the elderly to help maintain, and perhaps even build muscle if combined with training.