Protein supplement study will contribute landmark findings in sports nutrition

November 18, 2016


man lifting weightsSchool of Kinesiology doctoral student Brooks Mobley is coordinating a study for his dissertation in the Molecular and Applied Sciences Laboratory (MASL) on the role of whey protein in building muscle mass. The dissertation is entitled, “The Effects of Different Protein and Amino Acid Supplements on Muscle Hypertrophy after 12 Weeks of Resistance Exercise in Untrained Men.”

Michael Roberts, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in the School of Kinesiology and director of MASL, is the Principal Investigator on the project collaborating with Christopher Lockwood, Ph.D., President of Lockwood, LLC. Faculty members from The Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine (VCOM) including Kaelin Young, Ph.D., Darren Beck, Ph.D., and Jeffery Martin, Ph.D., are also involved.

Based upon their prior research findings, Roberts, Lockwood, and Mobley came up with the idea that whey protein may be superior to other forms of protein such as soy protein in terms of building muscle mass and strength; and, more specifically, that the essential amino acid L-leucine alone does not dictate the body’s ability to increase muscle mass and strength. Additionally, the group hypothesized that a hydrolyzed (“pre-digested”) form of whey protein would further benefit body composition by promoting a loss in fat mass and a reduction in fat cell size.  Therefore, the three scholars designed a study that would test this hypothesis in humans.

The purpose of the study is to determine which supplement over a 12-week period provides the most optimal training adaptations in college-aged males. For 12 weeks in the fall of 2016, 42 male participants engaged in progressive resistance training. Subjects performed four exercises including free-weighted back squat, bench press, deadlifts, and bent-over rows. Each subject received one of five blinded supplements in the form of two shakes per day: whey protein concentrate, hydrolyzed whey protein concentrate, soy protein concentrate, a leucine-only supplement, or a placebo. Each supplement was equal in Total Calories, Total Fat, and Leucine (3g per serving); only Total Protein, source of protein, and Carbohydrates differed. This is critical given that the research trio hypothesized that whey protein has additive effects on resistance training adaptations beyond leucine alone.

“There has been a great deal of emphasis for athletes to consume a protein source in order to reach a post-meal blood ‘leucine threshold,’” Roberts said. “The leucine content of a protein source following a workout is very important, but our lab group recently published a paper from muscle cell petri dish studies demonstrating that whey protein also has other ‘bioactives’ beyond L-leucine which stimulate muscle growth. So, we’re excited to put this theory to the test in humans.”

In order to test this hypothesis, subjects engage in resistance training and consume a supplement, and undergo pre-testing and post-testing after the 12 weeks, which includes: (a) a blood draw (for monitoring anabolic hormones and whey-derived bioactives), (b) a leg muscle biopsy (for assessing muscle cell size changes), (c) a hip fat biopsy (for assessing fat cell size changes), (d) a whole-body x-ray scan (for assessing total-body muscle mass and total-body fat mass), and (e) a series of strength tests. The researchers are also trying to see if the protein source can modify fat cells to be more metabolically active (i.e., the “browning” of adipose fat). In other words, they want to test whether a minimally metabolic white adipose fat cell takes on more metabolically active characteristics like those of brown fat cells. Brown fat, known as “good fat,” contains more mitochondria and blood vessels than white fat and helps us burn calories, whereas white fat is primarily an insulator and produces hormones like estrogen and leptin.

Forty more college-aged male subjects will complete the same protocol in the spring of 2017.

“We are employing a unique resistance training program coupled with top-of-the-line protein supplements for this study,” said Mobley. “I am looking forward to analyzing the data. Several of the participants have already expressed satisfaction with their results.”

“We are employing a unique resistance training program coupled with top-of-the-line protein supplements for this study,” said Mobley. “I am looking forward to analyzing the data. Several of the participants have already expressed satisfaction with their results.”

The study was made possible by a $150,000 donation to Dr. Roberts’ MASL Lab from Hilmar Ingredients and Bionutritional Research Group (BNRG), facilitated by Dr. Lockwood. Over $200,000 of additional contributions in the form of active and non-active ingredients, contract manufacturing, packaging, analytical testing, shipping, and overhead costs for labor have been made by industry partners, including Hilmar Ingredients (coordinated by Dr. Chao Wu) and Bionutritional Research Group (BNRG) (coordinated by Kevin Lawrence), Glanbia Nutritionals, and  JW Nutritional. Dr. Lockwood’s consulting company Lockwood, LLC also provided a great deal of time and resources including Statistical Process Control (SPC), non-active ingredients, shipping, and current Good Manufacturing Practice (cGMP) compliance.

“Without Dr. Lockwood’s tireless efforts during the 12 months of planning prior to the start of the study, as well as the donors, none of this would have been possible,” Roberts said. “It requires a 20-person research orchestra working 10-hour days Sunday through Friday to pull off this caliber of a project. This will be a landmark study in the field of sports nutrition and will continue to bring positive research attention to the School of Kinesiology, the College of Education, and Auburn University as a whole.”

Other Auburn students involved with the project from the MASL Lab include doctoral students Cody Haun, Paul Roberson, Petey Mumford, Wesley Kephart, and Matt Romero, as well as undergraduate technicians and volunteers Shelby Osburn, Grey Anderson, David Baumohl, Romil Patel, Christopher Vann, Casey Sexton, Mary Feeney, and Ryan Gembel.