Are hydrolysates the best protein for muscle recovery and growth?

In bodybuilding and sports nutrition, it’s crucial that muscles can recover, be repaired and strengthen efficiently and quickly. And the best protein source available for that purpose is whey protein. But which type of whey protein?

Peter Schouw Andersen
Peter Schouw Andersen Director, Application Science and Technology, Arla Foods Ingredients

By Peter Schouw Andersen, Head of Science & Sales Development at Arla Foods Ingredients

While several different whey protein products exist, hydrolysed forms of whey protein, known as ‘hydrolysates’, are highly effective supplements for the physically active, whether you are a bodybuilder, sprinter, triathlete or simply looking to maintain your muscle mass as you get older.

Pre-digested power
Whey protein powders have been available for almost 70 years, but we’ve only recently optimised the whey protein by creating a hydrolysed – or ‘pre-digested’ – option for more rapid absorption in the body. Basically, we’ve taken the intact protein and enzymatically cut it into smaller peptide fragments or free amino acids, which the body can utilise quickly and effectively.

Lately, we have collaborated with the Section for Sports Science at Denmark’s Aarhus University in conducting two PhD studies. Broadly speaking, we investigated the effect of whey protein hydrolysates on muscle growth and recovery after acute, muscle-damaging exercise and resistance training. After 12 weeks of resistance training, more muscle mass was gained with hydrolysed whey proteins compared with using carbohydrates alone. Moreover, the proliferation of specific cells involved in muscle recovery, could be increased with ingestion of whey protein hydrolysate. Called ‘myosatellite’ or just ‘satellite cells’, these stem cells are activated by mechanical strain, replicating and differentiating into mature muscle cells by fusion with existing fibres.

In elite orienteering runners, we have previously seen improved performance and recovery after an intense one-week training camp in athletes ingesting whey protein hydrolysates compared with a traditional carbohydrate sports formulation, while markers of muscle damage were reduced.

Life’s too short for slow proteins
For the bodybuilding and CrossFit communities, for example, whey protein hydrolysate has the potential to boost workout results and event preparation. By taking the protein before and after exercise, the quick-release amino acids are likely to repair and build muscle and tendon tissue quicker and more efficiently, enabling more frequent training. With frequent workouts, hydrolysed whey protein may help, in fact, to reduce muscle recovery times from days to hours.

We are learning all the time, and occasionally even we’ve been surprised by certain observations. One such observation is that hydrolysates may not only play a role in encouraging muscle recovery and growth, but also in reducing body fat. In a recent eight-week resistance training study, subjects ingesting whey protein hydrolysates lost 1 kg of fat mass during the training period which was not seen with whey protein concentrate ingestion. More research is needed, however, to gain a better understanding of these potential effects.

This blog contains material and information intended for B2B customers, suppliers and distributors, and is not intended as information to the final consumers.