Even though the positive effects of whey protein-containing supplements for optimizing the anabolic responses and adaptations process in resistance-trained individuals have been supported by several investigations, their use continues to be controversial. Additionally, the administration of different multi-ingredient formulations where whey proteins are combined with carbohydrates, other protein sources, creatine, and amino acids or derivatives, has been extensively proposed as an effective strategy to maximize strength and muscle mass gains in athletes.
We aimed to systematically summarize and quantify whether whey protein-containing supplements, administered alone or as a part of a multi-ingredient, could improve the effects of resistance training on fat-free mass or lean body mass, and strength in resistance-trained individuals when compared with other iso-energetic supplements containing carbohydrates or other sources of proteins.
A structured literature search was conducted on PubMed, Science Direct, Web of Science, Cochrane Libraries, US National Institutes of Health clinicaltrials.gov, SPORTDiscus, and Google Scholar databases. Main inclusion criteria comprised randomized controlled trial study design, adults (aged 18 years and over), resistance-trained individuals, interventions (a resistance training program for a period of 6 weeks or longer, combined with whey protein supplementation administered alone or as a part of a multi-ingredient), and a calorie equivalent contrast supplement from carbohydrates or other non-whey protein sources. Continuous data on fat-free mass and lean body mass, and maximal strength were pooled using a random-effects model.
Data from nine randomized controlled trials were included, involving 11 treatments and 192 participants. Overall, with respect to the ingestion of contrast supplements, whey protein supplementation, administered alone or as part of a multi-ingredient, in combination with resistance training, was associated with small extra gains in fat-free mass or lean body mass, resulting in an effect size of g = 0.301, 95 % confidence interval (CI) 0.032–0.571. Subgroup analyses showed less clear positive trends resulting in small to moderate effect size g = 0.217 (95 % CI −0.113 to 0.547) and g = 0.468 (95 % CI 0.003–0.934) in favor of whey and multi-ingredient, respectively. Additionally, a positive overall extra effect was also observed to maximize lower (g = 0.316, 95 % CI 0.045–0.588) and upper body maximal strength (g = 0.458, 95 % CI 0.161–0.755). Subgroup analyses showed smaller superiority to maximize strength gains with respect to the contrast groups for lower body (whey protein: g = 0.343, 95 % CI −0.016 to 0.702, multi-ingredient: g = 0.281, 95 % CI −0.135 to 0.697) while in the upper body, multi-ingredient (g = 0.612, 95 % CI 0.157–1.068) seemed to produce more clear effects than whey protein alone (g = 0.343, 95 % CI −0.048 to 0.735).
Studies involving interventions of more than 6 weeks on resistance-training individuals are scarce and account for a small number of participants. Furthermore, no studies with an intervention longer than 12 weeks have been found. The variation regarding the supplementation protocol, namely the different doses criteria or timing of ingestion also add some concerns to the studies comparison.
Whey protein alone or as a part of a multi-ingredient appears to maximize lean body mass or fat-free mass gain, as well as upper and lower body strength improvement with respect to the ingestion of an iso-energetic equivalent carbohydrate or non-whey protein supplement in resistance-training individuals. This enhancement effect seems to be more evident when whey proteins are consumed within a multi-ingredient containing creatine.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Battermann W. Whey protein for athletes. Deutsche Milchwirtschaft. 1986;37(33):1010–2.
Cribb PJ, Williams AD, Carey MF, et al. The effect of whey isolate and resistance training on strength, body composition, and plasma glutamine. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2006;16:494–509.
Tang JE, Manolakos JJ, Kujbida GW, et al. Minimal whey protein with carbohydrate stimulates muscle protein synthesis following resistance exercise in trained young men. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2007;32(6):1132–8.
Cermak NM, Res PT, de Groot LC, et al. Protein supplementation augments the adaptive response of skeletal muscle to resistance-type exercise training: a meta-analysis. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012;96(6):1454–64.
Miller PE, Alexander DD, Perez V. Effects of whey protein and resistance exercise on body composition: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. J Am Coll Nutr. 2014;33(2):163–75.
Tipton K, Elliott TA, Cree MG, et al. Ingestion of casein and whey proteins result in muscle anabolism after resistance exercise. Med Sci Sports Exc. 2004;36(12):2073–81.
Reitelseder S, Agergaard J, Doessing S, et al. Whey and casein labeled with L-[1-13C]leucine and muscle protein synthesis: effect of resistance exercise and protein ingestion. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2011;300(1):E231–42.
Hulmi JJ, Kovanen V, Selanne H, et al. Acute and long-term effects of resistance exercise with or without protein ingestion on muscle hypertrophy and gene expression. Amino Acids. 2009;37(2):297–308.
Tipton KD, Elliott TA, Cree MG, et al. Stimulation of net muscle protein synthesis by whey protein ingestion before and after exercise. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2007;292:E71–6.
Cribb PJ, Hayes A. Effects of supplement timing and resistance exercise on skeletal muscle hypertrophy. Med Sci Sports Exc. 2006;38(11):918–1925.
Kraemer WJ, Solomon-Hill G, Volk BM, et al. The effects of soy and whey protein supplementation on acute hormonal reponses to resistance exercise in men. J Am Coll Nutr. 2013;32(1):66–74.
Joy JM, Lowery RP, Wilson JM, et al. The effects of 8 weeks of whey or rice protein supplementation on body composition and exercise performance. Nutr J. 2013;12(1):86.
Copper R, Naclerio F, Allgrove J, et al. Creatine supplementation with specific view to exercise/sports performance an update. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2012;9:33.
Brown EC, DiSilvestro RA, Babaknia A, et al. Soy versus whey protein bars: effects on exercise training impact on lean body mass and antioxidant status. Nutr J. 2004;3:22.
Kreider RB, Earnest CP, Lundberg J, et al. Effects of ingesting protein with various forms of carbohydrate following resistance-exercise on substrate availability and markers of anabolism, catabolism, and immunity. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2007;4:18.
Kerksick CM, Rasmussen CJ, Lancaster SL, et al. The effects of protein and amino acid supplementation on performance and training adaptations during ten weeks of resistance training. J Strength Cond Res. 2006;20(3):643–53.
Kerksick CM, Rasmussen C, Lancaster S, et al. Impact of differing protein sources and a creatine containing nutritional formula after 12 weeks of resistance training. Nutrition. 2007;23(9):647–56.
Willems ME, Sallis CW, Haskell JA. Effects of multi-ingredient supplementation on resistance training in young males. J Hum Kinet. 2012;33:91–101.
Liberati A, Altman DG, Tetzlaff J, et al. The PRISMA statement for reporting systematic reviews and meta-analyses of studies that evaluate health care interventions: explanation and elaboration. PLoS Med. 2009;6(7):e1000100.
Moher D, Liberati A, Tetzlaff J, et al. Preferred reporting items for systematic reviews and meta-analyses: the PRISMA statement. PLoS Med. 2009;6(7):e1000097.
Moher D, Tricco AC. Issues related to the conduct of systematic reviews: a focus on the nutrition field. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008;88(5):1191–9.
van Loon LJ. Is there a need for protein ingestion during exercise? Sports Med. 2014;44(Suppl 1):S105–11.
Peterson MD, Rhea MR, Alvar BA. Application of the dose-response for muscular strength: a review of meta-analytic efficacy and reliability for designing training prescription. Strength Cond J. 2005;19(4):950–8.
Rhea MR, Alvar BA, Burkett L, et al. A meta analysis to determine the dose response for strength development. Med Sci Sport Exerc. 2003;35(3):456–64.
Roche AF. Anthropometry and ultrasound, chap 9. In: Roche AF, Heymsfield SB, Lohman TG, editors. Human body composition. 1st ed. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics; 1996. p. 167–89.
Higgins JP, Altman DG, Gotzsche PC, et al. The Cochrane Collaboration’s tool for assessing risk of bias in randomised trials. BMJ. 2011;343:d5928.
Burke DG, Chilibeck PD, Davidson KS, et al. The effect of whey protein supplementation with and without creatine monohydrate combined with resistance training on lean tissue mass and muscle strength. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2001;11(3):349–64.
Cribb PJ, Williams AD, Stathis CG, et al. Effects of whey isolate, creatine, and resistance training on muscle hypertrophy. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2007;39(2):298–307.
Ormsbee MJ, Mandler WK, Thomas DD, et al. The effects of six weeks of supplementation with multi-ingredient performance supplements and resistance training on anabolic hormones, body composition, strength, and power in resistance-trained men. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2012;9(1):49.
Cohen J. Statistical power analysis for the behavioral sciences. 2nd ed. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum; 1988.
Cooper R, Naclerio F, Larumbe-Zabala E, et al. Effects of a carbohydrate-protein-creatine supplement on strength performance and body composition in recreationally resistance trained young men. JOEP Online. 2013;16(1):72–85.
Littell JH, Corcoran J, Pillai V. Systematic reviews and meta-analysis New York. NY: Oxford University Press; 2008.
Burd NA, Tang JE, Moore DR, et al. Exercise training and protein metabolism: influences of contraction, protein intake, and sex-based differences. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2009;106(5):1692–701.
Devries MC, Phillips SM. Supplemental protein in support of muscle mass and health: advantage whey. J Food Sci. 2015;80(Suppl 1):A8–15.
Hulmi JJ, Tannerstedt J, Selanne H, et al. Resistance exercise with whey protein ingestion affects mTOR signaling pathway and myostatin in men. J Appl Physiol. 2009;106(5):1720–9.
Vary TC, Lynch CJ. Nutrient signaling components controlling protein synthesis in striated muscle. J Nutr. 2007;137(8):1835–43.
Hulmi JJ, Lockwood CM, Stout JR. Effect of protein/essential amino acids and resistance training on skeletal muscle hypertrophy: a case for whey protein. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2010;7:51.
Campbell B, Kreider RB, Ziegenfuss T, et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: protein and exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2007;4(8):8.
Schoenfeld BJ, Aragon AA, Krieger JW. The effect of protein timing on muscle strength and hypertrophy: a meta-analysis. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2013;10(1):53.
Tang JE, Moore DR, Kujbida GW, et al. Ingestion of whey hydrolysate, casein, or soy protein isolate: effects on mixed muscle protein synthesis at rest and following resistance exercise in young men. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2009;107(3):987–92.
Norton L, Wilson GJ. Optimal protein intake to maximize muscle protein synthesis. AgroFood Ind Hitech. 2009;20:54–7.
Stark M, Lukaszuk J, Prawitz A, et al. Protein timing and its effects on muscular hypertrophy and strength in individuals engaged in weight-training. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2012;9(1):54.
The authors thank Alyssa Sherry from the Clinical Research Institute of Texas Tech University HSC and Dr. Bettina Karsten from the Centre for Sport Science and Human Performance, University of Greenwich for grammar review and editing of the manuscript.
GlaxoSmithKline-Maxinutrition and the University of Greenwich provided joint funding for the development of research projects on the effectiveness of nutritional supplements. This funding was used to help in the preparation of this review but did not affect its purpose or content.
Conflicts of interest
Fernando Naclerio and Eneko Larumbe-Zabala declare that they have no conflicts of interest relevant to the content of this review.
About this article
Cite this article
Naclerio, F., Larumbe-Zabala, E. Effects of Whey Protein Alone or as Part of a Multi-ingredient Formulation on Strength, Fat-Free Mass, or Lean Body Mass in Resistance-Trained Individuals: A Meta-analysis. Sports Med 46, 125–137 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-015-0403-y