Whey Protein and Branched Chain Amino Acids

Whey is a by-product of cheese manufacturing. Whey contains lactose, minerals, and proteins such as alpha-lactalbumin, beta-lactoglobulin, and lactoferrin. In addition, whey contains approximately 24% branched chain amino acids (BCAAs), which have been shown to stimulate protein synthesis.17 Studies indicate that whey protein supplementation increases insulin sensitivity and decreases body weight in insulin-resistant rats.18 Research also shows an increase in satiety following a whey-protein meal compared to a meal containing casein protein.19 Side effects are rare with whey supplementation but may include fatigue, nausea, increased stool frequency, headaches, and thirst.17 Whey protein should be avoided in individuals with dairy allergies and may decrease absorption of some medications.20

BCAAs are essential amino acids including leucine, isoleucine, and valine. These amino acids play multiple roles in protein metabolism. Specifically, leucine has been shown to signal protein synthesis in skeletal muscle.21 BCAAs stimulate protein synthesis in adipose tissue and in the liver as well as inducing the pancreas to release insulin, resulting in increased protein synthesis.22 These amino acids also decrease muscle breakdown during exercise.23 BCAA supplementation can increase plasma ammonia levels in dosages in the 40-60 g per day ranges or in the presence of metabolic disorders; hence, caution is advised when considering long-term supplementation. Liver enzymes should be measured in patients on long-term BCAAs.

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