Strength train and use whey protein to raise your antioxidant status for the best physique. A new study in the journal Appetite found that taking whey protein in conjunction with a strength training program will increase levels of the antioxidant glutathione. Having adequate levels of this antioxidant, which is internally produced by the body, is associated with an increase in muscle mass and greater fat loss from strength training.
It works like this: Taking whey protein allows the body to produce more glutathione because whey provides a high concentration of the amino acid cysteine. Glutathione is made inside the body from cysteine, glycine, and glutamine, and it is the workhouse of the immune system and it defends against free radicals that damage cells, cause cancer, and slow recovery from exercise. You need high levels of glutathione for health, but you also need adequate enzymes that allow glutathione to act within the body. All the foods, nutrients, and supplements that are touted as “antioxidants” actually have an antioxidant effect because they allow the body to produce more of the enzymes that enable glutathione’s activity.
With this science in mind, the research group in this study tested the effect of giving overweight men 22 grams of whey protein a day for six weeks in conjunction with a strength training program. Results showed that the training-whey supplement group had a large increase in glutathione levels as well as much higher vitamin C levels than the training-only group or a placebo group.
Higher vitamin C and glutathione mean that taking the whey protein allowed for a more protective internal antioxidant system because these two nutrients stabilize each other. Vitamin C is particularly important for speeding recovery from exercise because it acts very quickly in abolishing free radicals that damage cells.
Higher glutathione was thought to support this protective effect, speeding the removal of oxidative stress, thereby allowing for greater muscle gains and more fat loss. For instance, the training-whey group lost more fat and gained more muscle than the men who only trained and didn’t supplement. The whey group lost 8.7 percent fat mass and the training-only group lost 7.9 percent fat, and it’s likely that the only reason the whey group didn’t lose more fat is that carbohydrates naturally made up a large portion of their diet compared to the training-only group (the whey group averaged 316 g of carbs a day compared to the training-only group that ate 244 g of carbs daily).
Previous studies support the importance of glutathione for body composition—one 12-week study showed that exercise performance and fat loss were enhanced from improving the body’s glutathione levels during a training program. In addition, low glutathione is linked to chronic disease, cancer, impaired immunity, and poor mental health. Children with autism have low levels of glutathione, and families that genetically tend to have low glutathione have greater incidence of disease and mental problems like schizophrenia.
Aside from supplementing with whey, you can support your antioxidant system for the best physique with the following strategies:
• Add glutamine and glycine to your whey shake since they provide the other two amino acids that the body uses to produce glutathione.
• Avoid taking glutathione—it needs to be produced internally by the body, and if you supplement with it, the body will stop producing it.
• Get lots of phytoplants in your diet: Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower), dark green vegetables (kale, collards), berries (strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries), flavanol plants (green tea, cocoa, grape seeds, olives), spices and herbs (turmeric, ginger, boswellia) are all potent antioxidants that will allow the body to produce the enzymes that aid glutathione activity in the body.
• Make sure you get enough vitamin C and zinc because they help the body recycle glutathione.
Sheikholeslami Vatani, D., Golzar, F. Changes in Antioxidant Status and Cardiovascular Risk Factors of Overweight Young Men after Six Weeks Supplementation of Whey Protein Isolate and Resistance Training. Appetite. 2012. 59, 673-678.