Mar 1, 2010

Posted by in Health, Nutrition | 0 Comments

Milk as a Muscle Food

Old School Muscle Maker

Decades ago, muscle-building prophets dubbed milk a miracle food. Science is starting to prove how right they were.


The idea of milk as a muscle food conjures visions of turn-of-the-century circus performers and strongmen because of its popularity with such bodybuilding pioneers. While research is starting to verify what these athletes believed to be true, the power of milk goes beyond its macronutrient benefits to the genius of evolutionary biology — virtually invisible protein peptides. We now know milk and milk derived products build muscle, burn fat and speed recovery, but they may also soon deliver a biological impact that rivals pharmaceutical drugs. So how does something we pour over our cereal potentially become the top muscle-building supplement and change the way we look at food? The answers lie in real-world results and the latest scientific research.


The Choice for Centuries

The benefits of raw milk and raw-milk products such as cottage cheese and soured milk (milk with active probiotic cultures) have been promoted for health and fitness since the late 1800s. Early raw-milk advocates could put up heavy iron and sported some of the best physiques of their time.

More important, they lived long lives: Strength legends Armand Tanny, Bernarr Macfadden and George Hackenschmidt lived to be 90, 87 and 89 years old, respectively.

When it was readily available as a health food, raw milk was considered to have the power to rejuvenate cells and overcome myriad health issues. The keys are that it isn’t heat-treated and it contains a significantly higher amount of bioactive whey fractions than regular pasteurized milk.

“Countries with higher dairy intakes than America are significantly less prone to cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome and obesity,” says Scott Connelly, MD, a leading expert in the physiology of nutrition and muscle metabolism, and creator of MET-Rx supplement company. “In these countries raw, fermented and soured milk with no added sugars are readily available, and their proteins can regulate glucose uptake and disposal.”

In fact, researchers from the UK reviewed 324 studies of milk consumption as predictors of diabetes, heart disease and stroke. They also looked at milk’s effect on certain cancers. Results showed that regular milk consumption can significantly reduce the risk of colorectal cancer, diabetes, heart disease and stroke.


How It Does a Body Good

While raw milk is enjoying a resurgence in popularity, pasteurized milk provides benefits as well. Milk’s principal proteins, whey and casein, are found in nearly the same ratios — 20% whey and 80% casein — in raw, low-fat and fat-free milk, and even milk-based protein powders. The synergy between their radically different absorption rates and amino-acid arrangements is perfect for building muscle.

Whey is water-soluble, allowing it to rapidly enter the bloodstream and trigger an anabolic effect. It also contains the highest concentration of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) of any protein source (23%-25%). And the BCAA leucine is considered the most potent nutritional means by which an athlete can increase muscle-protein synthesis following exercise.

“Strength and physique athletes can double their gains simply by using whey to synergize with the protein synthesis stimulated by their training,” Connelly explains. “The kinase pathway called mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) is thought to be responsible for the magnitude and duration of any adaptive protein-synthetic response, and can be initiated by both rapidly assimilated, high leucine containing protein [such as whey] and training stress.”

The downside of whey’s rapid absorption is it leads to a huge influx of amino acids, which can get diverted from the muscles and be converted to glucose. Once the whey triggers anabolism, the body is primed for a constant supply of aminos to consolidate muscle gain (especially postworkout). The casein, or micellar casein proteins, found in milk and milk products are perfectly matched to make this happen. They clot in the stomach and provide sustained release of amino acids, peptides and whole proteins.

Those peptides, short protein fragments often composed of 2-3 amino acids, are another beneficial component of milk protein. Lactokinins (specific whey peptides) and casokinins (specific casein peptides) have been shown to reduce blood pressure by inhibiting an enzyme that normally constricts blood vessels. This can also lead to an increase in blood flow, which could enhance recovery and growth.

While you may not be familiar with peptides, the calcium in milk needs no introduction. Not only is it important for muscle contractions, but it can also help fight fat, particularly around the midsection. This may be because calcium regulates the hormone calcitriol, which causes the body to produce fat and inhibits fat burning. When calcium levels are adequate, calcitriol is suppressed and so is fat production, while fat burning is enhanced. Calcium may also limit the amount of fat absorbed by the intestines.


The Future of Milk

When Connelly created MET-Rx in the early 1990s, he popularized meal replacement powders as a new category of sport supplement. The basis of the wildly popular muscle-building formula is milk protein, and Connelly’s love affair with milk’s 20:80 whey:casein matrix continues. He’s now the founder of Progenex Dairy BioActives, a company that studies multifunction cytokines, which are components of bovine milk.

“Multifunction cytokines appear in very rich concentrations in first-phase human milk and first-phase colostrums from cow’s milk. These factors show up in breast milk at the critical time when a baby is born and needs to have its body systems up and running in short order,” Connelly says. “This monumental task demonstrates that these multifunction cytokines provide the complete array of chemical messengers that are proven necessary to coordinate cell differentiation and growth.”

Connelly has teamed up with one of Australia’s largest milk processors, and Progenex will soon move to the human clinical-trials stage. He’s very optimistic about the muscle-building potential he has found so far.

“The addition of new muscle fibers is largely determined by the recruitment of satellite cells, which are basically muscle stem cells. The drive to increase muscle mass should be to get the highest proportion of satellite cells to become committed muscle cells,” he explains. “A marker of that is a unique gene product that’s only expressed in the satellite cell nucleus called PAX-7. Multifunction cytokines increase the proportion of the PAX-7 positive nuclei by enormous amounts. These gains can be phenomenal, since satellite-cell increases represent 70% of the hypertrophic response and [complement] whey protein’s anabolic response.”


Back to the Present

Until Connelly concludes his research, some gym enthusiasts may be left to wonder which kind of milk to buy. Actually, the decision’s not that difficult. Whole milk has no trans fats, and it contains conjugated linoleic acid, oleic acid, omega-3 fatty acids, and short- and medium-chain triglycerides — all of which have been linked to greater fat-burning and health benefits. (Organic versions contain more of these valuable fats.)

It appears that even the saturated fat in whole milk doesn’t increase the risk of heart disease, and it reduces glucose tolerance and insulin-resistance syndrome. So if you need calories in a mass-building phase, whole milk won’t impact your cardiovascular health or longevity. But if you want to lean out, drink low fat or skim milk. If you just want to be strong, any milk will do.

By Vince Andrich

Photo by John Kelly

Courtesy of Muscle & Fitness

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