Human study: Protein Pulse Gives Anabolic Stimulus

The test subjects in the Universite Paris-Descartes experiment didn’t train with weights, they didn’t take supplements or illegal anabolic substances, and they didn’t eat much protein either – yet they built up more muscle mass. All they did was to consume seventy percent of their daily protein allowance during one meal. Protein pulse diets have an anabolic effect.

The researchers did an experiment with elderly people who were convalescing after a long stay in hospital before returning home. Their average age was 85, and they had lost a lot of weight as a result of being ill. Their BMI was lower than 22, and they hadn’t been doing strength training.

The elderly lose muscle mass, and according to a theory that is popular among French researchers in particular, this is partly because the process of digestion itself starts to burn more amino acids, leaving fewer over for the body. [Am J Clin Nutr. 1997 Feb; 65(2): 489-95.] [Am J Physiol. 1999 Sep; 277(3 Pt 1): E513-20.]

The solution? Overwhelm the digestive tract with amino acids, reasoned the researchers. Give the cells in the digestive organs so many amino acids that enough are left over for the rest of the body.

For a period of six weeks the elderly subjects consumed 1.5 g protein per kg bodyweight. The elderly people in the control group were given their protein in equal portions divided over four meals throughout the day, but the experimental group were given 72 percent of their proteins during their midday meal.

At the end of the six weeks, the subjects in the protein pulse group had built up more lean body mass and muscle mass than the subjects in the control group. There was no difference in the effect on the subjects’ muscle strength.

The figure above shows the amount of lean body mass of all participants at the beginning and end of the experiment. The participants above the diagonal line gained lean body mass. You can see that the members of the protein pulse group performed best.

“This study demonstrates for the first time that a protein pulse feeding strategy can improve lean mass in malnourished and at-risk hospitalized elderly patients”, the researchers conclude. “This nutritional strategy is especially well-adapted to elderly patients in a rehabilitation unit, and is well-accepted, being perceived as following natural eating patterns, unlike oral supplements or pharmaconutrient treatments.”

We wonder whether the protein pulse concept might not be of interest to athletes, and particularly for the more elderly athlete. The French experiment reminds us at least of the approach devised by Martin Berkhan [] and Ori Hofmekler’s Warrior Diet [].