Efficacy and Safety of Whey Protein Supplements on Vital Sign and Physical Performance Among Athletes: A Network Meta-Analysis

Front Pharmacol. 2019 Apr 24:10:317. doi: 10.3389/fphar.2019.00317. eCollection 2019.


Introduction: Athletes train physically to reach beyond their potential maximum aerobic threshold. Whey protein supplements (WPS) are often used in conjunction with physiotherapy and psychotherapy to regain better vital sign and physical performances. This review aimed to explore the clinical evidence on the efficacy and safety of WPS in sports performance and recovery among athletes. Methodology: A comprehensive literature search was performed to identify relevant randomized control trials (RCTs) that investigated the efficacy and safety of WPS on the vital sign and physical performance among athletes. The Cochrane Risk of Bias (ROB) Assessment tools were used to assess the quality of the studies. Meta-analysis was conducted using the frequentist model with STATA version 14.2®. Results: A total of 333,257 research articles were identified out of which 20 RCTs were included for qualitative synthesis and network meta-analysis with 351 participants. Among the studies, 7 had low ROB and 3 RCTs had high ROB. Of these 20 trials, 16 trials were randomized clinical trials which compared whey protein supplements (WPS) with various comparators i.e., L-alanine, bovine colostrum, carbohydrate, casein, leucine, maltodextrin, rice, protein + caffeine were compared with placebo. Analysis from the pairwise meta-analysis revealed that for respiratory exchange ratio (RER) WPS was found to be significantly improving compared to maltodextrin (WMD = 0.012; 95%CI = 0.001, 0.023). Similarity to RPE (Rate Perceived Exertion), slight difference between WPS and the comparators, however, when the estimation was favorable to the comparators, there was moderate-high heterogeneity. For VO 2max, high heterogeneity appeared when WPS compared to maltodextrin with the I 2 = 97.8% (WMD = 4.064; 95% CI = -4.230, 12.359), meanwhile bovine colostrum (WMD = -2.658; 95%CI = -6.180, 0.865) only comparator that was better than WPS. According to the estimated effect of the supplements on physical performance outcome results, maximum power (8 studies, 185 athletes), highest ranked was bovine colostrum (SUCRA = 70.7%) and the lowest ranked was placebo (SUCRA = 17.9%), yet all insignificant. Then again, on average power (nine studies, 187 athletes), WPS was the highest ranked (SUCRA = 75.4 %) about -112.00 watt (-187.91, -36.08) and most of the estimations were significant. Body mass was reported in 10 studies (171 athletes), carbohydrate may be at the highest ranked (SUCRA = 66.9%) but it is insignificant. Thought the second highest ranked was WPS (SUCRA = 64.7%) and it is significant (WMD = -6.89 kg; CI = -8.24, -5.54). Conclusion: The findings of this review support the efficacy and safety of WPS as an ergogenic aid on athletes' sports performance and recovery. The overall quality of clinical evidence was found to be valid and reliable from the comprehensive search strategy and ROB assessment.

Keywords: athlete's health and performance; athletes; network meta-analysis; physical strength; vital sign; whey protein supplements.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review