Serum and Creatine Protein: Beyond the Muscle

The Pareto principle also applies to supplements. Most health and performance benefits are due to a few compounds .

I generally share the  recent positioning of the International Olympic Committee: ” Supplements to improve performance represent the largest group of products aimed at athletes, but only a few (including caffeine , creatine , buffer agents and nitrates) have good evidence about their benefits . “

Therefore, more than waste time presenting new supplements, it is worthwhile to delve into the few that really have sustenance. Today I focus on the two on which I receive more questions: whey protein and creatine .


Whey protein is halfway between a supplement and a food . It was traditionally obtained from the cheese making process , and accounts for most of the protein in breast milk. It is undoubtedly the protein with the highest bioavailability (closely followed by the egg ), that is why nature selected it for our first days.

Analysis of several proteins according to biological value, PDCAAS (amino acid score corrected for protein digestibility) and Net Protein Utilization

In the case of bovine milk, however, the serum fraction is a minority (20%), and that is why it makes sense to isolate it. But whey is much more than protein . In addition to its protein fractions (such as beta-lactoglobulin and lactalbumin) it provides different bioactive compounds , each with its own benefits ( revision , revision ).

Beta lactoglobulin . This protein is not present in breast milk, and perhaps that is why it is responsible for more allergies ( study , study ). But if you tolerate it well, it can reduce intestinal permeability ( study ) and improve the absorption of vitamin A ( study ).

Lactalbumin . It is the second most abundant protein in bovine milk but the main protein in human milk , and many consider it the most beneficial ( detail ). In addition to its great supply of branched amino acids , it is rich in tryptophan and cysteine . Tryptophan is a precursor of serotonin, with lactalbumin being able to elevate its levels and improve memory ( study ) and depression symptoms ( study , study ,  detail ). Cysteine ​​is essential to synthesize glutathione , which we will discuss next.

Lactoferrin . It binds to iron and prevents it from being accessible to viruses or bacteria, acting as a chelating agent ( study ) and mitigating the risks of excess iron . This would explain its protective role against several diseases, from infections to cancer ( study , study , study ). It also participates in the regulation of the immune system and bone regeneration ( study ,  study ).

Glycomacropeptide . It seems to improve intestinal health by reducing inflammation ( study , study , study ) and combating different types of infection ( study , study ).

Immunoglobulins (G, A, M) , They offer passive immunity, protecting against viruses and bacteria.

We could do a similar review for other elements present in the serum, but we should not forget the concept of food synergy : a food is more than the sum of its compounds . It therefore makes more sense to analyze the impact of whey protein as a whole, looking beyond the muscle.


Whey protein reduces blood pressure and indicators of inflammation in people with obesity, in addition to improving vascular function ( study , study ) and body composition ( meta-analysis ).

Serum lowers the appetite in the short term ( study ), and a yogurt enriched with serum at  breakfast reduces the intake during the rest of the day ( study ).

This increase in satiety (and greater weight loss in general) is actually a common aspect of any protein , but serum stands out above most ( study , study , study ). It produces, for example, more synthesis of muscle mass and weight loss than soy .

The serum helps to regulate blood glucose in diabetics ( study , study ) and to combat the metabolic syndrome ( revision , revision ), controlling blood pressure ( study , study ), reducing triglycerides ( meta-analysis ) and improving fatty liver .


Although not everyone is well tolerated serum (after we talk about the types), in general helps improve  intestinal health :

Whey protein is rich in glutamic acid , which when converted to glutamate acts as a fuel for the intestinal mucosa ( study , study ).

It could also have a prebiotic effect , contributing to a greater diversity of the microbiota .

Different compounds of the whey protein contribute to mitigate intestinal permeability , and benefits have been seen in disorders such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis .


The relationship of the protein with cancer is complex. On the one hand, an increase in growth factors may favor the development of cancer cells, especially in sedentary people, whose muscles do not make use of these signaling factors. But low levels are also problematic , and mortality is increased in the same way.

In addition, whey protein does much more than stimulate insulin or IGF-1 ( study ). Its contribution of cysteine ​​raises the production of our most powerful antioxidant: glutathione . Glutathione reduces oxidative stress and is known for its antitumor capacity ( study , study , study ,  study ,  detail ).

The lactoferritina also combat cancer cells and metastasis by different routes , for example improving the immune response.

Favorable results have also been seen in the nutritional status of patients undergoing chemotherapy treatment when supplemented with whey protein .Breast milk has less casein than bovine milk, which would explain why casein is worse tolerated ( detail ), but most genetics are well adapted.

In general, whey is superior to casein when it comes to increasing muscle synthesis, but if both are present in their original food, milk , it will be for something, and it seems that the combination works better than either of them separately ( study ).

Whey protein generates a greater peak of essential amino acids in blood, whereas casein produces a slower release ( study ).

Personally I take the whey protein, after training , with a glass of milk , richer in casein, achieving a mixture more similar to human milk ( study ).

Some recommend taking casein before going to bed to lengthen the presence of amino acids in the blood and optimize the synthesis of nocturnal protein ( study ), but recent reviews do not find much difference ( study , study ). In my opinion, what you lose ( less autophagy and possible  disruption of the circadian rhythm ) is more than what you gain.


The composition of the supplement changes with each processing, isolating more protein but losing fat and lactose.

Both the whey concentrate and the isolate are good nutritional options. If you have any degree of lactose intolerance you should definitely opt for the isolate. After training , the rapid absorption of the isolate and its greater insulin response may offer some advantage.

If we talk strictly about health, the concentrate retains more of some compounds that we previously reviewed , such as lactoferrin and immunoglobulins.

It has also popularized hydrolysed whey , where the protein comes “predigested”, thus accelerating its absorption ( study ), but it is questionable that this higher speed is a real advantage . In addition to paying a higher price, the rapid release of insulin may inhibit some of the benefits of serum in terms of appetite control and glucose regulation ( study ).

In terms of performance, there are no serious studies comparing it with traditional serum, and the only relevant thing seems to be a somewhat faster muscle recovery with the hydrolyzed version ( study ). For this reason I would only recommend buying hydrolyzed whey if you do double sessions and you have money left over. Otherwise, better the isolate, or even the concentrate .

As much as possible, use the versions without sweeteners or additives, and add the flavor with some fruit or sweetener .


There are thousands of brands, although many share the same manufacturers. They usually have less protein than the one declared on the label ( study ), but the difference should not exceed 5-10%.

The war between brands is fierce, and it is not easy to distinguish between objective rankings and hidden marketing . Reviewing different analyzes ( ranking , ranking , ranking ), global companies like Optimun Nutrition , Isopure and MyProtein usually appear in the lead , but if you know another one that gives you more guarantees at a reasonable price, go ahead.


Life is a constant struggle for energy. When the cells run out of it, they die, and creatine helps in the rapid production of new ATP , the energy currency of biology.

Creatine is stored in the body as phosphocreatine (PCr), mainly in muscle tissue but also in the brain. The enzyme creatine kinase (CK) acts on this phosphocreatine, releasing a phosphate that binds with an ADP molecule to rapidly obtain new ATP .

Although we can produce a certain amount of creatine (in the liver and kidneys), we have always relied on diet to supplement it. Foods such as herring, salmon or beef are excellent sources of creatine, but you would need 500-750 g / day of these foods to reach the effective doses . In addition, cooking reduces the concentration ( detail ).

Supplementation is an easy and safe way to increase our reserves of creatine, and beyond promoting gains in strength and muscle mass ( more detail ), its positive effect has been demonstrated in many other lesser-known areas.

For starters, creatine could be sold almost as an anti-aging supplement ( study ). Mice supplemented with creatine live 9% more , in addition to retaining their cognitive abilities for longer ( study , study , study ).

We still do not know if creatine also extends life in humans, but there is evidence that it delays at least some effects of aging , such as sarcopenia, cognitive impairment and weakening of the immune system .


We saw that creatine helps us in the production of energy, and if there is an organ with a voracious appetite for ATP, that is the brain.

Many use creatine as nootropic , since the brain reserves are increased ( study , study , study ), although there is controversy about the improvement that this really represents when it comes to solving problems.

This study,  for example, did not find an effect, but it used a dose of 0.03 g / kg, well below what was recommended. Studies with higher doses (0.1 g / Kg approximately) do show lower mental fatigue ( study ) and a better general cognitive performance ( meta-analysis , study ), although the improvement is especially marked in conditions  of sleep deficit ( study , study ) or in people with low levels of creatine.

In addition to using the proper dose, you must supplement for at least a week or two , as creatine takes time to accumulate in the brain. Recent studies demonstrate a faster loading using  guanidinoacetic acid ( study ), a precursor of creatine, and its benefit in sports performance ( study ) has also been demonstrated , but there is not enough evidence to guarantee its long-term safety . Meanwhile, the classic approach is better.


If more muscle and intelligence do not offer enough motivation, there are additional benefits: creatine regulates glucose in diabetics , reduces indicators of inflammation ( study ), helps in the processes of detoxification , prevents fatty liver ( study ) and mitigates symptoms of depression.


The creatine released when producing energy is expelled as creatinine, it is not reused . More muscle and more creatine consumption therefore involve more creatinine in the urine ( detail ), originating the myth of kidney damage in the nineties . Dozens of later studies deny this idea ( revision , study ,  study , study , study , study ), but it is repeated frequently.

In fact, some studies show improvement in renal function ( study ), although it is not clear if it is due to creatine or physical activity. Studies in rats with amounts twenty times higher than those recommended do not find a negative effect on renal function either ( study ).

Despite the fear of some, long-term creatine supplementation is safe , even in high doses of 10-30 g / day for five years ( study , detail ), but it is not necessary or advisable to reach these levels.

Studies in animals indicate that even with kidney damage there is no problem in supplementing ( study ), although of course it is better to be cautious in these cases.

Finally, creatine also does not increase the risk of injury or dehydration ( study , study , study ) and in fact reduces it in some studies ( study , study ).


Baldness has an important genetic component ( detail ), and creatine is unlikely to have much impact. The only evidence comes from a study  in rugby players, which did not really analyze the hair loss, but an indirect indicator: the hormone DHT , or dihydrotestosterone, a potent androgen.

Bald for Creatine?

DHT seems to be the main culprit of hair loss in people (mainly men) with androgenic alopecia, and this hormone is synthesized from testosterone by the action of the enzyme 5-alpha reductase. Although creatine does not elevate testosterone, it does appear to increase DHT . In this podcast I  dig deeper, and although I doubt it’s a real problem, we’ll have to wait for further studies.


A final benefit of creatine is its price , and it pays to pay a little more to buy one with the creapure seal . In a previous article I recommended this for its value for money, but you can also opt for Optimum Nutrition creatine . If you travel, you may be interested in the capsule format .


In the context of a good diet , supplementation may offer a real benefit, but never compensate for poor diet.

You should not use doses higher than recommended, especially if you compete. A recent review found banned substances in a relevant percentage of supplements, and although the risk to health is minimal, it is better not to risk being positive.

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