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Strength Training Helps Men Lower Cholesterol

Men with high cholesterol can do their bodies well through strength training, without the need for protein supplements, a small study suggests.

Strength training is known to build muscle mass, aid weight loss and help lower cholesterol. The new study looked at whether protein supplements — either from whey (a milk-based protein) or soy — offered added benefits to overweight men with high cholesterol.

Many weightlifters use protein supplements, mostly whey-based, in the belief that they are required for building muscle. Few use soy-based supplements, but in theory, such products could be particularly beneficial for men at risk of heart disease because soy may cut cholesterol levels.

In the current study, however, neither whey nor soy supplements improved the men's strength, body fat percentage or cholesterol levels beyond the benefits of strength training alone.

The bottom line is that men should exercise to improve their cholesterol, and strength training is part of that, according to lead researcher Dr. Carol A. DeNysschen, an assistant professor at Buffalo State College in New York.

As for protein supplementation, she told Reuters Health, "it isn't necessary for the average male that wants to get in shape and improve their health."

The findings, published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, are based on 28 men who were overweight, sedentary and had elevated cholesterol, but were otherwise healthy.

DeNysschen and her colleagues randomly assigned the men to one of the three groups. Men in each group performed supervised strength training three days a week for 12 weeks. In addition to the training, one group took a daily whey-based supplement, a second used a soy-based supplement, and the third was given a placebo.

By the end of the study, men in all three groups had gained muscle strength, lost body fat, trimmed their waistlines and improved their cholesterol levels. There were, however, no significant differences among the groups, on average.

According to DeNysschen, larger, longer studies should still be done to see whether soy-protein supplements can, in fact, bring added benefits to men with risk factors for heart disease.

She noted that a "nice finding" of the current study is that if men do want to take a protein supplement when they strength train, then soy supplements may be as effective, but more heart-healthy, than whey products