Picking the perfect protein for your product

Picking the perfect protein for your product

As the only macronutrient to not get dinged somewhere along the way, protein reins supreme. The question keeping you up at night now, though, is what protein source will fit best with your product mix?

This ingredient makes it into every article, presentation or study covering functional foods and beverages these days. It seems to hold the key to satiety, weight loss, anti-aging, and sports performance. Plant-based proteins like soy and brown rice still carry a lot of weight with certain consumer segments—the vegan and lactose intolerant—but these days blends including whey, casein and soy help formulators target different consumer needs.

On the protein innovation front, proteins for beverages is a continued opportunity for suppliers. Consumer demand for ready to drink, juice-like beverages that offer nutritional benefits continues to grow. Protein suppliers are answering this demand by developing and offering new forms of protein isolates well-suited to clear beverages such as sports drinks. Glanbia Nutritionals has developed BevWise A101WS, a whey and soy blend designed to fortify while offering clarity and flavor expression in high acid beverage applications.

Clarisoy 100 from ADM is a soy protein isolate for use in beverages with a pH less than 4.0. It is 100 percent soluble and transparent to offer protein fortification in sports nutrition beverages, citrus drinks, powdered beverage mixes, fruit blends, and fortified waters.

Yellow pea protein is another innovative ingredient in the protein arena, with recent discoveries opening doors to cost-effective, sustainable, and clean-label uses. Eighty-two percent of world pea cultivation is already focused on the yellow pea because of strong demand from India and China. Currently these two markets set the price for yellow pea globally, but this could be changing as more food scientists look to the legume for use, not just as a clean-label, non-GMO plant protein, but also as an emulsifier, binder, and foaming agent.

The nutritional breakdown of the yellow pea shows a lot of potential: 50 percent starch, 25 percent protein, 14 percent fiber, 6 percent simple carbohydrate, 2 percent lipid, 3 percent ash. These high levels of useful nutrients and very low levels of anti-nutritionals (lower than many other legumes) give manufacturers a very clean, nutritionally bioavailable product right from the start.

The power of blending

One study could shift the protein market, long dominated by whey. At the Experimental Biology meeting in San Diego in April 2012, Blake Rasmussen, PhD, of the University of Texas Medical Branch, presented findings that show a blend of protein sources—50 percent casein, 25 percent whey, 25 percent soy—was superior to whey alone for prolonging muscle building and recovery after exercise.

“Whey protein has been given considerable notice as the gold standard ingredient after exercise to enhance muscle growth,” Rasmussen said. “The main problem with whey is it’s fast digesting—the anabolic response in muscle is only about an hour. We wanted to prolong the anabolic response with other protein sources. We found muscle protein synthesis is elevated for a longer amount of time with a protein blend versus whey protein.”

Soy, whey and casein protein are all absorbed at different rates during digestion. Whey protein is referred to as a “fast” protein because it is rapidly absorbed, between 30 and 60 minutes, Rasmussen said. Soy is an intermediate protein, taking between 60 and 120 minutes to digest. And casein is a slow protein, requiring between three and five hours to digest.

“The combination gives you a quick increase in protein synthesis, and it gets sustained,” said Rasmussen. “It’s a prolonged delivery to muscle that the muscles use for recovery.”

“Your muscles don’t recover in 30 minutes. It takes at least 24 to 48 hours for your muscles to recover after a resistance exercise,” said Greg Paul, global marketing director for sports nutrition and weight management at Solae, a soy supplier that sponsored the study.

It was only five years ago when research showed that protein should be an important part of sports nutrition products. Before then, the game was typically provided by the likes of Gatorade-style drinks: with fast carbs and electrolytes such as potassium and sodium.

Whey became the go-to protein source in beverages because it quickly fed muscles. Whey also appears better than soy for producing muscle synthesis because of the presence in whey of the amino acid leucine, which has been shown to uniquely act as a stimulatory signal for muscle protein synthesis. The addition of soy is also important because of soy’s particular properties including as an antioxidant and as an anti-inflammatory, which are both key attributes in muscle building beyond anabolic effects.

“Protein blends are useful for sports nutrition,” said Rasmussen, “but also for those interested in aging and maintaining muscle mass as we age. This could potentially be a great intervention for aging.”

To date, products targeting elderly nutrition with protein-centric value propositions are few and far between. The trend of aging Baby Boomers, coupled with research demonstrating the value of protein blends in maintaining muscle mass, ought to be of interest to marketers and product developers.

Protein trends: The rice has it

The major appeal of rice protein is that it is an allergen-free alternative to whey and soy proteins that also aids absorption of other nutrients. This is important to the food manufacturers that want to sell to the 30 to 50 million people who are lactose intolerant or have a dairy allergy, and the 4.8 million vegans in the US alone. The latest trend, thanks to rice protein being nutritionally comparable to but costing less than whey, is to blend rice protein in with whey and soy proteins. If you don’t replace them, then join them.

Preliminary findings of a clinical trial conducted by Axiom Foods demonstrates rice protein is comparable in both nutritional and perceived benefits for athletes and is compared to whey, which has been the protein gold standard. This may finally confirm what the naturopathic medical community, vegan bodybuilders and others have been saying for years about rice protein’s product benefits.

Axiom Foods is the world’s largest manufacturer of whole grain brown rice protein concentrates and isolates. Its Oryzatein brand will soon be the USP Monographed standard for all brown rice proteins. In an industry that often processes plant-based proteins with hexane, a potentially toxic petroleum by-product, Axiom Foods has instead developed proprietary chemical-free, organic processes resulting in a truly natural, non-GMO, raw, dairy-free protein source.

In addition to current applications in supplements, nutraceuticals, meal replacements, baked goods, cereals and nutritional bars, versions of Oryzatein in development include flavor enhancers as an MSG substitute, rice bran protein providing extra fiber and other phytonutrients, meat analogs as a soy substitute, and ultimately suspension grade for beverages.

Editor’s note: This portion contributed by Axiom Foods. We published it because we believe in David Janow, who started Axiom in 2005, and we think you should know more about rice protein because it is all too often overlooked as a bona fide protein source. 

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