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Blends, probiotics and enzymes: Experts discuss the future of protein for sports nutrition

By Stephen DANIELLS, 12-Feb-2013

Related topics: Probiotics and prebiotics, Proteins, peptides, amino acids, Soy-based ingredients, Sports nutrition, Suppliers

Protein blends will become increasingly prevalent in sports nutrition products, but the science needs to catch up to the possibilities, according to industry experts.

Speaking at last week’s Sports & Lifestyle Nutrition 2013 online event, hosted by NutraIngredients, Ralf Jaeger, PhD, FISSN, President of Milwaukee-based consultancy Increnovo LLC said: “We will see more about protein blends.

“I’ve just be involved in a clinical study looking at the effect of rice protein isolate and comparing this directly to whey protein isolate. If you consume 48 grams of each, three times a week post-exercise, both protein sources yielded the same gains in lean body mass and strength. If you use sufficient amounts of the protein then you see similar effects.

“We know that plant sources are effective. We learn more and more about the nutrient timing, so therefore we’ll see more and more blends that actually combine different protein sources in a way that you can actually optimize lean body mass.”

Sports & Lifestyle Nutrition

Dr Jaeger was joined on the panel by John Heiss, PhD, Director of Sports and Fitness, Herbalife, and Mieke Acda, Technical Sales Support Manager Nutrition, FrieslandCampina DMV. Both Dr Heiss and Acda confirmed that protein blends would become more prominent in the none-to-distant future.

Dr Heiss, who led the development of Herbalife’s 24 range of sports nutrition products, added: “For the 24 range, we combined blends of protein.

“What this allows us to do is get the benefits of the rapidly digested whey protein to deliver amino acids quickly to muscle, and combine it with casein which provides the more sustained release of amino acids to extend that muscle building window.

“These blends are becoming more popular and we’ve some of that into the marketing copy.”

Mieke Acda cautioned that manufacturers blending proteins from a cost effectiveness perspective should consider that a blend could also undermine the benefits of the individual sources.

Science

However, while Dr Jaeger said that he expects more people to switch to protein blends, “as of today, there is no real scientific studies that show that blends of proteins are better than the single source of high quality protein, so the science has to catch up and show that these blends really have a physiologically benefit.”

“People are working on it right now and I can expect to see some high quality papers in the next 2 to 3 years.”

One paper to emerge on the subject was published recently in the Journal of Nutrition , and found that post-workout consumption of a blend of soy, whey and casein may outperform single protein sources for prolonging amino acid delivery to muscles and building muscle.

The study was funded by Solae/DuPont and the National Institutes of Health.

Leucine

But is protein for sports nutrition all about leucine? Yes and no, said the experts. “We believe that leucine is the trigger for protein synthesis,” said Dr Jaeger.

“From a sports nutrition point of view, the branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) – leucine, iso-leucine, valine – are unique among the essential amino acids for their role in protein metabolism and neural function,” he added.

“Research shows that BCAAs are able to stimulate skeleton muscle protein synthesis to the same degree as all 9 essential amino acids, so those three are really key.

“When we examine further, only leucine was able to stimulate protein synthesis independently. However, leucine on its own is not effective, so you need leucine and the other amino acids, too.”

Dr Jaeger noted that recent research out of the University of Illinois has showed that a plant source of protein that is naturally low in leucine can be enriched with leucine, and that this combined product is actually as anabolic as whey protein itself.

“So the bottom line for me is that if you are an athlete and you want to get lean and mean, pick your preferred protein source but make sure you pick a protein source to yield between 2 to 3 grams of leucine in your serving.”

Mieke Acda added that: “Most studies still underline that whey is the best source of protein. The amount of dietary protein depends on the type of exercise you do, and the timing of the protein digestion is very important.”

Probiotics and enzymes

Beyond blends of protein sources, Dr Jaeger said that using probiotics and digestive enzymes are also providing additional ingredients in a formulator’s armory to “make the protein we have even better than it is already.

Enzymes like Aminogen or Digest-All by MRM can increase the amount of leucine in the blood, he said.

Probiotics may also increase protein utilization, with data indicating that probiotics like Ganeden BC30, can increase leucine uptake into the blood by 23% .

“Probiotics and enzymes can improve the absorption and the absorption profile to better serve the specific needs of athletes,” he said.