Formulators are finding ways to turn dairy protein and plant protein into teammates, creating sports nutrition products that offer more complete nutrition without off-flavors.

The category’s outlook looks bright for this decade. ResearchAndMarkets, Dublin, Ireland, forecasts the global sports nutrition market to have a compound annual growth rate of 15% from 2022 to 2026, reaching $58.27 billion. Allied Market Research, Portland, Ore., predicts a CAGR of 5% for the global sports nutrition industry from 2021 to 2030, increasing to $67.9 billion from $34.8 billion in 2020.

Dairy-plant combinations may fuel that growth.


Combining protein sources

FrieslandCampina Ingredients, Amersfoort, The Netherlands, recently collaborated with AGT Foods, Regina, Sask., to launch Plantaris, a range of plant protein systems using pulses and designed to overcome formulation challenges like off-notes sometimes present when formulating with pea protein.

The levels of protein, including leucine, in the Plantaris ingredients allow manufacturers to create applications with up to 25 grams of protein per serving. A dust-free powder provides a milky-white color in applications.

“While plant protein formulation is still in its relative infancy when compared to dairy protein, there is plenty of opportunity to create nutritious and protein-enriched products that consumers are looking for,” said Vicky Davies, global marketing director, performance, active and medical nutrition for FrieslandCampina Ingredients. “And while there’s certainly appetite for dairy and plant proteins separately, there is no limit to new product development combining both sources.”

Davies cited a 2020 study from FMCG Gurus, a market research company based in St. Albans, England. When asked what protein sources they found appealing, 57% of respondents said plant protein and 55% said whey protein.

Dairy proteins and plant proteins may be used synergistically for several reasons, said Corbin Hohl, research manager – bioactives at Glanbia Nutritionals, Chicago.

“Dairy proteins have been combined with plant protein to both improve flavor and PDCAAS (protein digestibility corrected amino acid score),” he said. “Plant proteins are often blended with other plant proteins to achieve a complete nutritional profile.”

Since dairy proteins are more soluble than plant-based alternatives, combining the two protein sources will enhance the solubility of the product, which in turn may reduce the grittiness of the final product, said Shakti Singh, technical engagement manager for NZMP, based in New Zealand and the ingredients brand of dairy cooperative Fonterra. Dairy proteins also may improve palatability since plant proteins at times bring undesirable tastes like bitter, earthy and beany to products.

“Combining plant-based protein with dairy can bring a product with a better nutritional profile,” he said. “On one hand the dairy protein brings better quality protein (high in essential amino acid content and micronutrient like calcium, potassium). Plant protein brings fiber, vitamins (folate, B12, D) and minerals (iron, zinc).”

Laïta Nutrition, based in France, recently introduced three high-protein, ready-to-drink finished products, including one with plant protein. The legume-based product may be consumed before, during and after exercise. It contains 20 grams of protein per 300-ml serving.

“We are first and foremost a dairy cooperative,” said Mathieu Lucot, marketing manager. “The expertise of our health division is in the formulation of complex products. Here, this know-how is applied to the sports nutrition market.

“As a formulator, we have developed strong expertise that allows us to adapt to all ingredients. We have worked considerably on the selection of raw materials and actively study new ingredients that can be tested in our formulas. This is the case with the plant proteins used in one of our sports nutrition formulas, for example, while maintaining the functional and organoleptic stability of the finished product.”

Another new product, a 70-ml shot, is composed of water and amino acids. It contains beta alanine for increased muscle mass, caffeine to improve concentration and reduced fatigue, and taurine to help muscle contraction. The third product, a 200-ml bottle containing cow’s milk protein, offers 25 grams of protein.


Dairy protein’s many benefits

Whey protein and milk protein remain prime ingredients for sports nutrition products.

Whey protein is digested quickly and delivers all nine essential amino acids, which enhance muscle protein synthesis and improve recovery of muscle function, according to Agropur, Appleton, Wis. Whey also absorbs nutrients faster than other protein sources.

Agropur offers BiPro C.C. 9500, an acid-stable whey protein isolate that works in low-viscosity sports beverages. BioZate 8000, a hydrolyzed whey protein concentrate, offers a cost-effective way to include hydrolysates in sports beverages.

Arla Foods Ingredients, Viby, Denmark, continues to innovate in whey protein. The company last October became the first supplier with the capacity for commercial production of pure BLG (beta-lactoglobulin). Lacprodan BLG-100 contains 45% more leucine than commercially available whey protein isolates. Lacprodan BLG-100 also provides 26% more essential amino acids and 40% more branched-chain amino acids than commercially available whey protein, according to the company.

The company this year received a positive European Food Safety Authority opinion on its Lacprodan BLG-100 ingredient being safe and suitable for use in food products in the European Union. Potential sports nutrition applications for Lacprodan BLG-100 include ready-to-drink beverages and powder shakes.

“Dairy is still considered the gold standard in protein, containing around 20% whey and 80% casein protein on average,” Davies of FreislandCampina said. “These high-quality proteins have excellent amino acid profiles, making them easy to absorb and digest. Their versatile functionality also means they can be formulated in everything from instant drinks and baked foods to powdered shakes and functional gummies.”