Officially formed in 2003, the WRPC is an “international partnership of dairy cooperatives, associations, processors and multinational companies dedicated to working together to discover and share whey’s unique health benefits through scientific evidence.”
With the protein world expanding and changing to adapt different consumer needs, there is also a lot of circulating misinformation. The global protein industry is estimated to reach a valuation of $48.77bn by 2025, and 64% of Americans have reported that they are trying to incorporate more protein into their diets.
Though originally adopted by the body-building health and fitness communities, protein supplements are now enjoyed by the mainstream. More brands than ever are launching protein-focused snacks, drinks and additives to pack in the benefits.
But not all forms of protein offer the same benefits. Veronique Lagrange of WPRC’s Steering Committee told DairyReporter that a lot of consumers are misinformed about the differences of protein types and the evidence that backs them up.
Consumers are easily taken in by the seemingly ‘natural’ and ‘local’ world of plant-based protein alternatives, but WPRC reports that there are “no major analyses and no systematic reviews published whatsoever that documents the benefits of plant protein.”
According to Lagrange, the processing of whey protein is mostly filtration and generates very little waste when compared to the complicated extraction of plant proteins. Because plants are not soluble, more chemical processing is required to extract the protected nutrients.
This makes animal-based protein more sustainable throughout the manufacturing process and supply chain. What consumers assume to be the more natural and healthy option turns out to be the opposite.
“Consumers don’t know that. They think protein is protein, but that’s not exactly correct,” Lagrange said.
Sizing up the composition
Much of the recent research that WPRC has done is to educate and understand how whey is related to body composition. They partnered with the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to look at the effects of whey protein on people who are overweight and obese. They found that body composition was changed for the better, preserving more lean body mass even without supplemental exercise.
In May they partnered with Purdue University to debunk the fear that some women held that consuming too much whey protein would cause them to ‘bulk up’ like male bodybuilders. The study found that this was not the case.
Wayne Campbell, professor of nutrition science and senior author on the study, said. “Whey protein supplementation favors a modest increase in lean mass of less than one percent, while not influencing fat mass.”
WPRC also found that older adults benefit from whey protein consumption. In October they released the results of a study examining muscle loss in adults age 65 and older. After 30, lean body mass can decrease, and inactive people can lose between 3-5% muscle mass each decade.
This accelerates with aging, and by age 70-80, up to 50% of lean body mass and muscle mass may be loss. Senior citizens are then more susceptible to frailty, injuries and death. The WPRC study demonstrated that only whey protein “increased leg lean muscle mass and muscle protein synthesis during recovery from short-term muscle loss.”
Stuart Phillips, senior author of the study, said “Muscle loss is quite common with aging and accelerated with unexpected bouts of inactivity, illness or even a brief hospital stay in aging adults.”
What’s to come for protein
Looking forward, Lagrange expects to see a lot of innovation throughout the protein world. Young people have developed different eating habits, incorporating much more snacking and meal replacement into their daily routine than baby boomers. This opens the door for more creative launches that satisfy both the snacking crave and the protein necessity.
“The next generation will see the development of new snacks. Of course there’s a lot of nutrition bars and products already, but they are more like small complements. They are not necessarily built and designed to quickly replace a meal. They may contain protein but sometimes not enough to replace a meal,” Lagrange said.
There will likely be more better-quality nutrition bars hitting the market, particularly in savory flavors. In the beverage category, there have been a lot of protein-enriched drinks like coffee already catching on, but Lagrange warns again that not all are created equal.
“Those are built and designed with almond milk and other alternatives, but they need to be complemented with quality proteins to reach the higher levels and deliver the benefits,” she said.
With continued research, the WPRC wants to “develop a body of knowledge that establishes measurable whey protein health and wellness benefits, creating a strong foundation for the development of scientific substantiation to support new health, qualified health and structure function claims.”