Whey protein contains all of the essential amino acids in the proportions that the body requires for good health. It also provides about 26g per 100g of protein of the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) leucine, isoleucine and valine. BCAAs are unique among amino acids in their ability to provide glucose and a readily available energy source during endurance exercise. In addition, preliminary studies show that a certain form of hydrolyzed whey protein may offer advantages in lowering high blood pressure. There are even some suggestions of protection against infections and viruses.
Emerging weight control research suggests that diets higher in protein may provide a key to building and maintaining lean muscle and burning fat. Researchers are evaluating the potential for whey protein, minerals and specific peptides to increase satiety, influence glucose homeostasis, and maintain lean body mass and enhance the lean body mass/body fat ratio. The future outcomes from this research may make whey protein the ingredient of choice for sports, nutritional and energy beverages.
There is much more to whey ingredients than nutritional appeal, since whey ingredients provide beverage systems with numerous functional properties, including whipping/foaming, emulsification and gelation. Thus, whey proteins can provide beverages with a rich, creamy mouthfeel. And unlike many other protein sources, whey proteins are highly soluble and offer a clean neutral dairy flavor.
Allen Foegeding, professor at North Carolina State University, Raleigh, N.C., is actively researching different performance properties of whey protein ingredients. "We are learning everything there is to know on how whey proteins function in beverages so that we can modify whey ingredients to provide additional desired functionalities," Foegeding says. "There are whey ingredients that work in clear beverages, and ones that provide opaqueness. There are some that hold up to retort temperatures, while others are designed for hot-filling processes."
Burrington concludes, "Ready-to-drink beverages are very delicate systems, and adding protein is a new concept. There's a real learning curve for all beverage manufacturers, and dairy processors have the upper hand."
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