People around the world today are becoming more aware of nutrition problems and the rising obesity rates, resulting in more partaking in various ‘health and wellness’ trends. This means to say that people are becoming more conscious of the foods they eat, and participate in more leisure and recreational sports activities.
With greater interest in physical activity, consumer demand for sports nutrition products like energy bars, recovery drinks or supplements has increased as well. In fact, a report by Persistence Market Research valued the global sports nutrition market in 2012 at US$20.7 billion, and projects a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of nine percent to reach an estimated US$37.7 billion in 2019. With such a competitive market, new products are arriving on the shelves every day, vying for consumers’ attention.
“Majority of sports nutrition companies today have focused on adding protein to drinks and bars,” says Kimberlee Burrington, dairy ingredient and cultured products coordinator for the Wisconsin Centre for Dairy Research. “However, there might just be another potentially more beneficial ingredient than protein that could aid in sports recovery— permeate.”
But what is permeate, and how would it be more beneficial for lifestyle users and performance athletes alike in terms of recovery? Could permeate be the future of sports nutrition products?
What Is Permeate?
Permeate, also known as dairy product solids, is the collective term for the milk-sugar (lactose), vitamins and minerals components of milk. “It is a natural by-product of dairy processing, through the removal of protein and other solids from milk or whey via physical separation techniques,” said Ms Burrington.
It exists in two variations: whey permeate and milk permeate. Whey permeate is a co-product of whey protein concentrate and isolate (WPC/WPI), and milk permeate is that of milk protein concentrate and isolate (MPC/MPI) or ultrafiltered milk manufacturing.
Both are high-lactose dairy ingredients, containing up to 76 percent of lactose, and differ only slightly in terms of sodium, calcium and potassium concentrations. They also differ slightly in terms of taste: whey permeate has a pleasant dairy flavour, while milk permeate has a clean, consistent flavour.
As recently as 2012, consumers had a bad impression of permeate, thinking it to be a harmful additive that food manufacturers simply add into dairy products like milk to make up protein content, dilute it and reduce costs.
Stemmed from these misconceptions and complying with consumer demand, some dairy manufacturers leveraged on this negative perception and scrambled to provide an array of ‘permeate-free’ milk products, profiting handsomely in the process.
However, others have since stepped up to attempt to address these misconceptions and educate consumers on what permeate really is.
Permeate was and still is commonly added into products, especially milk, to standardise its nutritional composition and taste, which fluctuates with the seasons. Many dairy manufacturers do this simply to ensure consumers get the same taste all year round.
Permeate therefore is not added solely to dilute products and save on costs. Also, it is not a harmful additive contrary to popular belief.
According to multiple organisations like the Dieticians Association of Australia and Dairy Australia, products containing permeate do not differ in nutritional content or taste when compared with ‘permeate-free’ ones.
Further, permeate actually already exists in all milk as a constituent, but probably unbeknownst to consumers as there has been no need to include it in the label.
With these clarifications, consumers have become more accepting of permeate in dairy products, and even of products with added permeate in other food and beverage categories.
In recent years, a sharp increase has been seen in new global food and beverage product launches containing permeate, according to Innova Market Insights. Examples of these include dairy products—butter, cheese, and milk powders—as well as others like bakery products, beverages, soups and instant meals.
From 2010 to 2014, this increase translated to a 64 percent CAGR, in contrast to that from 2005 to 2011 which was a mere 11.3 percent. The US leads in product launches in the area, with 15 percent of total products launched between 2005 and 2014.
When asked why the venture into permeate for the US, Ms Burrington explained: “US suppliers are investing in research and development efforts to reveal the sensory, functional and nutritional benefits of whey and milk permeates as cost-saving, flavour-enhancing ingredients.”
But what exactly are these benefits that everyone wants in on this ‘new’ ingredient?
The lactose in permeate, versus conventional sucrose, decreases sweetness in bakery and confectionery products by almost 20 percent. It also offers a crystallisation characteristic required in confectionery products, and adds to a browning appearance and caramelised aroma in bakery goods.
The sodium it provides also offers a cost-effective solution for reducing sodium content in baking products like instant mixes, or in soups, without compromising on the salty flavour required by these products.
Permeate also allows a certain flexibility in nutritional content of the products it is added to. With whey permeate especially, the US Dairy Export Council has found that by reducing lactose content, one could alter other characteristics of the food and beverage products.
These characteristics include changes in texture, appearance or even colour of the product, as well as increased percentage content of the dairy minerals— calcium, potassium, sodium, and magnesium.
Lastly, permeate enables clean labelling. Permeate products are associated with labels such as ‘low fat’, ‘no trans fats’, ‘vitamin/mineral fortified’, ‘gluten-free’, ‘no additives/preservatives’ and ‘less-sugar’.
Permeate For Sports
Despite the aforementioned advantages, and its composition of lactose, potassium, sodium and calcium— components commonly found in sports nutrition products—few sports nutrition products using permeate exist to date.
Only 1.2 percent of all global new food and beverage product launches using permeate from 2005 to 2014 were sports nutrition products, according to Innova Market Insights.
One of these is the Iso-Charge by Protein Works that was launched in 2014. Targeted at high performance athletes requiring high quality rehydration, the product comes in a powder form that can be mixed with water to provide the necessary electrolytes and nutrients— carbohydrates, calcium, potassium, magnesium and phosphorus—pre-, during and post-workout.
The Wisconsin Centre for Dairy Research has also recently developed a prototype, the Dairy Mineral Thirst-Quencher, meant for the average sports person.
With potassium for regulating fluid balance and heart health, and sodium, the product provides a source of replenishment of electrolytes lost during physical activity. It also contains calcium—up to 80mg—to allow users to maintain adequate calcium intake.
Though products of innovation like these in the market are currently still few and far between, it should be noted that research on the use of permeate in sports nutrition is not that new a topic. To date, multiple studies have been conducted on the use of milk and whey permeate in sports nutrition, with some as early as 10 years ago.
A common consensus found in these studies was that beverages made from permeate can be used to replace electrolytes lost during physical activity, and that they are as good or even better than existing sports drinks in terms of electrolyte replenishment and health benefits.
A 2011 study by the Faculty of Agriculture of the Kafrelsheikh University in Egypt found that adding fruit like strawberry or mango could further boost the mineral content of sports drinks.
Ms Burrington added on to the potential of using permeate in sports nutrition, saying: “Even the thirst-quencher prototype could be positioned as an alternative to popular vitamin waters or tweaked to become a nutritional beverage.”
With its high lactose content for carbohydrates, and mineral content of calcium, sodium, and potassium, permeate would be largely beneficial to consumers engaging in both competitive and recreational physical activity.
So why haven’t food manufacturers ventured into this new and promising market?
A possible reason could be that the use of permeate in general food and beverage products is still a relatively new area, and food manufacturers have not gotten around to researching and exploring other categories that permeate could benefit.
Another reason could be that consumers are still unsure of permeate in products, so the lack of consumer demand does not provide a large enough incentive for food manufacturers to venture into this area.
In addition, using permeate in products does not come without its challenges. With its high lactose content, the resulting sports nutrition products could prove unsuitable for lactose intolerant individuals.
That was listed as a concern in some studies, but one study has found that by fermenting milk permeate, the lactose content could be reduced to less than one percent in the resulting sports drink, leaving it virtually lactose-free.
To replace the lost carbohydrate content, the study added a blend of selected sugars like sucrose, glucose and fructose—appropriate types for inclusion in sports drinks to maintain blood glucose and muscle glycogen levels.
Permeate can therefore be made suitable for all in sports nutrition products with just a few additional steps in processing to decrease lactose content.
Another concern is that of taste. Dr James Bauly, marketing director of DSM Nutritional Products, said: “In typical sports nutrition products that have added protein, the taste especially can be a challenge because proteins can cause a bitter or sour taste.”
However, the lactose in permeate is able to accept volatile flavour compounds and synthetic or natural pigments, says Ms Burrington. Using permeate would therefore make taste and appearance less of a problem to worry about, and even allow a variety of flavours to be used that could appeal to consumers.
That said, using permeate in sports nutrition products is likely feasible and holds promise as a new market. With the increasing amount of research currently being invested into using permeate for a wide range of food applications, it would only be a matter of time before food manufacturers explore fully the potential for its use in sports nutrition.
It may even be possible that permeate will be the future of all sports nutrition products, but only time and concentrated research efforts in this area will tell.