By Cindy Hazen, Contributing Editor
Just a few years ago, high-protein beverages were the domain of bodybuilders and athletes. Now, the market caters to teens and elders and everyone in between seeking the good nutrition protein offers. With additional fortification, high-protein beverages can fill in for a meal, plus protein has satiating qualities and helps build lean muscle.
Anyone who has worked with protein beverages knows there is more to product success than just upping the percent of protein in the formula. “Many of today’s protein beverages have customized amino-acid profiles,” says Ram Chaudhari, Ph.D., senior executive vice president, chief scientific officer, Fortitech, Schenectady, NY. In addition to dialing in a specific nutrient balance, the value of every potential ingredient should be measured and weighed against its economic and functional impact. “Processing time and temperatures and the finished product pH must be monitored closely, otherwise you could denature the protein and product quality will not be acceptable due to separation or sedimentation,” he says.
For credibility, a drink must offer a minimum concentration of active components to ensure a measurable benefit. “It is also easy to focus on active ingredients and overlook the importance of the underlying foundation properties of the drink,” cautions Chaudhari. “Acidity, saltiness and sweetness should be carefully balanced to optimize a drink’s taste and flavor profile. Despite the quest for functionality, the single greatest predictor of a new drink’s success is taste, not its functional ingredients.”
When identifying ingredients to be incorporated alongside proteins, it is also important to consider usage of multifunctional ingredients. “For example, sugar functions as both a sweetener osmotic-balancing agent and energy source,” says Chaudhari. “Similarly, glycerol is a sweetener, energy source, osmotic balancing agent and muscle dehydration preservative. Phosphate salts contribute free phosphate molecules, isotonic balance and buffer acid—important for microbial and color stability and flavor release. Stabilizing compounds, such as acacia gum and carrageenan, may be beneficial to work as stabilizers in the finished product.”
Beverages may be fortified with other nutrients. “Most of the concerns we see from our customers involve label claims that they can make on their final product,” says Chaudhari. “This is where true nutritional science becomes a major factor.” His company closely works with customers when developing a premix that will contain the right amount of nutrients to meet intended specifications of the final product. “Other concerns we get often are taste, texture and stability questions,” he says. “Customers want to know if adding multiple nutrients will affect the product’s color, flavor and shelf life. A custom premix can be made that doesn’t affect any of those attributes. This is another major benefit of using a nutrient system.”