The global protein supplements market is growing quickly.1 Originally targeted at professional athletes, protein supplements now serve a broader market of consumers who see the benefits supplementation provides for sports nutrition, muscle building, and general health.
However, the established animal and plant-based forms of protein all have limitations, creating a need for novel sources. A human clinical trial in Australia suggests yeast protein can address the need and improve the impact of supplementation.
Evidence of the positive effects that protein has on weight management in dieters, muscle building, tissue recovery, strength gains, body composition and, in older people, physical autonomy and health, has created a supplement market that was valued at $6.3bn in 2021 and forecast to achieve a compound annual growth rate of 8.0% from 2022 to 2030.
The market is served by a range of sources of protein, including whey, casein, beef, fish, egg, soy, pea, hemp, and rice. Multiple studies have shown animal proteins have advantages over plant-based options because the latter lack essential amino acids and leucine. Plant-based proteins may also be incompletely digested in the gut and therefore negatively affect human metabolism and immune response.
Whey protein is the current gold standard. Taken from the watery portion of milk that separates during cheese production, whey is a complete, quickly digested protein that is richer in branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) and leucine than many other protein sources. Researchers have linked supplementation with whey protein to improved physical performance, fat reduction, and other positive outcomes.
However, the animal source of whey protein is a barrier to uptake by consumers. People are reducing their consumption of animal products in response to concerns about the environment, animal welfare, and contamination. In Singapore, 49% of people have reduced or eliminated animal products from their diets.2 Consumers elsewhere in Asia are taking similar actions, with one survey finding 60% of people in the region have either significantly cut or plan to cut their meat consumption.3 People want alternatives.
Plant-based protein sources cannot address the consumer call for alternatives to animal products. As well as being lower quality than animal proteins, in terms of amino acid content, digestibility, and protein synthesis capacity, plant-based sources such as wheat, soya, and pea use unsustainable amounts of land. Supply of plant-based proteins is unstable, because it depends on the weather, and consumers worry about heavy metals, pesticide residues, and genetically modified organisms.
Validating an alternative protein source
On paper, nutritional yeast can address the shortcomings of both animal and plant proteins. While the deactivated form of yeast, which is often sold commercially as a food product, is typically marketed as a way to enhance the immune system or gut health, it is a microbial protein with a high content of BCAA.
Researchers studied the nutritive value of yeast protein in animal agriculture more than 80 years ago but there is a lack of protein-specific evidence of how the material affects humans. Angel Yeast, the largest yeast extract supplier in the world, is addressing the evidence gap by running and supporting studies of its AngeoPro yeast protein.
AngeoPro is extracted from Saccharomyces cerevisiae, a species commonly known as brewer’s or baker’s yeast, contains more than 70% high quality protein, and has a similar digestibility value to whey protein. The leucine content of AngeoPro is similar to that of whey protein. Total BCAA content is higher in AngeoPro than whey protein. As a “slow protein”, AngeoPro provides a slow and continuous supply of amino acids.
The analyses show AngeoPro is more similar to animal proteins than low quality plant proteins. AngeoPro, as a product of fermentation, also has an edge over plant proteins in terms of the reliability of supply and the land required for production. Wastewater from AngeoPro production is used as organic fertilizer on crops used in yeast production, creating a circular economy.
Based on those facts, yeast protein seems to address both the barriers that stop consumers from buying animal protein supplements and the plant protein factors that limit health effects and raise sustainability concerns. However, consumers have lacked data from well-run clinical trials to show that yeast proteins can match the impact of established animal-based products. To answer that question, Angel Yeast ran a double-blind, randomized controlled trial in 79 healthy adults aged over 40 years in Australia.
Delivering clinical data on AngeoPro
The clinical trial compared the effects of taking 40g of AngeoPro, whey protein, or placebo a day for eight weeks. Participants undertook a resistance training program that targeted major muscle groups in both the upper and lower body. The investigators assessed muscle strength and endurance after four weeks and at the end of the study. Lean muscle mass increased in all three cohorts, as did strength, as measured by leg and bench presses, and endurance.
In a subpopulation of patients with inadequate dietary protein intake, supplementation with AngeoPro and whey protein significantly increased lean mass and muscle strength compared to placebo. Performance in the yeast and whey protein cohorts was similar, with the max bench press increasing by 5.78kg and 5.77kg, respectively, in the two active treatment arms. The max bench press in the placebo group increased by 2.59kg over the course of the study.
With the study indicating that AngeoPro is as effective as the gold standard animal protein at increasing muscle mass and strength in conjunction with exercise in older adults, the clinical trial suggests AngeoPro is a contender for the best protein for sports nutrition. Based on the clinical evidence, the next-generation protein is good for muscle building and, with a high content of protein of more than 80%, Angel Yeast’s multifunctional protein addresses the limitations of existing animal and plant-based options.
Sports nutrition brands that switch to yeast protein stand to remove constraints on the growth of sales of protein supplements. While animal proteins can only capture a portion of the market, and plant-based proteins are unable to meet the needs of performance-focused consumers, yeast protein offers a third option that can unlock the full potential of the fast-growing, multi-billion dollar protein supplement market.
1. Protein supplements market size, share & trends report, 2030.
2. Ho, K. The future is flexitarian. YouGov.
3. Wong, A. Flexitarians drive demand for meat alternatives in Asia as consumers seek tastier and more sustainable options. Food & Beverage Asia | The leading source of food and beverage news in Asia (2021).