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Lifting the lid on whey proteins in sport and fitness

How much do we really know about how people perceive whey protein? How do they consume it? And to what degree are whey protein hydrolysates – a ‘pre-digested’ form whose consumption allows amino acids to be absorbed by the body more rapidly than intact proteins – recognised and understood?


Protein gets personal
Say “whey protein” to anyone who spends at least some time in a gym and they most probably have some idea of what it is and what it’s used for. That’s because, over the past 30 years or more, sales of this particular type of performance supplement have experienced rapid growth. But how much do we really know about how people perceive whey protein? How do they consume it? And to what degree are whey protein hydrolysates – a ‘pre-digested’ form whose consumption allows amino acids to be absorbed by the body more rapidly than intact proteins – recognised and understood?

In 2017, we conducted a major study looking into the whey protein awareness, perceptions and consumption habits of active sports enthusiasts – ranging from serious amateur athletes to people who are simply interested in keeping a reasonable level of fitness.

First, it’s worth noting the sheer size of this survey – 2,649 participants spread across the USA, Brazil, Germany, Japan and Great Britain. To qualify for our sample group, respondents needed to spend at least three hours a week on sports activities, and consume some form of nutritional supplement. The average age of participants was 33. Naturally, a sample of this size with direct relevance to the topic being investigated provides a more than usually trustworthy set of data from which we can draw accurate, useful conclusions.

Questions of particular interest included, for example:

  • The frequency of protein supplement consumption
  • The main reasons for consumption of sports nutrition products
  • Attitudes to whey protein in comparison with other protein types
  • Whether whey protein is perceived to be a healthy, natural product
  • Awareness and perceptions of whey protein hydrolysates


Whey protein leads the pack
To start with, consumption patterns revealed that protein supplements are consumed, on average, 11 times per month – and that the preferred forms of supplement, at least for now, are powder and protein bars rather than ready-to-drink, protein-enriched beverages.

It was also abundantly clear from the responses that whey proteins dominate other sources such as soy, collagen or rice protein. And that whey proteins were also largely perceived as being natural, healthy and wholesome.

Additionally, most of those who frequently consumed whey protein supplements did so primarily to build muscles and to restore energy levels after workouts – confirming our expectations.

Hydrolysate highlights
More surprising, perhaps, are the responses obtained when we dug into the more specialised topic of whey protein hydrolysates. Quite a few people in the sample (48% of the respondents) indicated that they have heard of whey protein hydrolysates. Of those, 54% know or think they know what hydrolysates are.

Digging deeper still, the study showed  that hydrolysates are considered to be a credible source of protein, with only 4% expressing negative associations. Those who have heard of whey protein hydrolysates consume them, on average, eight times per month. And 60% of those aware of hydrolysates thought it was a better form than ‘normal’ whey protein,  with the most common belief about whey protein hydrolysates being that it speeds up muscle recovery due to better absorption.

Increasingly popular
In summary, the study clearly shows a relatively high awareness and understanding of the benefits of whey protein hydrolysates. And, as more evidence of hydrolysate’s superiority for muscle building/recovery appears to be surfacing in research labs around the world, hydrolysates are likely to be an increasingly popular supplement for those for whom active sport and fitness is an important part of life.


Note: The study was commissioned by Arla Foods Ingredients.

This blog contains material and information intended for B2B customers, suppliers and distributors, and is not intended as information to the final consumers.