Special edition: Getting more from your milk

Whey permeate can help sports recovery drinks

By Jim Cornall

- Last updated on GMT

Rivella is a Swiss product made from whey, herbs and fruit essences.
Rivella is a Swiss product made from whey, herbs and fruit essences.

Related tags Nutrition

Despite the current ‘war on sugar,’ carbohydrate energy is a consumer need in sports nutrition, backed up by the most recently EU-approved health claim related to carbohydrates and recovery from exercise.

This trend opens a new market for whey permeate, says Suzane Leser, international dairy nutrition company Volac’s head of nutrition.

Leser says whey permeate is the “new natural alternative to traditional sports drinks. It is a natural water-based complex of milk sugars, minerals and peptides, obtained after the whey protein is extracted.​”

She said, “Milk today is recognized in sports for its potential to provide all of the nutrients needed for recovery. Lactose is the natural sugar in milk that replaces muscle energy stores and it has grown in popularity with the use of chocolate milk drinks for muscle recovery after exercise. The whey water, which is naturally rich in lactose, becomes one attractive alternative to added sugars in water-based sports drinks.”


Lactose energy in sports drinks

Leser explained the potential value-added from lactose as a source of energy in sports drinks: “As the good vs. bad sugars debate evolves, lactose increasingly stands out for its glycemic index is low, as well as its levels of sweetness. Also, dental health is one major concern around the use of sugars in sports drinks, and lactose is the least cariogenic carbohydrate available.

“A typical sports drink made with whey permeate would also replace electrolytes, for it would be a natural source of phosphorous, potassium and chloride, as well as sodium, the main electrolyte lost through sweat. And permeate is not entirely free of protein. It contains a small amount of whey peptides, which could carry additional health benefits.”

Whey permeate is already used across Europe in beverages with a natural appeal, in similar ways to coconut water. For example, Lattella, a fruity whey beverage, has been on the Austrian market for more than 30 years. Another example is Rivella, which is made with whey and a blend of herb and fruit essences, sold in Switzerland since the 1950s.

What is quite uniqueis that the use of whey waters dates as far back as the 17th​ century, for there are historical records of the widespread use of whey for its health properties. Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, is thought to have praised the benefits of drinking and bathing in whey in those ancient times​,” Leser said.

Whey permeate entering sports nutrition drinks market

Michael Hiron, Volac’s head of dairy and lifestyle ingredients suggests that whey permeate is one solution that could help recover the downtrend recently seen in the soft drinks market.

The most affected category by the war on sugar appears to be health drinks. In fact, recent Mintel research show that brands need to identify and engage with prospective consumers and drinks made from natural ingredients show increasing potential,” ​he said.

The first example of innovation in the European sports nutrition market is already out there, with Iso-Charge isotonic drink from The Protein Works, launched last summer. It is made with a dual carbohydrate blend of Volactose whey permeate and coconut water​,” Hiron noted. 

Under the rules of the Nutrition and Health Claims Regulations, the approved claim on carbohydrate and exercise recovery is restricted for use only by ‘foods intended for adults who have performed highly intensive and/or long-lasting physical exercise’, i.e., sports nutrition products.

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