While building muscle may take centre stage for protein ingredients, there is a mass of potential health benefits from increasing protein intakes, and increasing satiety may be the next big thing.
When it comes to protein, it's not just about the gym. In fact one of the biggest shifts in the market for protein ingredients is away from sports nutrition and towards mass market consumer products for health and wellness - and in this arena appetite suppression is king.
The scientific literature certainly supports a role for high protein foods and diets for boosting feelings of fullness and enhancing weight loss. From whey to soy, fish, peanut or pea - the evidence points towards the benefit of increasing protein to reduce feelings of hunger.
Indeed, several recent studies have shown that a protein-rich breakfast can significantly improve satiety and appetite control, and could even help to reduce levels of unhealthy snacking - on high-fat or high-sugar foods - later in the day.
One recent study investigating the impact of breakfast consumption on daily appetite and evening snacking (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: doi: 10.3945/ajcn.112.053116 ) found that that consumption of high-protein breakfasts led to increased feelings of fullness, reduced evening snacking on high-fat and high-sugar foods compared to a normal protein breakfast from ready-to-eat cereal, and reductions in brain activity that are responsible for controlling food cravings.
"Eating a protein-rich breakfast impacts the drive to eat later in the day, when people are more likely to consume high-fat or high-sugar snacks," explained Professor Heather Leidy from the University of Missouri-Columbia, USA - who led the research.
"These data suggest that eating a protein-rich breakfast is one potential strategy to prevent overeating and improve diet quality by replacing unhealthy snacks with high quality breakfast foods," she added.
While the evidence might be clear for the effects of protein in general, a recent review of the literature found no clear evidence to indicate that there is a difference between plant and animal sources of protein.
Reviewing the literature, a team of Danish researchers led by Arne Astrup from the University of Copenhagen, found that animal proteins - and in particular dairy proteins - are superior to plant proteins for building muscle, but concluded that when it comes to satiety there is "no clear evidence to indicate whether there is a difference in the effect dependent on the source of the protein."
With the World Health Organization estimating that by 2015, there will be more than 1.5 billion overweight consumers, the opportunities for a scientifically-substantiated weight management product are impressive.
The market for food, beverage and supplement weight management products is already valued at $3.64bn (2009 figures) in the US, according to Euromonitor. In Western Europe, the market was worth $1.3bn in 2009.
Speaking to FoodNavigator-USA previously, Tom Vierhile, innovation insights director at Datamonitor commented that many of the opportunities for companies "are not being leveraged to the degree that they can be, especially the link between protein and satiety."
"It looks like breakfast is the opportunity that many of the new higher protein products are targeting, launches like Dannon Activia Breakfast Blend Lowfat Yogurt and Special K Flatbread Breakfast Sandwich," he said.
"As 2013 goes forward, we'll have to see if new launches make a closer association between higher protein and staying full.”
Indeed, the potential of protein for appetite suppression has led to a number of companies - both large and small - moving in to the area.
Swedish firm Indevex Biotech recently launched a low-GI, protein blend that is designed to be eaten about 30 minutes before meals to increase satiety.
Peter Carlsson, VP of marketing and business development for the company said that the blend uses a proprietary mixture of whey, egg and pea proteins and is primarily targeting the health drink and bars sectors.
Meanwhile British dairy nutritionals manufacturer Volac has also launched a low-fat, high-protein dairy drink called Upbeat in the UK - a move that marked the firms entry into the consumer market for dairy beverages.
Volac are Europe’s largest producer of whey protein for the sports nutrition market. However, the company has signalled that the development of Upbeat is “the next step” for it and The Good Whey Company, which currently markets just whey protein powders.
Upbeat brand manager, Susie Hignett, previously told sister site DairyReporter.com that the development will bring the “benefits of a high quality source of protein to a wide audience” – beyond the established sports nutrition market.
"Upbeat will focus on busy people who lead full lives, but will also be relevant to others at a time when obesity is high on people’s agenda, snacking and satiety are debated, and sugar content and sources of protein are so topical,” said Hignett.
Other protein-oriented launches include those from Kellogg, PepsiCo and General Mills - such as Kellogg's Breakfast to Go Milk Chocolate Shake and Eggo Protein Waffles.
While the science to show the beneficial effects of protein, coupled with company enthusiasm for the product may be causing a 'protein renascence', there is still a lot that we simply do not know when it comes to understanding how protein increases feelings of fullness.
However a recent study, published in Cell, mapped out the chain reaction of signals that send satiety messages to the brain after a protein-rich meal. The research describes the complex chain reactions triggered by digesting proteins - which leads to a 'satiety' message being sent to the brain after a meal.
"These findings explain the satiety effect of dietary protein, which is a long-known but unexplained phenomenon," explained Dr Gilles Mithieux of the Université de Lyon, France.
"They provide a novel understanding of the control of food intake and of hunger sensations, which may offer novel approaches to treat obesity in the future," he added.