Bioavailability refers to how easy it is for the body to digest, absorb and use a protein in its metabolic processes. Some foods have a greater bioavailability than others. Animal proteins like milk are known to have high bioavailability, meaning that they support muscle building.
Researchers from the University of Exeter compared milk protein with Mycoprotein – the patent-protected protein used in Quorn products - and found "equivalent" bioavailability.
Detailing the study, which was published in British Journal of Nutrition, the researchers said that they investigated the impact of mycoprotein ingestion, in a dose-response manner, on acute postprandial hyperaminoacidaemia and hyperinsulinaemia.
In all, 12 healthy young men completed five experimental trials in a randomised, single-blind, cross-over design. During each trial, volunteers consumed a test drink containing either 20 g milk protein, mass matched (not protein matched due to the fibre content) mycoprotein, or a protein matched bolus of mycoprotein.
Circulating amino acid, insulin and uric acid concentrations and clinical chemistry profiles were assessed in arterialised venous blood samples during a four-hour postprandial period. Mycoprotein ingestion resulted in slower but more sustained hyperinsulinaemia and hyperaminoacidaemia compared with milk when protein matched, with overall bioavailability equivalent between conditions, the researchers concluded.
The study was a collaboration between Quorn Foods and the University of Exeter. The university scientists said more research is now needed to see if the high bioavailability of Mycoprotein translates to beneficial effects, equivalent to animal proteins, on muscle tissue for various different groups of people.
Best of both?
Consuming protein results in an increased availability of amino acids and insulin in the blood, leading to "muscle protein synthesis" (muscle building) in the hours after eating. Increased protein consumption is often recommended for people who need extra protein to maintain or remodel muscle tissue such as the elderly or athletes.
"In the last decade or so, nutritional research has led to more and more people - including athletes and older people - being advised to consume more protein than the standard recommended daily allowance," said first author Mandy Dunlop, of the University of Exeter.
However, the environmental impact of animal protein production is gaining increasing attention, Dunlpo continued. "At the same time, government and societal concerns about the sustainability and environmental effects of producing animal-based proteins like meat and dairy products have been growing.
"Quorn's Mycoprotein is produced with far less impact on the environment, and our research shows the bioavailability of its protein is equivalent to that of milk."
Senior author Dr Benjamin Wall added: "We concluded that Mycoprotein provides a very bioavailable dietary protein source, and speculate that it would be an effective source of protein to support muscle building in a variety of populations."
Source: British Journal of Nutrition
Published online ahead of print: doi.org/10.1017/S0007114517002409
"Mycoprotein represents a bioavailable and insulinotropic non-animal-derived dietary protein source: a dose-response study"
Authors: Mandy V. Dunlop, Sean P. Kilroe, Joanna L. Bowtell, et al.