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Young man drinks a protein shake after a workout

For decades, athletes have used whey protein supplements to help build muscle mass after weightlifting sessions. But can pea protein have similar effects?

A 2015 study made with NUTRALYS® ingredients reveals the answer: Yes, it can. Reaching that answer was no easy task, though. It took more than 160 volunteers, three months of guided workouts – and a lot of protein shakes.

“With active consumers now seeking for sustainable proteins, plant-based sport nutrition experiences a huge growth in the last few years. Roquette science made pea protein a world renowned plant protein in this market,” says Anne-Sophie Vercruysse, Global Market Manager for Plant Proteins at Roquette.

“We wanted to demonstrate something already known for dairy protein,” adds Laetitia Guérin-Deremaux, Head of Nutrition and Health R&D at Roquette. “But there was no scientific data around pea protein.”

To create the study*, Roquette partnered with research firm CEN Nutriment and with the Centre for Performance Expertise, an exercise research facility affiliated with the University of Burgundy in Dijon, France. Their challenge: Get a significant group of ordinary people to follow a training routine and take protein supplements in a consistent way. Then measure the result objectively.

A 12-week plan

For the study, researchers decided to focus mainly on muscle mass. People might workout or use protein supplements for other reasons: Better performance, overall health, physical appearance. But in this case, change in muscle mass would be the primary factor measured. Researchers would use sonography to measure bicep thickness in participants before, during and after the study, resulting in a quantifiable result.

“We had criteria to make sure people we chose practiced some sport, but not too much,” Guérin-Deremaux says. “We didn’t want to target only athletic people – we wanted to target the average fitness enthusiast.”

More than 160 people were chosen to participate. They exercised three days a week for 12 weeks, working out in person at the Centre for Performance Expertise facility and following a special training program written for each of them, based on various individual physical criteria.

Each participant was asked to drink a daily supplement. Some took a NUTRALYS® pea protein powder, some took a whey protein supplement and some took a placebo with no protein. Volunteers didn’t know which type of supplement they’d been provided.

Daily surveys helped ensure the volunteers remembered to take supplements, Guérin-Deremaux says. Their muscle measurements were taken at the study’s start, at the 6-week point and after the full 12-week period ended.

The results brought one or two surprises.

In a study of this nature, the results from individuals will vary a good deal – no two human beings are identical, after all. Gurerin-Deremaux says biologists can view the data themselves, looking for trends. Or a computer can gauge those trends statistically, highlighting only the distinctions between groups of data that are broad enough to be considered “statistically significant.”

Using statistical methods performed on the weakest volunteers, NUTRALYS® intake showed no significant difference in muscle mass increase compared to whey. Perhaps more surprising, the whey group showed no significant difference from the group taking placebo either. Whey is known to outperform placebos for this type of function, but in this particular study differences were not pronounced enough to be statistically significant.

NUTRALYS®, however, did show greater muscle mass increases than placebos in a statistically significant way.

For most consumers, that’s what matters most: NUTRALYS® helps build muscle mass when used along with exercise. The data shows it now.

Scientific validation

Sharing more than just that simple conclusion is important for transparency, says Guérin-Deremaux. What matters about Roquette-funded studies isn’t just their conclusions, but how trustworthy their methods are in reaching those conclusions.

This result was published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. That, says Guérin-Deremaux, builds trust.

“In a peer-reviewed journal,” she says, “you have a kind of jury evaluating your study. The study is challenged. If it’s not well-designed, if it’s not innovative, if it’s not statistically well-run – they can refuse to publish.”

That’s why Roquette delves into such detail with its findings – and why it always seeks publication in peer-reviewed independent journals.

“You’ll find all kinds of information online,” Guérin-Deremaux says. “But a journal is evaluated. Being there is a kind of validation of our science.”

That should serve as validation for consumers, too.

See all NUTRALYS® Health Benefits & Studies

*NUTRALYS® health benefits are supported by one single clinical study. Food manufacturers who would like to use NUTRALYS® pea protein for these benefits will have to run its own studies based on its own formulation.

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