Exeter studentship highlights nutritional value of Quorn protein
A funded PhD studentship with Quorn Foods has developed a strong evidence-base for the nutritional value of mycoprotein, a key protein found in meat-free products.
The Challenge: is Quorn a healthy protein source?
Dietary protein is essential in helping our bodies adapt to the stress of exercise, and in mitigating the inevitable decline in muscle mass and quality as we age. And as we increasingly look to source meat-free alternatives in our diet to reduce our carbon footprint, such alternatives must offer a nutritionally effective replacement.
Until recently though, further research was needed to establish exactly how mycoprotein – the protein found in Quorn foods – compares with conventional sources of protein, such as meat and dairy. For this reason, Quorn Foods recently funded two University of Exeter studentships to find out how the protein compared to omnivorous sources of protein.
The first looked at how mycoprotein affects cholesterol and metabolic health, while the second – featured here – looked specifically at how the protein itself could support the maintenance of muscle mass.
Following on from an initial, one-year study that developed a proof of concept for mycoprotein’s healthy properties using blood samples, PhD student Alistair Monteyne set out to build up a strong base of evidence for the protein’s ability to support muscle tissue maintenance and growth.
At first, the studentship aimed to ascertain whether mycoprotein is a high-quality protein source. To do this, Alistair fed the protein to healthy young individuals, which alongside the use of stable isotope tracer methods, allowed them to look at how much muscle mass was built in response to a single meal. The team then compared these results to milk protein – where lots of previous research has been done, making this a good point of comparison – finding that mycoprotein compares favourably and supports muscle building after a meal.
From that point, Alistair and the team ran a number of further studies to build up a comprehensive picture, by looking at the ability of mycoprotein to support muscle tissue maintenance and growth over a period of weeks and months. They ran a series of studies, with younger and older individuals, where they compared a mycoprotein-rich vegan diet with an omnivorous diet over several days. Similarly, they found that a mycoprotein-rich diet provides a favourable comparison with a high protein omnivorous diet, supporting muscle building over a number of days.
Finally, the researchers investigated how well mycoprotein can support muscle growth in response to training, over a ten-week period. This time, they compared the response of a mycoprotein-rich vegan diet and omnivorous diet to a rigorous resistance-training programme, measuring differences in individual muscle fibre size, whole muscle size and whole-body X-ray imaging. Again, they found very similar results between both protein sources, providing a fully comprehensive picture of mycoprotein’s status as a high-quality source of protein.
Benefits for the company
- The studentship provided Quorn Foods with a strong, comprehensive ‘proof of concept’ that mycoprotein is a healthy protein source, which supports muscle maintenance and growth as effectively as meat-based alternatives.
- Quorn Foods has now funded a further PhD studentship with the University of Exeter, looking into mycoprotein’s application to sports nutrition.
Benefits for the student
- Dr Alistair Monteyne is now funded by Quorn as a post-doctorate Research Fellow on healthy ageing.
Benefits for the academic team
- The studentship provided the academic supervisor, Dr Benjamin Wall, with published research papers that were assessed as world-leading and internationally excellent (REF2021), bolstering the research strength and reputation of the University’s Sports and Health Science department.
Industrial studentships are funded projects which allow businesses to gain valuable insights into cutting-edge research questions. If you’re interested in taking on a studentship project with the University of Exeter, please visit our website to find out more.