As Mehmood Khan wrote last fall, we honored several members of our R&D team at PepsiCo’s inaugural Academy of Science awards in September. We have previously highlighted a team that took a classic Indian drink called “nimbu paani” and packaged it for on-the-go consumers, and another that worked in China on a locally sourced cereal that appeals to the local palette. Today we wanted to recognize another team for its development of a new Gatorade product for use after workouts.
Recovery is a critical step for the body after a workout. Basically, adapting to the repeated stress of exercise applied during workouts is how performance is improved. Protein provides the amino acids muscles need to rebuild and repair, while carbohydrates replenish the muscle’s energy stores. The goal of the project was to develop a refreshing beverage, to be consumed post-workout, that delivered the protein and carbohydrates needed to help athletes recover.
Gatorade is normally consumed during and after workouts and has a reputation as a refreshing, good tasting beverage. Most protein beverages are cloudy and not appetizing. Research showed that many athletes were not getting the protein they needed to recover from exercise because there wasn’t a good tasting protein drink on the market.
The challenge is that proteins become denatured, astringent and bitter after being exposed to high temperatures and high acid, making most protein beverages cloudy and unappetizing. Proteins also show strong buffering capacity, which requires a significant addition of acids to stabilize the beverage in a pH range that meets food safety guidelines. Higher acids can change the taste causing another problem for the team to overcome.
To overcome these challenges the team worked to:
- Re-construct the protein hydrolysis process and the beverage formulation to generate the existing protein blend
- Engineer a unique blend of three acids to achieve the desired low pH without excess sourness to counteract the original acid levels that are about 10 times higher than current Gatorade formulas
- Create a salt blend that was compatible with the beverage matrix and did not buffer the pH higher than the target
- Develop a new analytical method to fingerprint key amino acids via liquid chromatography, and a new sensory method for flavor attributes.
The end result is the first transparent protein product on the market and an example of PepsiCo R&D at work.