WISHH Perspectives

Soyfoods Help Worldwide Consumers Pursue Their Fitness Goals

By: Linda Funk, Flavorful Insight

As global consumers embrace the exercise and fitness trend, look for them to increase their protein intake and purchase sports nutrition products, including those incorporating U.S.-grown soy. According to the Global Wellness Institute, the global physical activity economy will exceed $1.1 trillion by 2023, with the Asia Pacific region poised to surpass North America as the largest market.1   

Among the protein-based products in the fitness category are snack bars, shakes, and powders. Sports nutrition products are intended to support muscle growth and improve athletic performance, or to aid recovery after exercise. For consumers concerned with building their strength and increasing their endurance, the combination of resistance exercise and consuming dietary protein helps build and maintain muscle strength.2  As a complete plant protein, U.S.-grown soy has a competitive advantage: recent studies confirm that incomplete proteins are not as effective in building muscle or strength and may not be as effective as complete proteins for sports recovery.3  Soy is a complete plant protein, meaning that it provides all of the essential amino acids necessary for human nutrition.4 

Based on trends that she has identified, A. Elizabeth Sloan, Ph.D., suggests that marketers stress the type and amount of protein needed to trigger muscle synthesis. “Specifically, this includes talking about the presence of essential amino acids, including leucine, and the timing of protein consumption for optimal muscle development, as well as highly desired qualities such as satiety and long-lasting energy,”  Sloan says. Her California-based firm, Sloan Trends, tracks consumer food and beverage trends and behaviors, as well as health and nutrition attitudes. Sloan cites the advantages of soy, referencing the fact that it is not only a high protein food but also a complete protein, with the ability to ensure proper growth and muscle development. 

What to watch as we embark on the exercise age. Currently, one-third of the world’s population does not engage in the recommended amounts of physical activity, which in turn has a negative impact on global health and economies.5  According to the World Health Organization, physical inactivity is now identified as the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality.6  Currently, worldwide fitness programs for children and the aging are trending, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. In North American, South America, Asia, and Europe, children and the elderly represent important markets for health and fitness-related products.7  Also, sports nutrition is a large market that has grown in recent years. The global sports nutrition market is expected to pass the $20 billion mark in 2021 and reach $223 billion in 2023.8   

Explore opportunities for soy protein among fitness-oriented consumers. Resistance exercise training, also called strength training, is meant to build muscle strength and increase endurance. One European consumer study concluded that those in the general population who buy sports nutrition products—primarily men, young people, and frequent exercisers—do so with the intention of improving their health, with physical performance improvement being another top motivator.9 While consumers have a choice of both plant and animal protein products, results of a recent meta-analysis indicate that soy protein supplementation produces similar gains in strength and LBM (lean body mass) in response to RET (resistance exercise training) as whey protein.10 

Globally, nearly 80 percent of shoppers report an interest in protein, and many are seeking more protein in their diets.11  53 percent of global shoppers consider physical energy to be a benefit linked with high-protein diets, and 46 percent include muscle health and tone among the benefits.12 

Think soyfoods for sports nutrition and building muscle strengthU.S.-grown soy can supply high-quality protein for the expanding sports nutrition market. Soy protein enjoys a widespread availability and favorable clinical research supporting its health and nutritional advantages.13  In 2019, 62 percent of sales in the sports nutrition market came from North America, with 17 percent in the Middle East, Europe and Africa. The Asia Pacific Region accounted for 14 percent of sales, with 7 percent coming from Latin America.14  

Physical activity recommendations for adults aged 65 and older include muscle-strengthening activities involving major muscle groups on two or more days per week to help prevent age-related functional decline.15  A research study out of Brazil, involving 32 postmenopausal women, suggests that engaging in a resistance exercise program and supplementing milk with soy protein is a way to maintain strength. The study evaluated the effect of adding 25 grams of soy protein per day to milk.16   

Other research shows that consuming soy protein is as effective as whey protein in leading to gains in strength and muscle mass in individuals engaged in resistance exercise training (weight-lifting).17   

To measure the protein quality of most foods, the FDA currently uses the Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS).18 This method evaluates the quality of a protein-based on amino acid requirements for the human diet, and on its digestibility. When measured by the PDCAAS, soy protein is equivalent in quality to egg, milk, casein and whey proteins.19    

While reasons for increasing physical activity may vary — recreational, competitive, wellness, fitness or maintenance—soyfoods can play a role in meeting consumer protein needs. 


[1] Global Wellness Institute, “Move to be Well,” 2019. https://globalwellnessinstitute.org/press-room/press-releases/physical-activity-billion-market/

[2] Am J Clin Nutr 96:1454, 2012.

[3] Current Developments in Nutrition, Vol 3(1), June 2019.

[4] Am Fam Physician, “Soy: a complete source of protein.” 2009 Jan 1;79(1):43-7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19145965/

[5] British Journal of Sports Medicine, “The Exercise is Medicine Global Health Initiative: a 2014 update.” https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/48/22/1627

[6] World Health Organization.

[7] ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal, “Regional Comparisons: The Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends,” 11/12 2019 – Volume 23 – Issue 6 – p 41-48

[8] Euromonitor International.

[9] Sports (Basel). “Self-Reported Use and Reasons Among the General Population for Using Sports Nutrition Products and Dietary Supplements.” 2016 Jun; 4(2): 33.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5968913/

[10] International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, Messina M, Lynch H, Dickinson JM et al. (2018) “No difference between the effects of supplementing with soy protein versus animal protein on gains in muscle mass and strength in response to resistance exercise,” January 2018, 28, 674-685.

[11] Health Focus International, Global Opportunities in Protein—New Consumer Requirements for Success, 2018

[12] Health Focus International, Global Opportunities in Protein. https://www.healthfocus.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/2018-Healthfocus-Global-Report-__-Global-Opportunities-in-Protein_FREE-EXCERPT.pdf

[13] ReportLinker, “Global Proteins Industry,” July 2020. https://www.reportlinker.com/p05478474/?utm_source=GNW

[14] https://www.tateandlyle.com/news/look-inside-sports-nutrition-market-what-are-latest-consumer-trends

[15] World Health Organization, “Global Recommendations on Physical Activity for Health.” www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789241599979

[16] J Diet Suppl, “Adding Soy Protein to Milk Enhances the Effect of Resistance Training on Muscle Strength in Postmenopausal Women,” 2018 Mar 4; 15(2):140-152.

[17] Int J Environ Res Public Health.  “No Significant Differences in Muscle Growth and Strength Development when Consuming Soy and Whey Protein Supplements Matched for Leucine….” 2020 Jun; 17(11): 3871. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7312446/

Published online 2020 May 29. doi: 10.3390/ijerph17113871

[18] Advances in Nutrition 10: 755, 2019

[19] Hoffman, J.R. and Falvo, Michael J. Protein—Which is Best? J. Sports Sci Med, 2004, Dep. 3(#): 118-130.

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