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Insect protein falls short in building muscle mass in young men, study finds

The effects of insect protein supplementation on exercising young men have no significant benefits over carbohydrate supplementation in terms of muscle mass or strength, a study has found. The Danish study, published in Nutrients, did however state that the insect protein could have great use within other population groups. Around 2 billion people around the world already consume insects as part of their regular diet due to their high nutritional value, versatility and flavor.

The planet’s population is expected to exceed 9 billion by 2050, and current food production will need to almost double. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that global food production must increase by 70 percent, by 2050. One way to increase such production is by utilizing alternative and sustainable food sources, such as edible insects. The human consumption of insects is something which is widely accepted in many parts of the world including China, Thailand and Japan.

The aim of this study was to investigate the potential effect of insect protein isolate as a dietary supplement to increase muscle hypertrophy and strength gains during prolonged resistance training in young, healthy men.

Researchers hypothesized that the insect protein isolate would promote greater muscle hypertrophy and strength gains, compared to the carbohydrate supplementation.

The study followed eighteen healthy young males with weight-training experience. They were split into two groups and either ingested an insect-protein bar containing 0.4 g protein per kg or an isocaloric carbohydrate bar within 1 hour after each training and 1 hour before sleep on training days. They took part in resistance training and were monitored for a period of eight weeks.

Results showed that although the study had overall health benefits for the men, including gains in fat- and bone- free mass (FBFM) and muscle strength, no difference was observed between the two groups, contradicting the researcher’s initial hypothesis.

The researchers did acknowledge the potential effects of non-controlled stimuli in the study. This included the participants having no dietary restrictions before and after training and that the time of training was also not controlled.

With many favorite sports proteins touting muscle mass gains - such as the well-known whey powders – it seems insect protein may not be at it's best in this area. However, the researchers pointed to the need for further research that could “examine whether insect protein supplementation in groups with a suboptimal protein intake would have a positive effect on skeletal muscle mass and function,” such as the elderly.

Mainstream appeal of insects

The use of insects for human consumption has been steadily rising. Massimo Reverberi, founder of Bugsolutely Ltd, told, that although many edible insect companies focus on protein applications, “insects contain a lot of other nutritional properties, and they are an incredibly sustainable food requiring very few resources to be farmed and avoiding the footprint left by cattle, in particular, methane emission.”

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