Supercharged Protein: How Ingredient Optimized (io) Improves Protein Powder

In December of 2022, Ingredient Optimized (io) announced a partnership with Austin, TX supplement contract manufacturer Nutrabound Labs to bring their new ioCollagen™ technology to the market.[1] Nutrabound’s leadership sent us the following video if io Technology in action, permitting us to share it on social media:

It’s been a while since we’ve covered this patented technology,[2,3] which is also available as ioWhey®, ioPea™ , and ioBCAA™, so this gives us a chance to recap its benefits and explain how it will improve collagen supplements. In short, ioProtein Technology utilizes natural atmospheric plasma treatment to improve the powder’s solubility and amino acid bioavailability, and is backed by 10 clinical-research studies.

This article will cover io’s research in detail, but first, let’s discuss the excitement regarding ioCollagen specifically:

ioCollagen: Making Collagen Protein All it Can Be


Supercharge your collagen with ioCollagen

Most industry followers have seen the dramatic rise of collagen supplements the past few years,[4] but not everyone understands its pitfalls. In short, it has an amino acid profile heavy in three amino acids – glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline[5] – which are great for connective tissue and collagen synthesis,[6] but not as great for muscle protein synthesis.[6,7]

It’s important for brands to market these proteins properly, but they can also take a step to ensure that the collagen is absorbed as well as possible. That’s where io Technology like ioCollagen comes in. The patented technology already has research demonstrating 3-5 times greater increases in blood levels of essential amino acids, branched chain amino acids, and leucine when used on whey, pea, and BCAAs than unaltered protein controls.

With fewer of these amino acids in collagen, it’s critical to get every last bit out of them. We discuss how io does this below, but first, be sure to sign up for our alerts so that you get notified when there’s further news and research released:

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Who is Ingredient Optimized?

Ingredient Optimized Logo

io Technology makes protein more bioavailable

Ingredient Optimized is a biotechnology company focused on improving the quality of protein and overall nutrition. With their Ingredient Optimized (io) Protein Technology, backed by scientific research and clinical trials, they’re able to improve proteins to deliver superior absorption, maximized performance, reduced stomach discomfort, and enhanced flavor profile.

What is io Technology?

This is where it gets fun. Io’s Protein Technology is a natural atmospheric plasma treatment for protein powder. This means that the protein is run through Ingredient Optimized’s specialized treatment machine that shifts the protein molecules and amino acids into an improved position, enhancing their characteristics. Unlike other processing methods, io doesn’t use any chemicals or enzymes to change the protein’s structure.

Introducing structural changes to improve surface area

Instead, this cold atmospheric treatment introduces structural changes that better expose the protein’s peptide binding sites.[8] By shifting the arrangement of the molecules, it increases the protein’s surface area,[8] which improves the solubility and dispersibility of the protein powder[9] (it’s known that surface area affects characteristics like solubility, dispersibility, wettability, and sinkability[10]).

Ultimately, that leads to greater overall bioavailability: With the peptide binding sites better exposed, our body’s digestive system can cleave them more easily, leading to improved amino acid uptake (as measured in the body’s plasma) after consumption.[11,12] Research has shown that this type of processing more easily enables our digestive enzymes to attach to the molecules,[13] improving digestion and reducing GI discomfort.

ioWhey Proteins

ioWhey Proteins. Image courtesy Ingredient Optimized

Whereas other amino acid absorption technologies use acid treatment or enzymatic pre-digestion processes, io Technology uses plasma surface modification,[14] and additional ingredients aren’t required.

Improved mixability with water: reduce the need for lecithin

As an added bonus, these structural changes help protein powder mix better with water.[9,15,16] This type of technology is also used in lecithins to improve protein dispersion,[10] so it’s possible that ioProtein will require less (or zero) use of lecithin!

io Technology on Display: Research on ioWhey and ioPea

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The use of io Technology enables brands and manufacturers to achieve more with less — possibly up to 25% real-world improvement, as shown by the data below:

  • ioWhey

    ioWhey Logo

    ioWhey is a more bioavailable form of whey protein that’s been shown to outperform whey protein isolate and hydrolyzed whey protein isolate.

    ioWhey is the use of the aforementioned ioProtein Technology on any whey protein. We’ve already discussed how this technology shifts up to a 12.77% difference in whey protein molecules,[13] but what does that mean for the consumer?

    • Research Study: Crossover design on healthy young men

      Researchers set to figure this out in a study published in 2019, where they recruited 12 healthy men ages 19 through 32 for a randomized, crossover design.[11]

      They gave the participants either 29.6 grams of whey protein isolate (WPI) or 29.6 grams of io-treated whey protein isolate (WPI + io). They tested the participants’ plasma for EAA and BCAA at pre-consumption and 30, 60, 90, 120, and 180 minutes post consumption.[11] After a six day washout, they tested it again, but crossed the groups over.

      The data collected is quite astonishing:

      ioWhey Plasma Amino Acids

      ioWhey Protein led to significantly greater plasma amino acid uptake compared to regular whey![11]

      With ioWhey, the total area under the curve for plasma EAA, BCAA, and leucine was significantly greater by 55.2%, 52.6%, and 50.8% respectively! 55% greater EAA total uptake from one scoop![11]


      ioProtein Technology: SuperCharged Protein

      EAA and BCAA concentrations were significantly increased at 30, 60, 90, and 120 minutes post — two hours total — compared to the non-treated whey isolate. Even at three hours post-ingestion, there’s no longer statistical significance, but the plasma amino acids are still elevated.[11]

      You can also see that the maximum levels were greater in the WPI + io group (such as 29.6% higher for leucine), and lasted much longer. The standard whey protein isolate shake led to plasma amino acid peaks at 30 minutes — we generally realize that WPI is fast. However, with io-treated WPI, the peak lasts through 60 minutes![11]

      This gives users more time to utilize those amino acids, and more time to make it home post-workout and cook their protein-based meal.

    • Research study: improved body composition and strength gains in 8 weeks

      Another study on healthy young men and women tested 8 weeks of whey protein isolate with ioProtein Technology against a standard, non-treated whey protein isolate.[17] Researchers split 20 adults aged 18 to 37 in two groups, giving them each 28 grams of protein per day. They were told to maintain their diet but discontinue the use of other supplements.

      ioWhey Lean Mass and Bench Press

      Body composition and power: ioWhey led to greater increases in lean mass and bench press[17]

      After 8 weeks, the researchers found that the ioProtein group had significant improvements in fat-free mass compared to the control group taking non-treated whey isolate. The ioProtein group also had significantly greater increases to bench press, squat, and recovery time.[17]

      The ioProtein group reported less stomach discomfort as well![17]

    There’s more to the whey story though — the study involving ioPea gives us even more information:

  • ioPea

    ioPea Logo

    Pea protein, optimized. ioPea has the most significant improvements compared to its controls.

    A year later, a similar study was published, this time involving many new challenges:[12]

    1. Plasma-treated pea protein vs. untreated hydrolyzed whey protein isolate
    2. Standard pea protein vs plasma-treated pea protein
    3. Untreated hydrolyzed whey protein isolate vs plasma treated non-hydrolyzed whey protein isolate
    4. Standard BCAAs vs Plasma-treated BCAAs

    The fourth one is interesting – we’re going to see ioPea go head-to-head against an extremely high-quality form of whey protein isolate!

    This study used two sets of men — 10 participants for each cohort — average ages in their mid-20s. 7-day washouts were used across groups.

    We break this study down in detail below, but here’s a quick look in one image:

    ioPea vs. Whey Protein vs. Pea Protein

    This study shows the efficacy of ioPea vs. Whey Protein vs. Pea Protein[12]

    1. Untreated Hydrolyzed Whey Isolate vs. ioPea

      In the chart below, ioPea worked so effectively that there was no significant difference from hydrolyzed whey isolate![12]

      ioPea vs. Untreated Hydrolyzed Whey Protein Isolate

      io Technology is so powerful that it makes ioPea work just as well as untreated hydrolyzed whey protein isolate![12]

      As most know, hydrolyzed whey protein isolate works very quickly. But once again, we see io technology leading to long-lasting amino acid uptake.[12]

      All in all, there’s no statistical significance in the total area under the curve — ioPea can take on a premier form of whey protein isolate!

    2. ioPea vs. Standard Pea Protein

      But would standard pea protein have been able to hold a candle to hydrolyzed whey isolate? How much better is ioPea than regular pea protein?

      It turns out… a lot better:

      ioPea vs. Pea Protein

      ioPea vs. untreated pea protein[12]

      Put simply, ioPea beats the pants off of pea protein.

      ioPea leads to significantly greater total plasma EAA elevation, and is significantly better than pea protein at the 30, 60, and 120 minute marks as well.[12] Meanwhile, plasma BCAA levels are significantly greater at literally every post-ingestion time measurement.

      You’ll also notice that pea protein isn’t enough to sustain a 4 hour fast — plasma EAA and BCAA levels dropped below baseline if you don’t keep eating!

      This one was a slam dunk.

    3. Plasma treated non-hydrolyzed whey protein isolate vs. standard hydrolyzed whey protein isolate

      Let’s get back to whey protein. In the above section, we’ve already discussed how io Technology boosts whey protein isolate.[11] But can io take a non-hydrolyzed whey protein isolate to task with an untreated hydrolyzed whey protein isolate?

      The answer is absolutely:

      ioWhey Protein Isolate vs. Untreated Hydrolyzed Whey Protein Isolate

      ioWhey Protein Isolate vs. Untreated Hydrolyzed Whey Protein Isolate[12]

      Here, we have significantly greater total plasma EAA and BCAA measurements in ioWhey whey protein isolate compared to standard hydrolyzed whey isolate, with additional significance at the 30, 60, and 120 minute marks.[12]

      Once again, we see io technology last longer — the drop-off at 60 minutes is negligible, whereas non-treated hydrolyzed whey isolate has already begun its decent at that time. This is another marker of statistical significance.

      Hydrolyzed proteins are expensive — but with ioWhey technology, they’re not necessary to the vast majority of dieters!

    4. Plasma treated BCAA versus standard BCAA

      Finally, let’s look at the BCAAs themselves. A question here is to discover whether io Technology only works with peptide-bound proteins (used in all of the above protocols) or if it can work with free-form amino acids as well.

      The answer is plainly seen below:

      Plasma treated BCAA versus standard BCAA

      Plasma treated BCAA versus standard BCAA[12]

      Here, BCAA elevations (which include the mTOR boosting powerhouse, leucine) are significantly increased at 30, 60, and 120 minutes, as well as overall as measured by total area under the curve.[12]

      The study also shows a table, where we can see that plasma leucine is nearly doubled at 30 minutes, and tripled at 60 minutes![12]

      Although the market for free-form amino acids has moved from standalone BCAAs to full EAA formulas, the science will still stand – io Technology clearly works on free-form aminos!

    This study verifies much of the data from the above trial, but also adds a lot more information – include complete and total domination for ioPea and ioBCAA.

  • ioBCAA

    ioBCAA Logo

    ioBCAA can improve the amino acid uptake of your BCAA powders

    ioBCAA is the use of io Technology on branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). If you skipped down to this area, scroll back up – the above section demonstrates how powerful io Technology is, even with free-form amino acids.

    Many supplement formulators have moved to full essential amino acid (EAA) formulas, but there’s no reason why this technology wouldn’t work there as well. We may not have data for the other six essential aminos, but we do have data for the three BCAAs, and it’s convincing. There’s no reason to assume that the other amino acids wouldn’t also have similar bumps.

    When developing a new EAA supplement, formulators can opt to run io Technology on just the BCAAs, but we’d use it on everything.

  • ioCollagen

    This brings us to ioCollagen. Although there’s currently no published data on this type of protein, every type of protein and amino acid tested has been improved by io Technology. We have very solid grounds to believe that it will work on the amino acids within collagen as well.

    Just note, however, that collagen’s amino acid profile is very high in glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline,[5] yet low in the BCAAs.[18] We’re very confident that all amino acids will be significantly elevated with ioCollagen compared to controls. However, we doubt that there’s enough BCAA content in collagen to bring ioCollagen’s BCAA uptake to the level of whey or pea protein. That’s okay, so long as it’s marketed properly.

    Nutrabound Labs

    Nutrabound Labs can now process ioCollagen, powered by io Technology!

    The point with ioCollagen is that less can lead to more. For example, many collagen protein applications involve coffee creamer, where adding 20 grams is quite cumbersome. But if we can get similar effects from 10 grams of ioCollagen, which does generally mix well into a medium sized cup of coffee (never too hot), then it becomes a perfect application.

    Plus, the surface area improvements from the io Technology will lead to better mixability and less filler use required – a win in both circumstances.

    There are many other applications for collagen — this is just one. It would be interesting to see it used on bone broth powders and gelatin, the latter of which could make for a unique type of gelatin dessert.

Products using io

Conclusion: io Technology brings significant wins

It’s not surprising that Nutrabound Labs brought io Technology, the sponsor of this article, to their Texas manufacturing facility. After looking at the amino acid uptake data, the data is extremely convincing. It seems that anything with amino acids in it will stand to gain from Ingredient Optimized.

We recently wrote that one of the major trends noted at SupplySide West 2022 was doing more with less. Plasma-treated protein definitely fits within that description, as we’re seeing companies get the same results from 25% less protein.

Although we primarily focus on improved amino acid uptake in this article, it’s also important to re-emphasize the improvements to solubility, dispersibility, and ultimately taste thanks to the molecular shift.

The next question is how brands will use this platform to formulate more unique supplements with it. If you have any good ideas, contact your favorite brand, get in touch with Ingredient Optimized, or schedule a consultation with NutraBound Labs.

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About the Author: Mike Roberto

Mike Roberto

Mike Roberto is a research scientist and water sports athlete who founded PricePlow. He is an n=1 diet experimenter with extensive experience in supplementation and dietary modification, whose personal expertise stems from several experiments done on himself while sharing lab tests.

Mike's goal is to bridge the gap between nutritional research scientists and non-academics who seek to better their health in a system that has catastrophically failed the public.

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