High-protein, Healthy Diet Popular Among Young People; Dieters can Enjoy “Muscle Ramen” Without Feeling Guilty

Courtesy of Yano Shoten
“Muscle Ramen” is a high-protein product.

With the recent boom in muscle training, a variety of high-protein “muscle-building foods” have been created in various parts of the country. These foods have met the desire to enjoy eating as part of an athletic lifestyle and also seem to have won the hearts of young people who are interested in maintaining good health and losing weight.

Yano Shoten, a long-established fish paste store in Takamatsu, sells “Kinniku Ramen” (muscle ramen), frozen noodles sold in collaboration with Wakamatsu, a popular ramen restaurant also in the city. The main feature of the product is that it contains a whole chikuwa, a tube-shaped fish cake, as an ingredient.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Koji Yano shows “Muscle Ramen,” saying, “I hope people will fully enjoy eating it without feeling guilty.”

In 2021, Yano Shoten President Koji Yano, 60, developed “Muscle Chikuwa” jointly with a nutritionist. The chikuwa is made of Alaska pollock fish paste mixed with nut-based protein. Each chikuwa contains 16 grams of protein out of its total weight of about 65 grams.

In its Dietary Reference Intakes for Japanese, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry recommends that women consume 50 grams of protein daily, and that men consume 60-65 grams. A single Muscle Chikuwa provides about one-quarter to one-third of those daily amounts.

When the product went on sale, the store received many phone inquiries about it. More than 10,000 units have been sold so far.

People who work out hard tend to give up eating ramen noodles, especially the type served in thick and rich broth. Yano’s 57-year-old wife Chikako thought that by “eating ramen with Muscle Chikuwa, people could take in more protein to achieve a better nutritional balance and as a result feel less guilty” about eating ramen. After hearing this idea, Yano started to develop the product.

Yano asked the owner of Wakamatsu to work with him to commercialize Muscle Ramen. The owner agreed without hesitation, and the product went on sale in April 2022.

As chikuwa absorbs ramen broth to have a deeper flavor, it is a good match for ramen. In addition, boiling chikuwa with ramen noodles helps the noodles absorb the fish-based umami of the chikuwa.

Yano and his wife guarantee the nutritional value of the ramen, saying that even those on a diet can fully enjoy eating it.

The noodles come in three flavors: a regular flavor with broth made from iriko dried fish, a rich flavor, and a spicy flavor. The price for each is ¥1,200, including tax. They are sold at the official online store.

More products for athletes, dieters

Other products developed for athletes and dieters are also available.

Prop, a cake shop in Harima, Hyogo Prefecture, has been selling “Protein Castilla,” a type of sponge cake usually called “castella,” since 2022. Each piece contains eight grams of protein, including supplemental protein, and is made to be relatively low in fat. The texture is similar to regular castella sponge cakes. A set of six cakes sells for ¥2,400, including tax.

The product was developed for martial arts athletes, who have strict diet restrictions, by the store’s executive director Shojiro Watanabe, 46, who used to go to a kickboxing gym, with the hope that they could enjoy a tasty snack even when they need to lose weight.

The store has received orders for the product from athletes in various sports. They in turn sent favorable responses to the store, saying that it is a relief to eat something sweet even when they are going through hard times, the shop says.

Smoothie Cafe Soleil in Soja, Okayama Prefecture, offers “Protein Pancakes,” priced at ¥840 per plate including tax. The pancakes are made by baking a batter mixed with supplemental protein and topped with low-calorie vegetable-based cream, strawberries, nuts, and other ingredients. They contain 20 grams of protein and are made to have fewer calories than regular pancakes.

The cafe’s owner, Umi Tsukishiro, 44, also works as a personal trainer for diet improvement. She says that the pancakes are aimed at women who are interested in dieting.

“Some young women diet in unhelpful ways, like excessively restricting their food intake. I want to help them build a healthy body with nutritional support while eating delicious food,” Tsukishiro said.

More people in training

Muscle training became popular with COVID-19-related restrictions and is still going strong.

According to a survey by the Sasakawa Sports Foundation, the percentage of people aged 20 or older who do muscle training at least once a week has been on a rising trend since 2000, increasing from 4.5% in that year to 13.4% in 2020 at the height of the pandemic. It was 12% in 2022.

In line with the boom, the market for protein-enriched foods has expanded rapidly. According to research firm Fuji Keizai Co., the domestic market is estimated to grow from about ¥62.3 billion in 2013 to ¥258 billion in 2023, more than quadrupling.