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Heavy Lifting: Sports Nutrition Product Development Trends

Sports Nutrition Sports Nutrition

From muscle building to fortifying nutritional status, the new world of sports nutrition is more inclusive than ever—here’s how to get in on an active market.

In fitness and in sports, every goal reached or scored is without a doubt a rush of wonderful feelings—triumph, pride, passion, gratitude … followed by immediate focus to achieve the next.

“Sports nutrition is no longer reserved for elite male athletes,” said Ryan Wories, director of marketing, FutureCeuticals, Illinois. “Successful sports nutrition finished products now appeal to large target audiences—from hardcore athletes to weekend warriors to those seeking an active lifestyle.”

To maximize product success in this new environment, sports nutrition finished product claims should be targeted towards a broader, more diverse audience—including women and lifestyle users. Formulators should also consider other consumer demands like convenience, plant-based and clean-label transparency.

In agreement is Lisa Reidel, director of marketing for Alfasigma USA, Inc., Louisiana, who attributes the energetic expansion of sports nutrition to a growing demographic base of “recreational athletes and healthy lifestyle users. Sports nutrition is no longer limited to the core athletes and body builders,” she validated. “The category has most definitely evolved in fueling daily pursuits of ‘everyday athletes’ who have become more visible participants and viable consumers.”

According to Global Industry Analysts, the global market for sport nutrition supplements is estimated at $6.6 billion in sales for this year; the category is projected to reach $9.7 billion by 2027. So, it is clearly no longer a niche segment.

Leisha Jenkins, marketing associate for Indiana-based Verdure Sciences, observed that the sports nutrition category has been predominately led by whey and other protein powders aimed at muscle building. During the past several years, however, she has noticed that the category evolved to include an ever-increasing array of applications, functions and deliverable formats.

For example, she provided, “evolution to a more inclusive category that highlights opportunities for eSports, a healthy gut microbiome, immune support, cognitive support, exercise recovery, joint health and performance has brought an immense amount of opportunity to the category and an array of options for the consumer and formulators alike. In addition to a more dynamic array of choices on the shelf, sports enthusiasts are also becoming more educated and the category itself is dipping to the arena of supporting active living from a number of avenues.”

Wories underscored this emerging trend—the consumer mindset shifting from solely desiring performance-related benefits to products that boost total well-being. “From gut health products to plant-based alternatives to formulas targeted specifically for women, personalized sports nutrition products are on the rise,” he commented.

Farrell Rodd, a brand manager at Mars Incorporated offered a unique and opportunistic perspective: “We are seeing sports nutrition is not just about building muscles, but it is about keeping all organs and tissues healthy, too. This includes mental acuity, with brain health and focus also playing a huge role in this area. We are finding that a broader range of consumers of all ages are renewing their personal commitments to wellness with enthusiasm.”

The pandemic, which has been a thorn in the side of gym owners and devotees, has impacted the sports nutrition market in a perish-or-profit manner, as well as a groundswell for opportunities. According to Tyler Lorenzen, CEO and president, Minnesota-based PURIS Proteins, the fitness market players needed to adapt and evolve or risk falling behind the innovation curve. And although gyms are suffering—active fitness enthusiasts have been finding other ways to work out and investing in at-home virtual programs, e.g., Fit Plan, Mirror and Peloton.

Michael Chernyak, president of CK Nutracetuicals, Ontario, Canada sees that “people are biking more, jogging more, exercising more in their homes—the trend appears to be increased physical activity.” Therefore, he predicted, recovery products and joint-care supplements should see sustained demand.

Meanwhile, Lorenzen pointed out, this macro-trend encompasses optimum nutrition that they enjoyed routinely: in the absence of the café post-workout smoothie, what can be done to recreate that experience at home? “Most major nutrition trends are led by gym-goers—the fitness crowd was an early adopter of keto, raw and paleo diets and accelerated their acceptance—this is no different,” he stated. “Plant-based nutrition is moving from devotees’ gym bags to suburban kitchen pantries as we speak.”

Indeed, now, a much wider range of consumers, including those with little or no interest in sports, are interested in what is considered fitness nutrition products like protein drinks as snacks or meal replacements because of their benefits for weight loss and satiety, according to Joe Katterfield, business development manager for sports nutrition and health foods at Arla Foods Ingredients (Denmark).

More specifically, Chernyak observed, “We see immunity being a growth area within the sports nutrition market. Staying healthy keeps training on track and can help improve performance and recovery. The plant protein movement shows no signs of slowing, and at-home training may become part of our ‘new normal.’”

Fresh Pathways

Because of the changing mindsets, habits and routines, the current sports nutrition industry is marked by other trends.

Dr. Ralf Jäger, managing member, Wisconsin-based Increnovo LLC has observed that in athletic and fitness goal enhancement, there is a strong tie to the condition of the microbiota. “Specific probiotic strains have been shown to increase immune and gut health in athletes, improve recovery and reduce exercise-induced inflammation, and most importantly, increase athletic performance. The use of probiotics in sports is a rapidly emerging area in the field of sports nutrition. Athletes are twice as likely to take probiotics compared to sedentary people, and depending on their specific nutritional and performance goals, we can now recommend probiotic strains to support their specific goals. Protein is the largest category in sports nutrition, with plant proteins gaining rapid popularity. Specific probiotic strains have been shown to significantly improve the absorption of key amino acids from plant protein.”

Jenkins agreed, noting that an emerging trend in sports nutrition is microbiome support. She said, “While the microbiome has been a point of interest for several years, the environment surrounding COVID-19 has brought even more attention to the relationships between the microbiome, exercise and healthy immune responses. According to research, ‘exercise might alter one’s gene expression of immune cells in the tissues of the gut, leading to the production of fewer pro-inflammatory cell-signaling proteins and more anti-inflammatory ones, as well as antioxidant enzymes.’”

A unique opportunity, she pondered, is that “sports supplements that support exercise recovery for more consistent workouts and offer support for the gut microbiome may fit multiple needs of those exercising and looking for ways to support balanced immune response, as high intensity or endurance athletes are often more at risk of opportunistic infections.”

A key mindset reset—according to Jenkins: “Sports nutrition” is so much more than looking to obtain daily healthy nutrition combined with physical activity. Many are looking for opportunities to support multiple aspects of health and wellness, including a balance in mood and emotional well-being.”

According to research, she said, the relationship between mood and emotional wellbeing and immune response post exercise “may present opportunities for nutritional ingredients to offer support for mental clarity and mood during exercise which may also support improved immune response after exercise. And, as the sports nutrition segment expands to meet athletes of all activity types, mood and mental acuity are key areas of interest for a new, emerging segment. The explosive popularity of eSports, for example, has created a new kind of athlete, one Jenkins looks straight toward the accelerated pro category of “eSports” as an emerging hybrid of sports and brain support. This new sports category provides opportunities to create solutions for those “seeking solutions for mental acuity, focus, mood, and more to maximize game play. These gamers illustrate changing needs as mental fatigue and mood play a role in their performance. Benefits to mood and mental acuity through natural ingredients may be more appealing to eSports athletes and athletes participating in endurance or high intensity workouts, as they offer benefits without side effects like jitters which are common with caffeine.”

Sporty Ingredients

As is evident, formulating for sports and active lifestyles is infused with excitement and opportunities to capture devoted consumers. Targeting formulas can address endurance promotion, muscular support and strength, joint health, recovery, hydration, protein and even mineral balance.

As an example of the latter, Deep Ocean Minerals (DOM), from CK Nutraceuticals is, according to Chernyak, a clinically validated and sustainably sourc-ed ocean mineral concentrate standardized to four macro minerals (including magnesium) and featuring more than 70 synergistic ionic minerals and trace elements. “Published research papers show that DOM can improve exercise performance and recovery,” he said.

For performance—even a brisk several-mile walk—one needs a steady supply of energy. Interestingly, energy needs vary from day to day, even in healthy individuals; some days we can push ourselves to workout longer or with heavier weights and more reps; other days, we can barely reach the initial goal.

And the energy-boosting desires have swung in a much healthier direction—no central nervous system stimulation (false energy) but enabling the body to sustain its own production. There are ingredients that encourage in-vivo energy production.

CocoaVia, from Mars Incorporated, contains at least 450 mg of cocoa flavanols, according to Rodd. When consumed in high levels, cocoa flavanols increase your body’s natural production of nitric oxide, the biological compound that promotes healthy blood flow and supports peak performance of the entire cardiovascular system. The cocoa flavanols in CocoaVia have been the subject of more than 100 published papers, and more than 30 clinical trials. “CocoaVia is ideal as a pre-workout supplement to increase nitric oxide levels and experience an extra boost of energy, in addition to the long-term cardiovascular and cognitive health benefits,” she commented.

D-ribose remains a widely used ingredient by athletes and is being embraced by active lifestylers, according to Marianne McDonagh, vice president sales for Minnesota-based Bioenergy Life Science, Inc. “Ribose is the backbone of our ATP structure, making it essential to the production of cellular energy. Ribose drives the process that replenishes ATP and other energy components so having sufficient levels of ribose in cells is important,” she emphasized.

McDonagh explained that increased levels of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) are critical in the body’s ability to sustain any type of sports training, competition or fitness activity as all energy production within the body is generated by D-ribose. “Without enough ribose in cells, energy levels will be depleted resulting in early termination of workouts. “Ribose is all about better energy and metabolic efficiency,” she stated.

Alfasigma’s MitoCarn Sport contains the fumarate form of L-carnitine, which supports the body’s muscles in the creation and use of ATP, according to Reidel, who noted that it provides energy to the cells during the metabolic process and helps increase blood flow to the heart and muscles. “By inhibiting glycolysis, MitoCarn Sport helps delay fatigue and improve muscle performance,” she explained. “Through proper mitochondrial function, it provides energy for both slow and fast-twitch muscles, which supports both sustained and explosive efforts.”

MitoCarn Sport, Reidel added, supports red blood cell production and flow, nitric oxide production and oxygen use in the muscles, which may help delay discomfort and reduce muscle fatigue from intense physical activity. “This in turn allows for a higher tolerance to physical effort, and an increase in the maximum workload of muscle cells,” she said.

FutureCeuticals’ ElevATP is described by Wories as a natural complex of ancient peat and apple polyphenols that has been clinically shown at a low 150 mg dose to elevate cellular ATP levels, which results in improved strength, power and performance in resistance-trained athletes. ElevATP helps the body naturally produce the energy compound, adenosine triphosphate.

A potential symbiotic ingredient from FutureCeuticals for energy-sustaining supplements is S7. Said Wories, “This unique ingredient was specifically designed to offer a low 50 mg dose blend of seven plant-based ingredients and has been clinically shown to increase nitric oxide (NO) by 230 percent in human participants. S7 is not an ingested nitrate product, but instead an ingredient that triggers the best kind of nitric oxide production—your body’s own internal NO.”

NO is a known vasodilator that helps blood vessels to relax, which increases blood flow; this increased blood flow delivers more oxygen and other key nutrients to exercising muscles during workouts. “S7 is ideal for performance and muscle-building athletes looking for a natural, non-stimulatory way to boost NO,” he commented. When focusing on muscle-building—not just “bodybuilders,” but for a more widespread consumer base (including older individuals who want to reduce risk of sarcopenia, or muscle wasting)—protein is primary. And while whey may still rule the roost, plant-based proteins are gaining tremendous consumer interest and preference for multiple reasons. Pea protein (not soy) has risen to the top in this sector.

“Though plants may be overlooked in the fitness industry due to often being ‘incomplete’ proteins (meaning they lack one or more of the nine essential amino acids), peas are actually a complete protein just like animal products such as whey, but without the allergens that go along with other animal or soy-based proteins,” noted Anna Gustafson, registered dietitian at PURIS Proteins. “While pea protein is low in methionine, an amino acid critical for metabolism and building protein, our DBBs (dry beverage blends) can be easily paired with a complementary protein like nuts, seeds, or oats in a smoothie.

PURIS provides its pea protein to some of the most well-known nutrition brands on the planet, she underscored, adding that PURIS has created products like DBBs and ready-to-drink (RTD) beverages each packing 20 grams of plant-based protein per serving.

AminoAlta, from SOFAR SpA, Milan, Italy, has been shown in a recently published study to boost absorption of amino acids in plant-based proteins, a process that is assisted by microbial activity during digestion. “Animal proteins are known to be more efficiently absorbed than plant proteins, and most plant proteins are considered incomplete and functionally inferior,” explained Jager. For example, he offered, “pea protein is naturally low in methionine and cysteine, and contains lower amounts of the branched-chain amino acids leucine, isoleucine and valine, which play a crucial role in muscle health, structure and function.”

In the study, 15 physically active men consumed 20 grams of pea protein with either AminoAlta, a combination of 5 billion CFU Lactobacillus paracasei LP-DG (CNCM I-1572) and 5 billion CFU L. paracasei LPC-S01 (DSM 26760), or a placebo for two weeks separated by a four-week washout period. Blood samples were taken at baseline, and 30-, 60-, 120- and 180-minutes post-consumption and analyzed for amino acid content.

According to Jager, the results of the trial showed increases in area under concentration for total branched chain amino acids (22.8 percent) and total essential amino acids (16.0 percent) concentrations after two weeks of AminoAlta supplementation. Additionally, the authors observed increases in absorption of leucine (23.3 percent), isoleucine (26.0 percent), valine (21.5 percent), and tyrosine (6.0 percent).

And there are other products available for new-generation protein products geared to active individuals who are purposefully looking at sports nutrition. For example, Arla Foods’ Lacprodan ISO.Water can be in ready-to-drink protein beverages, according to Katterfield. “One of its big selling points is that it paves the way for sparkling waters with a far wider range of flavors,” he suggested.

Katterfield added that whey proteins are abundant in cysteine, an amino acid that augments glutathione levels. Arla’s whey ingredient, Lacprodan ALPHA-10, “has a four-fold higher level of cysteine than other protein sources,” he said.

And while this is a boon for athletes, bodybuilders and those working out to gain strength, “there are more senior consumers and a growing market for products that can help them stay active for longer,” Katterfield emphasized. To meet that need, Arla Foods recently launched Lacprodan HYDRO.Rebuild, which he described as a 100 percent hydrolyzed whey protein. In three separate clinical trials on resistance-trained older women, “it’s been shown to offer significant improvements to muscle mass, strength and mobility,” he added.

Another aspect to ensure more favorable performance is starting a workout or competition with a desirable anabolic state. One herb, tonkgat ali, has been shown to help promote this state. LJ100 from HP Ingredients, Florida, has been shown in studies to accomplish this by encouraging endogenous testosterone production, according to company Founder and CEO Annie Eng. “These results have also been shown in women, helping to prolong exercise endurance as well as fat management.”

Brand new from PLT Health Solutions Inc. of New Jersey is RipFACTOR, a muscle- and strength-accelerating ingredient with two clinical trials backing up its claims. Developed in tandem with Laila Nutraceuticals, RipFACTOR was shown in clinical trials to be effective for two use levels—performance and ultra-performance. The latter study showed that subjects who consumed the supplement attained as much as a four-fold increase in muscle size, a two-fold increase in muscle endurance and a five-fold improvement in strength compared to those taking a placebo.

Recovery—meaning not having to wait for the day after next to work out again—is huge, especially with competitive athletes in training and in season, as well as ordinary folks who engage in routine fitness to ensure they sustain their desired BMI (body mass index) and weight via exercise.

AstaReal astaxanthin, from AstaReal USA Inc., New Jersey, has been shown to promote muscle recovery through its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, as well as increasing endurance via protecting mitochondria against free radical damage during exercise, according to Karen Hecht, PhD, scientific affairs manager.

Restoridyn, Verdure’s proprietary polyphenol blend of curcuminoids and pomegranate ellagitannins, is, according to Jenkins, “well positioned to assist with restoration, improvement, and maintenance for physical activity. Additionally, clinical evidence supports ‘changes in two pathways not directly linked to muscle recovery: host-pathogen interaction and hemostasis. While these responses are not associated with muscle recovery, their change may support an improved post-exercise immune system and reduced incidence of opportunistic infection that is commonly reported following strenuous endurance exercise. Reductions in infection risk are often associated with a more effective recovery from muscle injury.’”

In a recent study conducted on Restoridyn, she detailed, participants who were training for a half-marathon took varying doses during training. Results from this study further support findings that Restoridyn may be useful as part of a comprehensive plan to mitigate post-exercise inflammatory response/injury and improve subsequent recovery between sessions.”

Another study of healthy adults (26-45 years) who were training for a half-marathon event supplemented with Restoridyn and demonstrated positive improvements to post-race inflammatory associated responses, according to Jenkins. “Restoridyn was associated with a down-regulation of the long non-coding RNA (lncRNA) that are known to regulate inflammation and COX-2 expression, suggesting that subjects had mediated inflammatory responses and did not feel as much pain as control subjects,” she explained.

A pertinent question to ponder is—can you create supplements that provide solutions for this growing new crop of fitness enthusiasts—while understanding that athletes are not the majority of sports nutrition supplement buyers? These are just an exciting smattering of what science-backed ingredients are available for your brand to do just that—help active individuals enjoy the fitness journey and reach their potential. NIE

For More Information

Alfasigma USA Inc., www.alfasigmausa.com
Arla Foods Ingredients, www.arlafoodsingredients.com
AstaReal USA Inc., www.astrealusa.com
Bioenergy Life Science Inc., www.bioenergylifescience.com
CK Nutraceuticals, www.ckingredients.com
FutureCeuticals, Inc., www.futureceuticalsinc.com
HP Ingredients, www.hpingredients.com
Increnovo LLC, www.increnovo.com
Mars Incorporated, www.cocoavia.com
PLT Health Solutions Inc., www.plthealth.com
PURIS, www.PURISFoods.com
SOFAR SpA/SOFAR Americas Inc., www.sofaramericas.com
Verdure Sciences, www.vs-corp.com

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