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Leaderboard—Active Nutrition Surges Ahead

Active Nutrition Active Nutrition

The panel:

Jose Antonio, PhD, CEO, International Society of Sports Nutrition, Stuart, FL, www.sportsnutritionsociety.org

Allie Chandler, Head of Brand and Head of B2B Marketing, Novozymes OneHealth North America, Glenview, IL, www.novozymesonehealth.com

Michael Chernyak, President, CK Nutraceuticals, Oakville, ON, Canada, https://ckingredients.com

Vaughn DuBow, Global Director of Marketing – Microbiome Solutions, ADM, Chicago, IL, www.adm.com/en-us/

Katie Emerson, MS, RD/LDN, Manager of Scientific Affairs, Nutrition21, Saddle Brook, NJ, https://nutrition21.com

Leslie Gallo, President, Artemis International, Fort Wayne, IN, https://artemis-nutraceuticals.com

Chase Hagerman, Business Director, Chemi Nutra, Austin, TX, www.cheminutra.com

Mariko Hill, Global Innovations Manager, Gencor, Austin, TX, www.gencorpacific.com

Blake Johnson, CEO, American Aronia Accelerator (A3), Fargo, ND, https://a3aronia.com

Niki Kennedy, Director Insights & Content, Glanbia Nutritionals, Chicago, IL, www.glanbianutritionals.com

Ryan Lauchli, Global Category Health Manager, International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF), Wilmington, DE, www.iff.com

Nirmal Nair, Founder and CEO, Sempera Organics, Morgan Hill, CA, https://semperaorganics.com

Emily Navarro, MS, RD, Global Marketing Manager, Lonza Capsules & Health, Carmel, IN, www.lonza.com

Haleigh Resetar, Corporate Communications Specialist, SPINS, Chicago, IL, www.spins.com

Angie Rimel, Marketing Communications Manager, North America, GELITA, Sioux City, IA, www.gelita.com

Rajat Shah, Co-founder, Nutriventia, Mumbai, India, www.nutriventia.com

Sandra Maria Sørensen, Business Development Manager, Health & Performance Nutrition, Arla Foods Ingredients, Aarhus, Denmark, www.arlafoodsingredients.com

Nancy Steely, ND, MBA, Vice President, Global Research & Development, Natural Alternatives International, Carlsbad, CA, www.nai-online.com

Lisa Thomas, Chief Commercialization Officer, Nuherbs, San Leandro, CA, www.nuherbs.com

Mark Walin, Senior Vice President of Business Development & Marketing, BIO-CAT, Troy, VA, www.bio-cat.com

According to data provided by Haleigh Resetar from SPINS, in the 52 weeks ending Aug. 13, 2023—and across 105,000 retail locations—sports, active nutrition and performance nutrition grew in 12 out of 13 categories and subcategories—by 8.6 percent (racking up $6.05 billion in sales, for Sports & Rehydration Drinks) to 114.4 percent (hitting $50.11 million in sales for creatine).

Hydration and electrolyte products boasted $465.3 million in sales (up a whopping 52.1 percent) and pre-workout products came in at $340.26 million (up by 33.7 percent).

Overall, sports nutrition delivered nearly $20 billion in sales, up 13.5 percent.

At the article podium, we’ve assembled a panel of industry experts to take a look at some of the most interesting developments and innovations in the overall category of active and sports nutrition.

NIE: With active nutrition and sports nutrition encompassing so many different functional areas, what market data do you rely on to determine how big “the market” is, given that sports nutrition has grown so large.

Kennedy: We tend to separate more mainstream categories like energy drinks and similar functional beverages away from more distinct product categories like pre-workout and ready-to-mix (RTM) protein powder, although we realize there is a lot of grey area in between.

Navarro: Lonza’s proprietary consumer research has revealed that, like other types of highly active consumers, both casual and professional gamers are health conscious and highly values-driven when it comes to their supplement and functional food and beverage purchasing decisions.

In fact, 53 percent of gamers are looking for more natural products, while 47 percent are interested in clean-label products. And, as many as 45 percent of gamers want products that are scientifically proven to be effective.

Walin: We understand the consumer and what our branded partners are looking for in product development and product-performance endeavors. Additionally, BIO-CAT values and recognizes that each of our partners has a unique brand proposition and consumer base. Recognizing those differences and listening to our customers, combined with our research and industry perspective, creates powerful and unparalleled outcomes.

Chandler: My approach to determining the market size for active nutrition and sports nutrition is pragmatic and focused. I start with the problem we’re solving or the specific need we’re addressing, which is a strategic way to narrow down a complex and sprawling market (e.g., increasing cardiac output or VO2 max, or a supplement to support joint health post-ACL surgery).

By understanding the specific issue and who is most affected by it, I can more accurately quantify the actual target market. This makes marketing efforts more efficient and maximizes the chances of product-market fit.

Hagerman: You are right, the sports nutrition market is so large, it has branched into its own sub-categories. The splits are often based on activity (endurance, resistance training, hardcore, lifestyle), dietary needs (vegan, vegetarian, plant-based), and gender (active women’s health).

Shah: Athletes and gym/fitness devotees now understand that there’s more to sports nutrition than physical gains. They expect supplements that help them maintain mental clarity (fight exercise-induced brain fog) and protect their immune system due to more extreme exertion. And of course, sports and active nutrition users are highly concerned with body fat and lean muscle/muscle tone.

NIE: Formulators are increasingly interested in ingredients for eSports applications. Please briefly speak to this on-fire subcategory.

Steely: Some of the product categories that have been trending in general for a while are extremely relevant for eSports applications are energy, memory/focus, vision and stress. Ingredients that support each of these areas translate well for those engaged in eSports: lutein and zeaxanthin to support visual health and protect against blue light from devices; phosphatidylserine; citicholine; acetyl-L-carnitine; and botanicals like ginkgo and bacopa to support cognitive functions such as focus and concentration; energy supporting ingredients like guayusa, green tea, and yerba mate; and botanicals and nutrients to help ease stress without causing drowsiness and support energy levels, like theanine or adaptogenic herbs, such as ashwagandha or rhodiola.

Chandler: Certain strains of probiotics are believed to produce neurotransmitters that may enhance brain function. Vitamin K2 like MenaquinGold from Novozymes OneHealth can also help support focus and decision-making (and cardiac output and VO2 max for the more traditional athletes).

In addition, some studies suggest that the gut microbiome can influence serotonin production, which could have a positive effect on mood and emotional well-being. Some strains, like Bifidobacterium longum 1714 from Novozymes OneHealth, a proven psychobiotic whose positive effect on mental health, mood, sleep and cognitive function is confirmed in clinical trials.

Hagerman: Many people will associate the rise of gaming with the social distancing practice of staying at home during the height of COVID-19.

While that is true for casual gamers, professional, competitive and obsessive gaming pre-dates 2020 by a large margin. I had a buddy in college who missed a significant chunk of class—and sleep—due to his obsession with playing World of Warcraft. While he was not a professional gamer, he certainly would have benefited from nutritional products tailored to gaming that are now readily available in the market.

Generally, the benefits of these gaming products are not unique to the application; focus, energy, endurance and eye health are some commonly attributed claims that have existed in other supplement products for a long time. However, being packaged and presented in a novel way has reached a consumer that was unlikely to be found in the traditional supplement aisle.

That said, we affirm this emerging gaming category. In 2020, we performed a research study on our ingredient AlphaSize Alpha-Glyceryl Phosphoryl Choline (Alpha-GPC) that showed improvements in virtual reality (VR) video game performance.

Specifically, compared to placebo, supplementation of AlphaSize increased the number of levels completed by 24.9 percent and reduced the number of attempts per level by 13.8 percent. In addition, AlphaSize supplementation indicated a positive trend for vigor and focus compared to placebo. Over the years, AlphaSize has been incorporated into gaming formulas ranging from capsules, powder drink mixes and ready-to-drink beverages.

Shah: eSports athletes require four key things: energy, mental focus/clarity and joint support as well as hydration. These individuals are sitting for hours, while being highly attentive, memorizing, anticipating moves and figuring out how to stay in the game in milliseconds, as they simultaneously maneuver their console controllers.

Chernyak: The eSports/eGamers category has mushroomed to over $1 billion per annum on a global basis, with a CAGR of 8-9 percent according to some estimates. eSports and eGaming enthusiasts demand superior effectiveness from supplements in order to help them achieve peak performance. Cognition is a key health benefit in this consumer segment; however energy and healthy eye function are also high on the list. As for the latter, prolonged screen usage can lead to dry and tired eyes—eye lubrication is an underserved opportunity in the space, in our view.

Rimel: Performance is the driving factor for gamers and eSport enthusiasts, and they seek products that can deliver relevant benefits. They look for expert-developed products that are supported by scientific research.

TENDOFORTE is a remarkable ingredient that supports tendons and ligaments, making it ideal for a brand looking to make a name in the multibillion-dollar gaming market. Gamers suffering from “gamer’s thumb” could benefit from this ingredient, which helps to alleviate pain and discomfort.

Additionally, FORTIGEL can be used to reduce activity-related stress on joints, which is another crucial need state for gamers.

Gallo: eSports formulators are looking for ingredients that they can position as potentially benefiting competitive video gamers, a growing population that wants increased cognitive awareness, energy boosts and help with lessening eye fatigue.

Our CurrantCraft European Black Currant Extract has been clinically studied to reduce the negative effects of prolonged screen time, such as blurred vision, tired eyes and difficulty focusing on multiple screens and will be in a broader, larger-scale trial in 2024. CurrantCraft should be a top choice for brands formulating in this space seeking new, novel clinically validated ingredients.

Hill: eSports has been on the rise over the last couple of years now, especially after the impact of COVID, with home isolation and people needing to connect in the virtual world. Ingredients that target the needs of gamers have therefore seen a rise as gaming brands look to incorporate more bespoke and innovative products for such users. Although different from “sports nutrition,” gaming products typically have similar ingredients in their products—just communicated differently to resonate with gamers. An example would be energy products for gym-goers versus gamers—both contain caffeine, vitamin B complex, l-citrulline and l-tyrosine, yet each is positioned differently as a pre-workout or nootropic blend, respectively.

DuBow: We’ve recently seen a huge increase in demand for products designed to support the gaming and eSports sector. In fact, revenue for the global video gaming market is expected to show a CAGR of more than 7 pecent between 2023 and 2027, resulting in a projected market volume of $482 billion by 2027. Gaming and eSport consumers are looking for solutions that can help them maintain focus and energy throughout long gaming sessions, as well as supporting metabolic, joint and eye health. As a result, multi-functional offerings are increasingly in demand—especially those that can provide consumers with energy and support for overall wellness in quick bites that can be easily accessed during long periods of gaming.

We recently concepted a “Gamer’s Power-Up Bite” to showcase how multiple ingredients can come together to meet this demand. Combining our quality plant-based ingredients—including our soy protein and soy crisps, with a tailored blend of our beet powder, l-theanine and maca and green tea extract—this bite-sized protein-packed snack provides a steady supply of energy, all while tasting delicious with chocolate and peanut butter.

Johnson: Aronia has amazing cognitive functional benefits and is also known to positively impact eye health. In addition, aronia is high in vitamin C—both of these are key aspects in eSports.

NIE: Berries continue to be very popular for active nutrition, both for their polyphenolic superpowers and for their taste.

Gallo: Berries always rank high on superfood lists geared to consumers, and for good reason. They pack a powerful punch of polyphenol bioactives, especially anthocyanins that are tied to clinically studied health benefits in key areas, such as anti-inflammation for recovery or alleviating screen-weary eyes for the esports market.

Add in their natural colorant properties and robust flavor profiles, and berry ingredients quickly become an easy sell for formulators looking to make efficacious and crowd-pleasing products in the sports and active nutrition spaces.

Hill: Berries typically contain a range of polyphenolic compounds that can provide antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Such benefits can lead to better health outcomes—particularly for the brain, heart and muscles.

I call these polyphenols “tier three” ingredients, as they are able to provide functional benefits in addition to those “tier one” ingredients that are typically known as the core of sports nutrition—protein, creatine and BCAA. Such tier-three ingredients can then either be stacked to tier one ingredients, or can be delivered as a standalone for specific end-benefits at high doses to the consumer.

NIE: Caffeine continues to be sought-after for sports-nutrition formulators, but how are challenges related to either jitters or bitter taste being addressed?

Navarro: Carnipure L-carnitine, one of our longest-standing and most consistently in-demand solutions for the active nutrition space, can help brands provide the energy boost consumers are looking for, without the drawbacks associated with caffeine. This ingredient has been clinically shown to support energy levels in active individuals, helps optimize athletic performance, and supports post exercise recovery. It uniquely supports energy production from fatty acids and plays a central role in metabolism to meet the needs of active consumers.

Hill: Caffeine is one of, if not the most, studied ergogenic supplement in the world for its ability to enhance attention, reaction time, and various performance-based outcomes in sport. That said, there are inter-individual differences in caffeine tolerance, therefore one should be aware of the upper limit until any unwanted side effects, such as “the jitters” and feeling anxious, occurs. Formulators typically pair L-theanine with caffeine, as there is some evidence for it to promote relaxation and have a positive effect on cognition when co-administered.

Shah: Caffeine is well reported to improve cognitive performance, energy and mental status; however, its immediate release may cause a caffeine crash.

CaffXtend is a natural caffeine ingredient that releases caffeine consistently throughout the day, allowing for satisfying extended workouts and no jitters.

Designed using Nutriventia’s novel delivery SR platform, CaffXtend is encapsulated to gradually release caffeine over a 12-hour period. The long and sustained release has been clinically substantiated to improve alertness and mood for a longer duration providing a solid alternative to repeated dosing. Additionally, for the mental edge necessary to enjoy fulfilling workouts and competition, CaffXtend can improve alertness and focus by stimulating the brain.

Also, our taste-masking and gummy-ready platforms provide versatility in the application for brands wanting to include the ingredient in their popular formats.

Kennedy: Caffeine has a very undesirable taste, which makes it difficult to include at large dose levels within products. Encapsulating the nutrient with our NutraShield microencapsulation masks the bitter flavor, provides protection during challenging processing conditions like heat and shear, as well as stops ingredient interactions once in the final product format. With NutraShield one can attain up to a 5x loading increase in caffeine levels in their product with no undesired off notes.

Hagerman: The best way to avoid the palate perils of caffeine is to skip it altogether and use an ingredient that features merits similar to caffeine without the pitfalls. This is one of the ways we have positioned our ingredient, AlphaSize Alpha-GPC, over the years. AlphaSize has benefits similar to caffeine—including focus, fatigue, acuity and attention—but it’s flavorless and doesn’t present flavor challenges, such as bitterness, astringency or metallic notes.

Steely: Combining caffeine containing ingredients with ingredients like theanine can help to offset the jitters from caffeine. Natural sources of caffeine, like guayusa, contain theanine as well, which is why this ingredient is such a great option for energy formulas. Combining caffeine ingredients with adaptogens, like rhodiola or ashwagandha, can also help to support calm. Bitter tastes from caffeine can be addressed with flavor profiles—citrus (sour, acidic) is a great masking flavor for the bitterness of caffeine, plus citrus as a flavor and aroma is associated with energy.

NIE: Chris Hemsworth, Alicia Vikander, Henry Cavill, Dwayne Johnson, Hafthor and Björnsson all have what in common? They are actors, athletes and influencers. Speak to how it can be valuable for actors with a platform to use it to promote active nutrition?

Shah: They’re not just luminaries in the entertainment world; they’re also potent advocates for active nutrition. With their prominent roles in movies and notable athletic achievements, their endorsements have the power to shape the health habits of millions across the globe. Their personal physical transformations for film roles aren’t just for the silver screen; they serve as authentic testimonials about the transformative power of active nutrition.

Fans, seeing these celebrities in peak physical condition, find inspiration and motivation to change their own lives. But it’s not just about physique; these celebrities often take it upon themselves to correct widespread nutritional myths, guiding their fans toward making better, more informed choices. Beyond just physical health, they frequently highlight the importance of overall well-being, emphasizing how mental health plays a pivotal role.

And in this age of digital connectivity, they utilize platforms like Instagram and YouTube to share their journey, from intense workouts to balanced diet tips. Their combined efforts in entertainment and health are not just for show; they’re crafting a global narrative that champions a culture of well-being and longevity.

It is important for brands to take their time to select the representative or icon who fully reflects their brand’s values and mission and who lives the lifestyle their brand promotes. If possible, interview the candidates, give them samples and see how they feel about the product—before they sign on. You need to be very comfortable working with them, and ideally, they need to use and enjoy the product and brand.

Gallo: In a world filled with constant media noise and consumer confusion about what truly works and what to buy, trusted influencers spreading the word can create an incredible snowball effect. Hill: This is incredibly important as influencers with a high number of followers can use their platform to really inform and educate their fans. That said, this can be dangerous at times such as when influencers post about a topic that they are not an expert in, this can provide misinformation to the wider public and, thus, negatively impact the industry.

Walin: Increasingly, consumers are scrutinizing influencers, be it their intent or their actual expertise on a product or subject, which makes it even more important for branded marketers to “choose wisely” when affiliating with different famous identities. Unfortunately, the streets are littered with examples of brands that have had to urgently cut ties with an influencer after they said or did something that was damaging to the brand’s equity—either directly or by affiliation.

Chernyak: Of course, these celebrities have large and captive audiences, some who follow their every move. They have the ability to effectively persuade followers to try various natural health products. It’s important that these influencers act with integrity—that they try the products themselves and provide an honest assessment of what the product does for them. All too often, influencer deals involve large sums of money, which can sometimes call into question their motivations for promoting certain products. At the end of the day, consumers would be well-served to research the products in greater depth, including the science that supports the ingredients in the formulations.

NIE: Whey protein is just whey protein, right? Not if you ask a group of industry experts.

Sørensen: Whey protein comprises many different bioactive components which you can fraction in different ways to optimize nutritional composition. Beta-lactoglobulin is particularly high in EAAs, BCAAs and leucine, which is great for activating muscle protein synthesis. Alpha-lactalbumin, meanwhile, has a higher content of the amino acid tryptophan, which is a precursor for serotonin.

There’s also a growing focus among consumers on the nutritional quality of protein (rather than just quantity). Recent research shows that almost 70 percent of consumers are focused on protein sources. Furthermore, 36 percent of those with an interest in protein say a complete protein source is the most important factor when choosing between products.

Emerson: While whey protein is a mainstay ingredient in the sports nutrition market, many consumers and athletes may want to choose protein isolate over whey protein because it contains more concentrated essential amino acids and peptides, while regular whey protein contains more.

Walin: It is very true that not all whey proteins are created equally, and not all meet the specific requirements of each consumer segment. For example, some consumers are concerned with the source of the protein – literally “where did it come from?,” meaning that U.S.-sourced and manufactured products continue to rise to the top in preferences.

Another example includes the functional ingredients included—those which deliver improvement and performance via substantiated claims from reputable suppliers. Lastly, there are consumers that are very focused on what’s not in the product—essentially looking for “clean label.”

An example of a functional ingredient that is designed to improve protein performance is BIO-CAT’s proprietary blend of enzymes in OPTIZIOME P3 HYDROLYZER. BIO-CAT has taken extraordinary measures to improve protein digestion, and companies can benefit by including OPTIZIOME P3 HYDROLYZER in their products. Initially launched to improve underperforming plant protein, BIO-CAT’s first clinical study showed an increase in the circulating BCAA availability by 13 percent compared to placebo within two hours of consuming a protein shake. An additional clinical study is now underway to study this fold increase on whey protein. In-vitro data already indicates a 73 percent BCAA increase with whey.

Hill: There are various types of whey protein, typically isolate and concentrate. How these two differ is the amount they are processed—concentrates typically containing 80 percent protein by weight and isolates containing 90 percent (and with less carbohydrates and fats). For those individuals looking to absorb protein more quickly and/or reduce the amount of carb/fat consumed, they should opt for an isolate version. Those who are more budget conscious or want a better mouthfeel can opt for concentrates.

NIE: In a similar vein, it appears that, while the collagen wars may be over, companies are, nonetheless, continuing to differentiate their brands of collagen from others.

Thomas: The collagen wars turned into the collagen boom! Collagen in your skin cream, collagen in soft gels, everyday beverages, sports nutrition products, collagen in your coffee.

Differentiation comes down to the source and the science-backed claims. Is it bovine, porcine or pescatarian? Does it have clinical studies for joint health, wrinkles and skin elasticity support?

And then there is the format. Does the end consumer need to have a separate collagen product on its own? Or can we fit it into their daily health and wellness routine by combining it with other botanicals and nutrients that they are already using for a once-daily consumption method, maybe in a beverage or bar?

As long as we agree in our industry that we need to have proper clinical studies conducted on the finished collagen products to obtain useful structure function dietary supplement claims that are beneficial and easily understood by our end consumers, this arm of the industry could continue to succeed and help improve skincare from within—along with healthy, active-lifestyle benefits.

Rimel: Over the past decade, consumers have become more educated about collagen and know that all collagen is not the same. Form and formulation are important, but so is the sourcing. In response, brand manufacturers are choosing collagen that can support their product story and create momentum and loyalty for those discerning consumers, which offers strong scientific substantiation.

GELITA offers a diverse and versatile portfolio of Bioactive Collagen Peptides backed by high-level clinical studies.

Hill: Collagen brands are looking to differentiate themselves from one another by adding tier-three ingredients into their formulas to provide more bespoke offerings to their customer (e.g., curcumin to target joint health, resveratrol for bone health, ashwaghanda for mood).

Chernyak: Yes, collagen has been very successful, however it has become a crowded category, with product differentiation being a real challenge. Furthermore, vegan consumers are generally not good targets for collagen-based formulations, and the high effective dosage associated with collagen limits dosage formats. Collagen will likely remain popular; however brands would be well-served to look beyond collagen—consider combination formulations (collagen+) that help them stand out from the crowd.

Steely: While beauty-from-within products remain in high demand, with many different collagen products on the market, companies are looking to differentiate themselves with more uniquely sourced collagen materials.

These can be marine-sourced collagen sources (versus bovine or porcine), vegan “collagen”—new raw materials available that act as biomimetics of the body’s own collagen by providing the same amino acid profile as human hair, skin and nail tissues (e.g., VeCollal), or use of clinically demonstrated collagen forms that have been shown to be efficacious in lower dose levels (e.g., Verisol) to be able to be used in non-powder delivery formats (such as capsules or gummies).

Combining collagen with other ingredients also helps to provide added beauty-from-within benefits. Hyaluronic acid supports skin elasticity, ceramides help to support skin moisture, and antioxidant ingredients like glutathione or lutein help to protect skin health and support skin appearance. Adding these or other ingredients to a collagen supplement can make a simple formula to a more unique one with additional beauty-from-within benefits.

Navarro: As the No. 1 undenatured type II collagen brand globally in terms of market penetration, Lonza’s UC-II undenatured type-II collagen is backed by more than 10 human clinical studies and is clinically proven better at reducing joint discomfort than glucosamine and chondroitin. With its strong science, unique mechanism of action, and low daily dose of 40 mg per day, Lonza’s UC-II undenatured type II collagen is uniquely positioned in the expanding joint-health ingredients space.

Moreover, Lonza’s UC-II undenatured type II collagen can be formulated in a wide range of product formats, from powder-filled capsules to liquid-filled capsules and gummies—and the small dose makes it perfect for all-in-one innovation. Plus, it has been shown to withstand various processing conditions associated with food and beverage manufacturing, such as high temperature, long processing times and challenging pH levels.

NIE: Let’s talk about botanicals for active and sports nutrition, including turmeric and more. What are your stand-out players and why?

Hill: HydroCurc, Pharmako Biotechnologies cold-water dispersible curcumin, is one of the stand-outs in the sports and active nutrition industry with its high bioavailability and number of published clinical studies on reducing muscle soreness, enhancing cognitive function and reducing both systemic inflammation and oxidative stress. Its cold-water dispersibility also allows it to be incorporated into innovative formats that are typically used in sports nutrition for convenience.

Fenugreek has gained a bit more traction with a recent study on Gencor’s standardized extract, Libifem being published on its ability to increase muscle mass, strength and reduce body fat in female athletes. Their fenugreek extract for men, Testofen, has four clinical studies on its ability to increase testosterone, increase lean muscle mass, reduce body fat and increase power.

Nair: While fungi are not botanicals, we have two blends that are suited for the active nutrition category. Clarity CORE is a blend of lion’s mane (Hericium erinaceus), cordyceps (Cordyceps militaris), and turkey tail (Trametes versicolor) to promote mental clarity. Made from a proprietary blend of mushrooms with other bioactives to support brain health.

Clarity CORE combines the neuroprotective and pro-cognitive erinacines and hericinones from H. erinaceus with the performance-enhancing cordycepin and adenosine from C. militaris, along with the antioxidant components of T. versicolor to provide a broad brain formulation.

Performance CORE is a blend of cordyceps, Agaricus blazeii and lion’s mane. This blend was formulated to promote endurance and stamina, protect against oxidative stress, and help increase recovery. Lion’s mane helps promote mental stamina. And as with all our CORE blends, Performance CORE is made from a proprietary blend of mushrooms grown and processes at Sempera.

Shah: TurmXTRA 60N turmeric (Curcuma longa) is validated through several pre-clinical and human clinical research to provide joint and muscle support at 1/10th the dose of other turmeric extracts. Low dose and high efficacy equals greater compliance, creating consumer trust and appreciation.

Prolanza ashwagandha is a great fit for the active nutrition market. Our clinical studies show that it works in a single small dose of 300 mg daily; human clinical trial has shown it provides adaptogenic support for a prolonged period and has high bioavailability, making it ideal for formulations that efficiently manage stress. As one of nature’s most potent adaptogens, it goes beyond stress and directly impacts sleep quality and overall well-being.

In addition, both TurmXTRA and Prolanza have received clean label project certifications, which, along with their low dose, consumer convenience-focused delivery and clinical substantiation, are standout ingredients for the active consumer.

Thomas: Turmeric is definitely one of the top ingredients today and has been for quite some time. It is a strong ingredient for combatting exercise-induced inflammation, with the proper scientific studies conducted.

Let’s not forget other botanicals of interest in this category: ashwagandha, astragalus, cordyceps, and, of course, ginseng. These are the other botanical standouts we should be offering to our active consumers to support muscle recovery, endurance, energy and cognitive focus.

Steely: Stand-out botanical ingredients for active and sports nutrition include turmeric and tart cherry for their roles in helping to ease inflammation; pomegranate, grape seed and beet root for their role in supporting vascular tissues and the heart (either as antioxidants or support of nitric oxide levels, for example with beet); and ingredients like guayusa, green tea and yerba mate to support energy levels.

NIE: Citrus extracts are gaining some interest among manufacturers formulating in this area, whether for functional or taste properties.

DuBow: Our new citrus technology, Corefold, is helping bring the bold vibrancy consumers are seeking in citrus-flavored sports and active nutrition beverages. Through our novel and proprietary separation technologies and concentration methods, our Corefold technology focuses on the core part of citrus oil, emphasizing the molecules responsible for impact and mouthfeel while capturing top notes for freshness and aroma.

NIE: Minerals are sometimes left out of discussions in this category. Please explain what minerals are the most important.

Emerson: Minerals play a huge role for overall health but are also vital to optimizing performance. A few key minerals for athletes include calcium and iron. Calcium promotes strong bones, which are particularly important in contact or high impact sports such as gymnastics. Proper intake (including supplementation with calcium) may help to combat stress fractures. Iron assists in carrying oxygen to working muscles, energy metabolism and acid-base balance. Endurance athletes participating in marathons, or the Ironman, should maintain proper levels of iron to ensure no negative consequences on their performance are observed. Note, inadequate dietary intake and overall diet is equally as important as calcium and iron.

The not-so-obvious mineral that athletes may benefit from is chromium. It is an insulin-stimulating nutrient that has been shown to promote lean muscle mass and decrease fat mass. Chromax chromium picolinate has several clinical trials showing significant improvements in body composition, which may have direct effects on muscle performance and strength when paired with a proper diet and exercise program.

Steely: Magnesium is important for muscle function and relaxation, so is a perfect choice for an after-workout product. Calcium, magnesium and trace minerals support skeletal health and are often associated with products designed to protect against development of osteoporosis but are important in general for active individuals. And of course, electrolyte minerals—sodium, potassium and chloride—to support hydration, which is essential in active nutrition and sports products, plus dehydration can also impact energy, cognitive function and sleep.

Chernyak: Individual mineral standouts like magnesium still have a long runway, however we’re seeing increased demand for mineral complexes, as well as naturally occurring ionic minerals, like those from deep ocean water. From an active nutrition perspective, hydration is an opportunity space and mineral complexes that can help to promote hydration are poised for success.

Sørensen: Minerals often play second fiddle, but they’re crucial. Magnesium for muscles, zinc for the immune system, and iron for oxygen transport—they’re like the unsung heroes of sports nutrition. Without them, the body’s orchestra doesn’t quite work.

NIE: What published science do you find the most exciting in this category?

Johnson: A study published this year in Nutrients found that aronia supplementation can be beneficial for athletic recovery. The study found that taking aronia after maximal aerobic activities for 90 days led to a decrease in interleukin 6, which causes inflammation and typically increases with exercise.

Studies supporting aronia berries’ benefits for active recovery go back well over a decade. In 2005, a study done on athletes found that the increase in anthocyanins from aronia juice consumption limited exercise-induced oxidative damage to red blood cells.

Gallo: Natural products that can assist with recovery and alleviate muscle pain after strenuous exercise will always be actively sought out by athletes and weekend warriors. There have been several published studies demonstrating these functionalities in tart cherry. In one study by Howatson et al. (2010), marathon runners consumed polyphenol-rich tart cherry before, during, and after their races. The tart cherry treatment resulted in significantly faster isometric strength recovery versus the placebo group, as well as a reduction in inflammation and an increase in antioxidative capacity that aided in the recovery of muscle function.

Another compelling study that is pending publication (Hawkins et al., 2023) could be a game-changer for the esports market and the vision market as a whole. Digital eye fatigue is a very real issue affecting esports athletes. Subjects consuming CurrantCraft European Black Currant extract experienced a significant improvement in blurry vision, which is one of gamers’ key complaints. It also contributed to improvements in eye strain and dry eye outcomes. Black currant is a promising berry that can do a lot of good in this market.

Hill: Levagen+ is another branded ingredient that continues to grow in the sports and active-nutrition industry, with a number of studies being published for its benefit on pain and sleep. This is particularly important in the sports industry as NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) continuously becomes used by athletes to reduce pain, despite the known side effects they have on the gut and muscle adaptations. Gencor is currently conducting two studies on Levagen+ on its ability to concurrently enhance muscle adaptations while reducing pain, and thus has a potential for it to be used as an alternative to pain medication.

Sørensen: The science of sports nutrition has made great leaps in the past decade. For example, there’s a growing body of research demonstrating the importance of dietary protein across a range of athletic disciplines—not just for muscle growth. For example, at Arla Foods Ingredients, we’re proud to have been part of several studies showing that protein aids recovery after endurance exercise. Another area I find particularly exciting is the increasing focus on female athletes and other active females. Women go through major physiological changes in their lives, from puberty, to pregnancy, to menopause. There’s huge potential for nutrition to help them maximize their training output.

Nair: A recent 2023 review by Nieman et al. (2023), examined clinical data from 101 eligible studies regarding the role of dietary ingredients on mental energy. The researchers found that lion’s mane (as well as dark chocolate, ginseng and ashwagandha) were “the most promising ingredients for further evaluation in the cognition domain.” The authors highlighted that the interventions with lion’s mane included resulted in improvement of 50 percent of the cognitive function outcomes.

Cordyceps militaris has gained a lot of attention over the past decade for its benefits on athletic performance. A recent human clinical trial showed that it can improve high-intensity exercise tolerance after acute and chronic supplementation (Hirsch et al., 2017). Interestingly, C. militaris seems to cover a broad range of benefits, as evidenced by clinical research looking at its ergogenic, immunostimulant, anti-inflammatory, and hepatoprotective effects (Jedrejko and Muszynska 2021). This research suggests that the consumption of mushrooms like C. militaris has robust implications for athletes looking to perform at their peak, recover quickly and stay healthy along the way.

Emerson: While there are a lot of new AI technologies and innovative products on the market, Nutrition21 does have very exciting ingredients that are clinically researched and supported by science. One ingredient that stands out is Velositol, a unique patented ingredient comprised of amylopectin and trivalent chromium (III) that has been shown to increase muscle protein synthesis and performance outcomes such as strength and endurance.

Velositol was also awarded the winner of the NutraIngredients-USA “Hector Lopez Excellence in Sports Nutrition Science Award” for 2023.

NIE: What new innovations are the most interesting in active and sports nutrition today?

Rimel: GELITA’s newest innovation is PeptENDURE for endurance sports, which is now being introduced in North America at SupplySide West 2023. PeptENDURE is the first of its kind collagen protein proven to enhance endurance performance. Clinical studies show that athletes can improve their performance and can go faster for longer.

Nair: A significant innovation in our sphere of influence is the interaction of fungi with the microbiome; physical and mental performance are tied to microbiome health. We are working diligently with partners to identify and reveal more in the near future.

Thomas: The active-aging and sports nutrition consumers today are highly educated regarding their nutritional needs. But they are bored with capsules, tablets, even powders in canisters that aren’t easy to take to the gym or on a hike.

Formulators will be adding ingredients to a product already on the market by individual preference. They will be developing R&D capabilities, adding those ingredients into bars, oral strips and other innovative formats. It takes development expertise, benchtop work and sensory testing, but it is all possible with R&D proficiency.

Gallo: Blends that combine the always-needed energy boost with functionality such as vision support, brain boosting and immune benefits offer esports players an all-in-one solution, which is better than needing to source and use several individual products. Now, more than ever, it’s on developers to make products that deliver multiple benefits.

DuBow: We’re excited by our newest probiotic blend that was created with active and sports nutrition consumers in mind. Bringing together three probiotic strains – ES1 (Bifidobacterium longum CECT7347), BPL4 (Lactobacillus casei CECT9104) and BPL15 (Lactobacillus rhamnosus CECT8361)—our Active Lifestyle Blend has been shown to support certain biomarkers related to post-exercise oxidative stress. This clinical research demonstrates the blend’s potential to support aspects of exercise and recovery.

Walin: BIO-CAT’s recent launch of their probiotic strain OPTIBIOME BS50 has shown in vitro to enhance protein digestion.* Combining this with OPTIZIOME P3 HYDROLYZER, which is proven to enhance protein digestion in multiple protein sources, creates exciting opportunities for claims on sports nutrition powders.

Shah: Wearable devices focused on sleep and recovery and the increasing use of artificial intelligence in a wide variety of industries is compelling, and a scientific tome dedicated to the use of AI in nutrition, Artificial Intelligence in Precision Health, has a chapter devoted to the use of AI in physical fitness and related supportive nutrition.

NIE: Essential fats are phospholipids are always of value. How are they important for sports nutrition?

Hagerman: Phospholipids are a special type of dietary ingredient. They are essential components of biological membranes and are used for normal cellular function. When it comes to sports, phospholipids contribute to the integrity of cell membranes while the body and cells experience physical and physiological stress.

Our company is a phospholipid manufacturing expert. We are best known for our branded ingredient, SerinAid PhosphatidylSerine (PS), which is a crucial phospholipid found in the brain. Supplementation of PS positively impacts memory, mood and stress.

NIE: What proprietary branded ingredient do you find the most fascinating?

Antonio: We have done a few studies on “caffeine enhancers” like TeaCrine and Dynamine. In a nutshell, these methylurates seem to synergize with caffeine in terms of enhancing mood, energy and focus. They are particularly good at extending the duration of cognitive benefits, do not adversely affect blood pressure, and (unlike caffeine) do not result in a “crash.”

Another intriguing product is NAD3. In the world of healthy aging and NAD+ supplements, ingredients like NMN and nicotinamide riboside play “offense” with regard to NAD metabolism—they are precursors. NAD3 is unique in that even though it’s not a precursor it has been shown to enhance the NAD+ metabolome by playing “defense”—it strengthens the body’s ability to reduce NAD depletion over time. So far, studies show it can reduce total and LDL cholesterol, stabilize telomere length, and increase the expression of healthy aging and longevity genes.

Kennedy: CreaBev is a soluble and stable creatine monohydrate that allows for the creation of better-performing acidic ready-to-drink beverages and ready-to-mix powders. It features a patent-pending encapsulation technology that provides extended stability at high processing temperatures, improves dispersion and results in less creatine degradation.

Standard forms of creatine monohydrate have poor solubility and are not stable in water due to the degradation of creatine to creatinine (waste product). Creatine monohydrate degrades at room temperature within several days. This impedes the manufacture of shelf-stable beverages containing efficacious amounts of creatine.

DuBow: Our spore-forming probiotic, DE111 (Bacillus subtilis), retains functionality through challenging processing conditions that may otherwise damage conventional probiotics. For sports and active nutrition support, the effects of DE111 were examined during the offseason training of collegiate athletes, with results showing decreased body fat percentage in females, and a decrease in circulating TNF-α in males.

Our BPL1 (Bifidobacterium animalis subsp. lactis CECT 8145) probiotic and its heat-treated counterpart, BPL1 postbiotic, target factors relevant to metabolic health. Emerging evidence also suggests that BPL1—in combination with diet and exercise—may help support a healthy body composition and metabolic health pathways. Our BPL1 postbiotic contains non-viable microorganisms, meaning it can withstand harsh processing conditions like high heat and pasteurization, making it ideal for active nutrition formulations, including functional beverages, gummies, stick packs, cookies and fermented milks.

Fiber also continues to be crucial, and ADM/Matsutani LLC’s Fibersol, a line of soluble dietary fiber ingredients, is helping to meet this need. Supported by over 30 years of extensive clinical research, Fibersol has shown to support factors relevant to gut and digestive health, with clinical studies indicating that it promotes the growth of gut microbes that are positively associated with health. Plus, at 3.75 grams per serving, a clinical study showed Fibersol may help nourish intestinal flora and support the intestinal tract environment.

Chernyak: MaquiBright is a very exciting ingredient in the space. It’s a proprietary Maqui Berry Extract standardized to delphinidins, and it’s supported by multiple clinical studies in the area of healthy tear production. As noted earlier, eye dryness is of growing concern for eSports/eGaming enthusiasts, as well as the public at large—the screen epidemic is very real and shows no signs of slowing. MaquiBright is an exciting science-based solution in this realm.

Steely: SR CarnoSyn provides sustained release beta-alanine—a key building block of carnosine in the body. Carnosine plays an important role in not just muscle function for active or sports nutrition but is also important for the health of the cardiovascular and nervous systems, especially as we age. SR CarnoSyn provides beta-alanine in a sustained-release delivery format to avoid the feelings of paresthesia that can occur with instant beta-alanine supplementation, making it a perfect choice for anyone looking for the benefits of increasing carnosine in the body.

NIE: Anything else you would like to add?

Thomas: We have to remember that our most influential consumers are also the most active online. Sharing, commenting, leaving reviews. Let us listen while we innovate, educating along the way. Be scientific, be transparent, be fun, and produce an effective finished product that can be marketed properly and offer both science-supported and timely results. NIE

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

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