When you think of natural energy products, for most people, energy drinks or shots favored by a young crowd come to mind. However, manufacturers of natural products are finding that the category is expanding—active lifestyle enthusiasts are seeking these products for energy boosts as well as building lean muscle, and then there are parents, professionals and others who are just plain tired.
“The natural energy market encompasses much more than drinks or shots,” said Bob Green, chairman of New Jersey-based Advantra Z, Inc. “Energy supplements can take the form of tablets, capsules, powders, chews, functional foods and beverages, etc.,” he explained. “Consumers turn to energy supplements for everything from a quick energy boost, to a pre-workout energy pump before an exercise regime or competition, to simply getting through the day. It’s about energy and fitness.”
Not just a product for young people, Jack Grogan, CN, chief science officer with Uckele Health & Nutrition, said the market is booming with consumers seeking to enhance their own natural energy levels because they’re fatigued. “They lead high energy lives and are required to accomplish more in less time. Overwork and high stress consume huge amounts of energy in professional, social and family obligations.”
He added that it is well documented that maximized, targeted nutritional support and physical energy are powerfully interconnected. “People seeking natural energy products want to support the day-to-day and long-term demands that the metabolism requires to adapt to their fast paced lives.”
Green agreed, noting that more and more people today are on the go, especially women who juggle work and family. “Just to get through a hectic, multi-tasking day, many consumers reach for energy supplements to give them that extra umph!”
And “natural” energy equates with “healthy.” Michael Crabtree, Minnesota-based Bioenergy Life Science technical sales manager, said everyone could use more energy and most are looking for new natural alternatives. “We’re seeing an increased interest in Bioenergy Ribose because it is a safe and natural functional ingredient that works to help people feel better and more energetic. What’s really exciting is that we’re constantly learning more about how we can take full advantage of these benefits.”
Retailer Mike Hittner, owner of Family Natural Foods in Wisconsin Rapids, WI, said he doesn’t carry five-hour energy-like products because “we don’t think they are good for people.” His energy product customer is in the 50- to 75-year-old range who eschews caffeine and stimulants. “They’re looking for natural, sustained energy,” he explained.
Marketing studies also predict a bright outlook for the category. According to a report by Transparency Market Research, the global sports nutrition/energy market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9 percent through 2019, and estimates total market size at $37.7 billion by 2019. U.S. consumers are the largest base for sports drinks, the largest category segment, with ready-to-drink products and energy bars being major growth drivers in the U.S. market.
Given the documented and well-publicized cases of adverse health effects in the energy products category, shoppers are paying more attention to labels.
“Consumers are becoming more informed, and they are holding manufacturers to higher standards when it comes to accurately identifying and quantifying ingredients on the label,” said Crabtree. “This is especially true for ingredients traditionally added to energy products that are known to have adverse effects. Caffeine, taurine, assorted B-vitamins, guarana, white-willow bark—even naturally occurring stimulants such as green tea—are all under heavy scrutiny.”
“Customers are looking for ‘clean’ labels,” added retailer Todd Hurley, an owner of No Name Nutrition Market in Omaha, NE. “They don’t want to worry about wearing down their adrenals and they don’t want to feel shakes or jitters,” he said, adding that he too steers customers away from stimulants.
“The biggest trend is not to rely on caffeine alone—or caffeine at all—for energy, but to augment energy products with specific amino acids and plant extracts to support long- term energy without the spikes and slumps that caffeine alone can bring about,” said Uckele’s Grogan. “ In addition, too much caffeine or poorly balanced caffeine-containing formulas can increase heart rate and blood pressure, interrupt sleep, and cause nervousness and irritability—even contribute to anxiety.”
Though natural product retailers are careful when choosing energy products, at present, stimulants that influence the central nervous system remain the most popular overall, according to Crabtree. “This trend should continue in the foreseeable future until major legislation in the form of regulatory reform forces privately labeled products to quantify what is in their proprietary energy blends,” he said. “Consumers need to know what ingredients are being used, and in what quantities, to induce the perceived effect. Supplement and beverage companies in particular are getting ahead of the presumed regulatory changes by including natural ingredients such as D-ribose into their energy blends. Ribose reduces the adverse effect of stimulants and enhances certain desired results.”
For those sensitive to caffeine, or for whom caffeine is not an option, a product that supports energy production without caffeine can help improve the “blahs” and the tendency to sweat the small stuff, as well as provide support for healthy mood balance. That can be achieved, according to Grogan, by a combination of amino acids, vitamins and plant extracts that help support focus and concentration as well as useable, stable energy without the jitters. “A formula containing specific amino acids, B vitamins and key plant extracts can support a healthy balance of the stimulatory neurotransmitters, mood, energy and focus,” he said.
Uckele’s product, Physio-Boost X3, supplies amino acids, vitamins and plant extracts that support physical, mental and emotional energy. This formula also supports healthy mood balance, focus and concentration, Grogan said. Physio-Boost X3 does not contain any stimulants or caffeine, but supplies natural ingredients to safely support long-term energy without the jitters for maximum vitality and mental clarity. Another option is thermogenesis—a significant component of the metabolic rate, Thermogenesis can be stimulated to support optimal energy production, as well as increase calorie expenditure and fat burning.
Advantra Z works by increasing thermogenesis (production of heat in the body), increasing the resting metabolic rate and the rate at which fat is released from body stores and broken down (lipolysis) to help burn calories, Green said. “This, of course, generates energy, which helps people muscle through exercise. And, when you burn more calories than you take in, that’s when you lose weight and increase the percentage of lean muscle in your body. So, you not only look better, you’re stronger and healthier.”
Advantra Z does not cross the blood-brain barrier’s fatty membranes because it is not very lipophilic (attracted to fat), according to Green. Advantra Z prefers retention in peripheral tissue rather than passage into the brain, where negative central nervous system side effects can occur. Plus, it makes minimal contact with alpha 1, 2 and beta 1, 2 (excitatory) receptors, which are responsible for causing negative cardiovascular side effects.
A thermogenesis finished product, Uckele’s Thermo-Quick provides energy support with naturally derived caffeine and all three balanced amino acids to give good, long-term energy without being wired. “This formulation also supports healthy metabolic activity and mental alertness,” Grogan said. A potent, ephedra-free combination of ingredients designed to increase body thermogenesis, this formula contains extracts from bitter orange, guarana, yerba mate and green tea, and the amino acids tyrosine and taurine, Grogan added.
As an ingredient supplier, Advantra Z’s Green said the company doesn’t monitor the popularity of finished good products at the retail level. “But judging from the supplements that include Advantra Z, ready-to-drink beverages that offer quick energy boosts are certainly popular,” he noted. “Advantra Z is the thermogenic component in a number of ready-to-drink sports nutrition beverages (such as SpeedStack, Adrenalyn Stack, Ripped Force, and SpeedShot). Chews are up and coming, such as Stim-Force Chewables from Labrada Nutrition, (which may be the first pre-workout supplement that comes in a fruit-flavored chew), as well as a variety of bars, drinks, cookies, and meal replacements, all of which provide natural energy boosts as well as meet the sports nutrition needs of consumers.”
In addition to traditional sports nutrition offerings, Green said the company is finding growing use of Advantra Z in the emerging area of functional food and beverages, chews, bars, drinks, cookies, meal replacements, and more. “Sports nutrition and energy supplement manufacturers are offering more options in the delivery of sports nutrition supplements for added convenience and flexibility.”
Retailer Hittner said he does suggest products with a thermogenic ingredient such as bitter orange to “crossover” customers who seek a product that addresses energy as well as weight loss. “Customers who are trying to lose weight are cutting back on calories and are looking for energy if they feel a slump during the day.” Bitter orange can help them with their weight-loss efforts, he explained.
Avoiding a Crash
According to Green, the proven track record of Advantra Z provides a competitive advantage for the energy products. “Too often, energy supplements have relied on stimulants to generate energy, which of course, they do. But they’re often accompanied by negative cardiovascular and central nervous system side effects and by the nose-dive effect when consumers crash after experiencing a jittery high. A truly safe energy formula needs to incorporate non-stimulant energy ingredients like Advantra Z, which research has shown works without causing negative side effects,” he said.
However, Crabtree maintains that there is a place for stimulants in energy products, especially since recent research has shown that the greatest benefit is for energy blends to help people achieve equilibrium. He noted that the goal is not to remove stimulants but to balance their physiological effect. “Ingredients such as ribose act synergistically by enhancing an increase in cellular energy without contributing to undesirable effects including additional dehydration, or the ever-dreaded ‘crash.’”
Most companies are avidly seeking products capable of meeting the needs of multiple targets. They want energy products engineered to retain the stimulation benefits without the added health risks.
“The studies that Bioenergy Life Science has completed in concert with our parent company show promising correlations between stimulants and natural functional ingredients,” said Crabtree. “The data that shows that it is possible to create products that are balanced and therefore safer.”
In addition, research studies have examined the ability of Advantra Z to generate energy and support athletic performance, noted Green. All studies are posted on the Advantra Z website, so anyone can review them in their entirety.
One 2013 sports nutrition research study is particularly significant because it is a long-term study—a rarity in the natural products industry, according to Green. The study, which was published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, found that use of a performance-enhancing dietary supplement containing Advantra Z for eight weeks increased energy levels, enhanced body composition, and reduced hip and waist girth.
“Studies have consistently shown that Advantra Z—as well as multi ingredient supplements containing Advantra Z—produce a significant increase in the resting metabolic rate and are effective in inducing weight loss and reducing body fat more than diet and exercise alone—all without increasing blood pressure or causing other serious adverse effects,” Green noted.
Further, Grogan said there has been a lot of research and activity around the amino acid taurine, and its ability to balance and regulate the more stimulatory properties of other ingredients.
At Family Natural Foods, Hittner said Energy Plus, a blend of spirulina and herbs from Pure Essence Labs in Las Vegas, is one of the best-selling energy supplements in his store. “It’s an energy builder that doesn’t push the adrenals,” he said, adding that the company provides lots of samples and literature to provide to customers, which builds a loyal clientele.
For other retailer support, Bioenergy Life Science offers a wide variety of marketing strategies that support retailers that includes PR, social media and branding incentives as well as full access to the sport and celebrity spokespeople the company sponsors specifically for the benefit of its customers, said Crabtree.
Uckele’s Grogan stressed that retailers be educated and know their customer. “It’s very important for the retailer to know when caffeine-based supplements should and should not be suggested; for example, not in cases of irregular heartbeat, thyroid issues, anxiety or high blood pressure.”
He added that the company strongly believes in empowering the retailer with nutritional knowledge, and offers a vast amount of nutritional information to educate them on the ingredients and action of the formulas in the body. “ The retailer should become the go-to information resource for the customer in developing their understanding of nutrition; how and why specific formulas work in the body. An educated retailer—and effective products—will always keep the customer coming back.”
For retailer and consumer knowledge, Advantra Z posts all its research studies on its website for anyone to view, said Green. “This accessibility and transparency is an important aid to retailers, who should educate consumers on the ingredients in their products and offer to direct them to supplier websites like Advantra Z’s for more information and research on the source ingredient. Successful retailers should not only properly inform the consumer on the unique attributes of a product that is right for them, but also educate their staff on the applications of the products they carry so they share DSHEA-compliant marketing and third-party literature that only include structure/function claims supported by science and are free of prohibited health claims.
“Retailers should make sure that the products they carry contain tried-and-true, branded ingredients that have scientifically substantiated structure/function claims and have stood the test of time, Green concluded. “They should shy away from carrying flash-in-the-pan products that contain flavor-of-the-month ingredients with over-bloated claims that have little to no scientific support or track record of quality, safety and efficacy.”