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New Twists on Sports Nutrition

Sports Nutrition Sports Nutrition

Manufacturers are adding surprising ingredients to the mix of high-level, clean label sport nutrition products.

Sports nutrition has been a category dominated by products meant for the serious athlete. However, in recent years the category has shifted from exclusively serving the serious athlete to category growth driven by recreational athletes looking to improve their overall fitness, performance and endurance, said Sébastien Bornet, vice president global sales and marketing at Horphag Research in New Jersey.

Overall, consumers are striving for better health—increased activity, proper nutrition, recovery methods and most importantly, clean-label products.

“There’s a push for all-natural performance improvement solutions,” said Matt Herzog, president of Indiana-based Beet Performer.

“We have tried to pivot into a more health conscious sports nutrition selection. Staying away from GMO (genetically modified organism) ingredients, artificial sweeteners and artificial colors. We are stocking more grass-fed dairy and plant-based sports nutrition products,” said Travis Lemon, manager/herbalist at Healthy Life Market, Barboursville, WV.

In addition to focusing on clean-label and healthful products, manufacturers are looking at other, non-traditional ingredients to add to the mix.

New in Sport Drinks

According to BusinessWire, Transparency Market Research released a report, “Sports Nutrition Market—Global Industry Analysis, Size, Share, Growth, Trends and Forecast, 2013-2019,” which stated that the sports nutrition market is expected to grow to $37.7 billion by 2019 with a push from the sports drink segment.

Popular mainstream sports nutrition brands contain electrolytes, sugars and carbohydrates needed to help aid the body in recovery from intense workouts. However, more consumers are looking for products that are non-GMO, natural and free from artificial flavors and colorings.

In response, in 2013, Jody Levy and Harlan Berger focused their energies on a shared interest: sustainability and healthier consumer beverages. The result? A new, hydrating brand and category, said Jeff Rubenstein, chief marketing officer for WTRMLN WTR in New York. WTRMLN WTR is a cold-pressed watermelon juice. It is made with two ingredients: fresh watermelon and organic lemon.

“Each hand selected, hand skinned melon is cold-pressed using the rind and flesh, treated with a short, innovative nutrient preserving process, and refrigerated until consumed in BPA-free plastic bottles,” Rubenstein said.

Watermelon contains thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, folate, pantothenic acid, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, manganese, selenium, choline, lycopene and betaine. According to the National Watermelon Promotion Board, watermelon contains more lycopene than any other fruit or vegetable. Lycopene is believed to have antioxidant benefits, according to WebMD. Despite being a great source of the above nutrients, watermelon is made up of 92 percent water.

“WTRMLN WTR is the natural alternative to your typical commercial sports drink. Its taste is not only appealing, but also provides a nutritional source of energy to keep you active,” Rubenstein said. “WTRMLN WTR is nature’s low-calorie, low-carb and fat-free rehydration source with its ability to replenish lost electrolytes (that we lose in sweat) with just the right amount of carbohydrate to quickly satisfy your energy needs. It’s especially rich in potassium and contains additional essential electrolyte minerals (i.e. magnesium and calcium), amino acids and vitamins. Watermelon rinds are also rich in citrulline, a precursor to the amino acid, arginine, which aids in blood vessel health.”

“In short,” Rubenstein continued, “WTRMLN WTR watermelon juice is hydrating, provides adequate amounts of potassium and carbohydrates with the added bonus of easing muscle soreness.”

Trace Minerals Research (TMR), Utah, also has products that aid in muscle cramp avoidance. NO! Muscle Cramps is a complex containing pure, essential electrolytes such as potassium, sodium, magnesium, chloride and sulfate that muscles need to stay properly hydrated. ENDURE is a balanced, pure electrolyte concentrate that also contains the important electrolytes that help these essential electrolytes during and after exercise for improved performance and reduced muscle cramps, the company said.

TMR offers the TMRFIT CLEAN SERIES line, which includes a pre- and post-workout formula drink mix, Liquid Zinc Magnesium Aspartate with ConcenTrace and the TMRFIT Protein Bar (peanut butter with goji berries). The TMRFIT Pre-Workout formula is formulated to help athletes prepare mind and muscles for intense training and performance with nutrients like BCAA’s, creatine, B vitamins and natural caffeine, while TMRFIT Post-Workout aids muscle growth and recovery after intense training and reduces post-workout fatigue.

“Our purpose with our sports nutrition products is to reach the athlete who wants a clean product,” said Dr. Darrin Starkey, TMR’s director of education. The TMRFIT CLEAN SERIES is non-GMO, and contains no artificial sweeteners, colors or flavors.

“I believe we are beginning to see a shift in the market as athletes are becoming increasingly more aware of the ingredients in their supplements,” Starkey added. “More and more, athletes at all levels of competition are turning to products that provide them with clean formulations without breaking the bank.”

TMR has been in the nutritional industry for more than 40 years, but only in the last four years has the company entered into the sports nutrition market. “I think the sports nutrition market is a Goliath. The opportunity with a niche product has the potential to change the landscape of a company,” Starkey said.

Can’t Beet Them

Athletes are always on the hunt for new products that can give them a boost, whether it is to make their training more effective or to provide an added boost on race day.

“As more and more studies showed the performance-enhancing benefits of beet juice, many athletes have been interested in adding it to their training regimen, but there was no way for athletes to get all natural beet juice in a convenient, portable way,” Herzog said. “So, last year we launched Beet Performer, 100 percent juice in a convenient shelf stable can.”

Scientific studies show beet juice can boost endurance up to 16 percent and lower blood pressure up to 7 percent, Herzog revealed. “Beet juice through its natural nitric oxide, increases stamina and stimulates strength by increasing oxygen delivery during endurance sports. Consequently, beet juice helps athletes go harder, faster and longer.”

Beet Performer comes in two flavors: Beet Juice with B12 and Beet Performer with Passion Fruit Juice. “We have seen large growth in the number of people who want to improve their performance in a natural way. In the case of beet juice, not only do professional athletes benefit, but studies show casual athletes actually see the most noticeable improvements.”

Beets and watermelon aren’t the only foods being utilized for their dual purposes. The Pickle Juice Company specifically formulated its line of Pickle Juice products for the dual purpose of relieving muscle cramps, while also serving as a hydration aid for athletes, said Filip Keuppens, director of sales and marketing for the Texas-based The Pickle Juice Company. The company’s 100% Natural Pickle Juice Sport is natural with no artificial ingredients, it is easy to throw in a gym bag and contains 10 times more electrolytes than the average sports drink.

“Muscle cramping is prevalent in many sports and it has only been since 2010 that we have learned that the issue is neurological in nature rather than physiological,” Keuppens continued. “Our new approach to sports drinks allows athletes to benefit from the neural inhibitor qualities that stop and prevent cramps as well as electrolyte replenishment without consuming any artificial ingredients or stimulants like caffeine or sugars.”

The Pickle Juice Company has conducted in-house research to maximize efficacy through using clean, purified ingredients and optimizing minimum dosage recommendations to increase speed of recovery, Keuppens said. A study from the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Science at North Dakota State University, found that athletes who drank the brine noticed their muscle cramps were gone within 85 seconds—about 37 percent faster than the water drinkers and 45 percent faster than those who didn’t drink anything at all.

Sodium has gotten a bad reputation amongst electrolytes, Keuppens explained, even though many studies indicate that sodium is essential for retaining fluids and promoting hydration. “By understanding the functional cause of pickle brine, The Pickle Juice company was able to develop a product that maximizes the functional traits of the brine while eliminating any non-essential additives,” Keuppens concluded.

“The report states that factors such as rising health awareness, broadening consumer base, rising number of fitness centers and health clubs, and increasing urbanization are largely driving the sports nutrition market,” BusinessWire said. With an increase in activity, its no wonder people are looking for more healthful, sports nutrition options.

And the search is not limited to age. “Those in their 20s and 30s seem to have more time to dedicate to fitness activities,” Lemon said. “The older clientele seem to usually be looking for recovery and healthy inflammation response-based products.” While age groups are searching for different forms of sports nutrition, the category in general is on the rise.

“The category is continuing to trend in a forward direction, with industry sales projected between $7 to 9 billion over the next five years,” said Mark Troutman, marketing manager, Amino VITAL, Ajinomoto North America, Inc., Wellness & Sports Nutrition Division, NC.

Fermented and Plant Based

Amino VITAL was originally launched in the U.S. in 2000, under its parent company Ajinomoto. Ajinomoto has been recognized as a global leader in amino acid research and development for more than 100 years. According to Troutman, athletes were already familiar with the training benefits of protein, but amino acid supplementation was not yet mainstream. “We recognized that athletes could benefit tremendously in terms of performance and overall wellness through amino acid utilization, based on many decades of research as an excellent alternative to protein supplements.”

Elite level athletes were the first to really understand amino acids and embrace its many performance-related benefits. After a while, weekend warriors and casual athletes began catching on too, particularly among Baby Boomers that are more physically active. The Amino VITAL brand has been revamped since 2000, and in January 2016 re-launched with improved formulations, packaging, flavors and nutritional benefits.

“Amino VITAL products all contain pharmaceutical-grade, fermented, plant-based amino acids, which are the purest available to the consumer,” Troutman shared. “Depending on the specific amino acid, benefits range from increased muscular energy, stamina and recovery, to supporting healthy blood pressure and immune support.”

Extracted amino acids can be sourced using human hair or even bird feathers, which negatively impacts the purity and quality. Amino VITAL products contain plant-based amino acids that are manufactured using a patented fermentation technology to produce the absolute purest, highest quality product.

Collagen Chews

While recovery proteins, hydrating drinks and amino acids are common sports nutrition categories, athletes need to think about their connective tissue health too, like ligaments and tendons. “As we all know, it doesn’t matter how strong a person’s muscles are, if they have a connective tissue injury they’re sitting on the couch and out of the game,” said Timothy Mount, CN, CCMH, director of education for NeoCell in California.

“Collagen is the only protein that supports joints and we wanted to offer a product that supports both muscular recovery and connective tissue,” Mount explained. “Our Collagen Sport product contains high doses of whey, collagen, BCAAs, glutamine and a full multivitamin for a comprehensive protein shake.”

Why collagen? It helps support rapid injury recovery and helps reduce the risk of injury by keeping connective tissue strong and healthy. Ligaments and tendons are made of more than 86 percent collagen, so in essence a twisted ankle is actually a collagen injury, Mount said.

NeoCell also offers Collagen2 Joint Complex that targets cartilage support for common issues like runner’s knee or a back issue. The “all-in-one formula” contains type 2 collagen (the kind found in cartilage), glucosamine, chondroitin and hyaluronic acid (HA). In addition to Collagen2 Joint Complex, NeoCell has two new releases into the joint/sport nutrition category: Joint Bursts: Joint Support Soft Chews, which contain collagen for joint structure, HA for joint hydration, and turmeric for antioxidant protection and support of a healthy inflammatory response; and Move Matrix: Advanced Joint Hydrator, a potent, high-dose formula for joint hydration, mobility and a healthy inflammatory response.

A 24-week study on the use of collagen hydrolysate as a dietary supplement in athletes (with activity related joint pain) found that there were “implications for the use of collagen hydrolysate to support joint health and possibly reduce the risk of joint deterioration in a high-risk group … the results suggest that athletes consuming collagen hydrolysate can reduce parameters (such as pain) that have a negative impact on athletic performance.1”

Prevention is at the forefront of consumer minds. While preventing injury is never guaranteed, athletes are turning to supplementation to strengthen their bodies now in anticipation of potential injury later. This goes for both the serious and recreational athletes today.

French Tree Bark

“These everyday athletes are drawn to evidence-based products that leverage natural ingredients and support their overall wellbeing. For those who exercise recreationally, as well as serious athletes, taking antioxidants can help promote muscle recovery, improve fitness levels and reduce the risk of muscle damage,” Bornet said.

The earliest research conducted by Horphag Research on Pycnogenol, a patented super-antioxidant extract from the bark of the French maritime pine tree, was published in 1999. This research indicated a significant increase of endurance in athletes. Pycnogenol is known to combat free radicals and reduce oxidative damage as well as maintain a healthy blood circulation, improve blood flow and strengthen blood vessels by increasing the body’s natural supply of nitric acid, Bornet shared.

Over the last 40 years, more than 340 scientific studies have been published. “Multiple studies have been conducted on the antioxidant, proving its effectiveness in improving overall fitness levels, increasing endurance, reducing oxidative stress and recovery time—getting you back in the gym faster. More importantly, none of the participants experienced counter-indications,” Bornet said.

A study published in December 2013 in The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness found Pycnogenol to increase energy, alleviate cramping and muscular pain and enhance sports endurance and performance. It also plays a role in sports by improving blood flow to muscles and post-exercise recovery. A 2006 study revealed that it significantly reduces muscular pain and cramps in athletes and healthy, normal individuals.

“As this category continues to grow among recreational and everyday athletes, we anticipate consumers will continue to look for products, like natural antioxidants, that are proven safe and effective for multiple applications that not only benefit both their athletic performance but their overall wellness,” Bornet said, adding that education is key for consumers to understand how the product in question works. “Because the world is an Internet driven beast, consumers are immediately moving toward the web for information on what is, and is not, good for them. Manufacturers and retailers need to work together in order to make sure what they are finding online is the truth.”

Concerns in Sports Nutrition

With the growing demand of high-quality products, it is always a concern that companies, with just profit in mind, may release lower quality products, Rubenstein said. He warned that making sure the claims match what’s in the bottle is essential.

“Athletes of all types spend a tremendous amount of time and effort to mold and shape their bodies, yet, put ingredients back into their body that aren’t healthy for them,” Starkey added. “Many of these athletes have impeccable diets (counting down to their macros), and then take supplements that are loaded with chemicals and artificial ingredients. It makes no sense!”

The market is extremely competitive, and there are many companies that are in the industry doing good work. “Conversely, there’s also no shortage of less than reputable companies attempting to gain market share with products that may be seen as questionable, which is of some concern,” Troutman said. “More gimmick than substance in many cases.”

Retailer Support

“If a consumer visits a retail store looking for supplementation advice, many times the consumer will go with the retailer’s recommendations,” Troutman said. “Ultimately, it’s the retailer that wields a high level of influence with the end user.”

Therefore, retailers should be knowledgeable about every product in their store. In order to support that, manufacturers offer different creative and informative techniques to make purchasing and selling that much easier for both consumer and retailer. “Brochures really come in handy when suggesting a new product,” Lemon said.

According to Rubenstein, WTRMLN WTR retailers would be wise to place the product available in multiple areas. “By having our cold-pressed liquid love [WTRMLN WTR] at various points of distribution [it] ensures more visibility and profit. Being that our brand is ‘from the source,’ retailers have the opportunity to merchandise WTRMLN WTR in the produce section as well as any other cold-facing display or coolers they have throughout the store.”

Creative disruptive displays, such as floor stencils are some strategic marketing tools that retailers are offered through WTRMLN WTR, along with coolers and displays. Product samples are also common, particularly amongst TMRFIT CLEAN SERIES products, and NO! Muscle Cramps by TMR.

In terms of sales, items such as free shaker cups seem to encourage customers to buy products as well, Lemon added.

NeoCell’s Mount suggested that sports nutrition and joint health be displayed together to cross promote complementary products. “For example, Collagen Sport and Move Matrix would make a perfect combination. A retailer can emphasize injury prevention with joint health supplements,” Mount said. Coupons, placement deals and demos are also offered through NeoCell.

“The flavored products, like Joint Bursts, make excellent passive demos and we are happy to send kits out to retailers upon request,” Mount shared.

Amino VITAL utilizes a number of support strategies, Troutman noted, including printed literature, periodic promotions with retailers and samples. The company is also planning an above-the-line marketing approach, by developing an event calendar that will feature Amino VITAL as a nutritional product sponsor at various running, cycling, triathlon and golf events throughout the U.S. “In addition to participating in these events, we will be supporting our retail business partners by driving end users to them as ‘where to buy’ destination locations through direct consumer contact at events, our website, as well as targeted social media engagement,” Troutman said.

The Pickle Juice Company has a similar strategy they refer to as “product discovery.” The goal of this practice is to provide samples of its product to a person in an environment in which they will immediately realize the benefits, and thus understand the functionality without need for detailed explanation. “We actively seek out promotional opportunities and events in and around our customer’s trade areas to aid in the ‘product discovery,’” Keuppens said.

Future of the Category

In June 2014, Transparency Market Research posted an article titled, “Global Sports Nutrition Market Players See Opportunities in Burgeoning Sector of Sports Food.” The article reported that sports drinks were holding the largest market share, but the idea of “sports food” looked promising.

“Within the global sports nutrition market, sports drinks occupied the largest market share in 2014. However, there is another segment that presents several growth opportunities—sports food. The segment of sports food is currently growing at a very healthy pace and there is much scope for innovation and new product development within this segment. Globally, the sports food segment will benefit from heightened health awareness levels and a change in lifestyle,” the article stated.

According to Lemon, the sports nutrition market is still expanding in new directions. “Customers are paying more attention to where the ingredients are sourced and what is not added, like artificial sweeteners and hormones. Customers are also looking for more plant-based sports nutrition products.”

If new product launches at Natural Products Expo West in March are any indication, Lemon is correct—there is a strong trend of plant-based proteins. From drinks to foods, sports nutrition is indeed expanding, but one thing is for certain: customers are looking for simple, clean and healthy labels on their chosen sports nutrition products. VR


1 Curr Med Res Opin. 2008 May; 24(5):1485-96. Clark KL, Sebastianelli W, Flechsenhar KR, Aukermann DF, Meza F, Millard RL, Deitch JR, Sherbondy PS, Albert A.

For More Information:
Amino VITAL (Ajinomoto North America, Inc.), (201) 292-3200
Beet Performer, (888) 524-6882
Horphag Research, +43 (0)22 710 26 26
The Pickle Juice Company, (977) 755-0289
NeoCell, (949) 699-1626
Trace Minerals Research, (800) 624-7145
WTRMLN WTR, (212) 905-2393

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