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Pump It Up!

It is no secret that building and maintaining muscle mass is incredibly important to the human body. The skeletal muscles work with the bones to allow the body to move and give it strength and power. According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), strength refers to the muscle’s ability to generate force at a given velocity, while power is related to activities that require both strength and speed.

According to ACSM, under normal circumstances, human muscle strength in women and men reaches its peak between the ages of 20 to 30 years, after which it remains virtually unchanged for another 20 years, if there is no disease or injury. After this point, muscular performance deteriorates at a rate of about five percent per decade, amounting to a 30 to 40 percent loss of functional strength over the adult life span. This realization has caused many members of the Baby Boomer generation to think more about their long-term health, choosing to remain active and fit for as long as possible.

Today, the sports nutrition category is not solely focused on serious athletes, and the ever-growing market is reflecting that change. “Sports performance products have been traditionally targeted toward men, but now they are shifting to target not only both sexes, but various types of athletes,” said Alexandra Charles, director of education for Texas-based Essential Formulas, distributor of Dr. Ohhira’s Probiotics and CHIA OMEGA Formulations. “Anyone who is active in any capacity needs to be nourished in a way that leads to optimal health.” For instance, at Betsy’s Health Foods in Houston, TX, Marketing Manager Ramona Billingslea noted that one type of customer that has increased in the muscle building category are women in their mid-30s and over who are interested in maintaining muscle mass to “keep up” in tennis matches or just stay in shape.

“The demand for sports nutrition products for both professional and general consumers alike is on the rise—in fact, sports nutrition represents the second-largest market segment in the supplement industry and the profits ring to the tune of approximately $31.2 billion dollars as of the year 2008—this is according to BCC (Business Communications Company) Research, a market research and industry analysis insight group,” added Trisha Sugarek MacDonald, BS, MS, director of research & development and national educator for Texas-based Bluebonnet Nutrition Corporation. “This category market is growing in popularity around the world as a response to increased household incomes and the aspiration to achieve a healthier lifestyle, in particular a healthy body weight, which can also drive many to becoming more conscious about body image. And protein-based sports nutrition products help the average consumer reach their fitness and lifestyle goals in a healthy way.”

In addition, the market is shifting toward more naturally derived supplements that are supported by peer-reviewed scientific research, according to Aubrey Marcus, CEO of Onnit Labs in Texas. “In the past, anecdotal evidence was used to push unverified compounds. Access to information has changed the supplement landscape and consumers demand natural products with proven benefits,” Marcus explained. “For example, hemp as a plant-based source of protein has accelerated in popularity because the array of benefits exceeds that of traditional protein isolates. A Google trends search reveals that searches for ‘natural supplement’ have been on the rise since 2005. We expect to see steady growth in the demand for natural products and performance supplements.”

And while the category is growing exponentially, Chris D. Meletis, ND, director of science and research for Utah-based Trace Minerals Research (TMR), noted that one aspect of the muscle building/weight training category that is currently lacking is the importance of electrolyte replacement as it applies to hydration and energy. “The ‘gallon jug’ principle of filling a gallon jug with water and making sure it’s empty by the end of the day has been preached to the bodybuilding community for a couple of years now,” he explained. “The preaching of this principle has been positive as it relates to bodybuilders since most of them are dehydrated, but water just isn’t enough to replace and replenish electrolytes that are lost during a workout. This is where education has been lacking. Some pre- and post-workout formulas contain essential minerals like sodium, potassium and magnesium, but typically they are at levels that are too low to significantly impact efficient hydration because these electrolytes aren’t the nutrients that bodybuilders are educated to care about. Therefore, manufacturers don’t add them or they add them at low levels because they don’t appeal to the market they’re selling to. They’re more concerned with sexy ingredients that improve pump, strength, focus, endurance, etc.”

Maintaining a Good Reputation

The expansion of the muscle-building segment of the sports nutrition category has indeed exposed it to a larger demographic, but unfortunately, it has also opened it up to less than honest companies just trying to make a quick buck. “Like most businesses, there’s good and bad. Macro trends such as greater education about how diet and supplementation can impact health and performance are certainly a big part of the mainstreaming of sports nutrition,” said Marc Stover, director of marketing, sports nutrition for Utah-based Twinlab Corporation. “The internet has obviously been a catalyst, especially with enthusiastic communities that flourish on sites like the leaders at Bodybuilding.com. There are now plenty of niches within this big category …‘hardcore’ bodybuilding, ‘physique,’ female, clean sports nutrition, or simply just more active claims for mainstream products all are getting more attention. On the flip side, unscrupulous brands that knowingly adulterate products give the entire industry a bad name at times.”

According to Bluebonnet’s MacDonald, since 2007, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has identified more than 300 illegal products marketed as “dietary supplements” that contained hidden drugs, stimulants or other undeclared substances. Further, in 2009 and 2010, there was a step up in the regulatory enforcement by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration of sports nutrition products in general. In addition, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) launched the “Supplement Safety Now” initiative to work with the industry to provide consumers with clean, safe products.

“With this gain in popularity in sports nutrition products has come a greater awareness that not all sports nutrition products are created equal. For example, in the last 10 years, the safety and purity of some unscrupulous sports nutrition brands have been called into questioned and accused of selling products that contain the dangerous amphetamine-like ingredient,” she said. “This is because some products may: 1) be contaminated with a substance that could cause a negative health effect; 2) contain an ingredient that causes the athlete to fail a drug screening; or 3) contain a compound that is very similar to illegal drugs (e.g., mephedrone, a legal synthetic stimulant from China) and could potentially cause negative health effects including death.”

“More than ever, consumers are looking for safe, effective, proven methods to support their healthy lifestyles,” added Shawn Baier, COO of Metabolic Technologies, Inc. (MTI) in Iowa. “Unfortunately, the market has been somewhat sullied by promotion of products that aren’t supported by peer-reviewed research. The presence of those unsupported products—and the lack of results that consumers experience when using these products—threatens the integrity of the sports nutrition category as a whole. It is critical for companies to use only ingredients backed by strong safety and efficacy research.”

Muscle Builders

While there are a number of concerning issues that surround the muscle building category, retailers appreciate how the companies that are on the up-and-up do whatever they can to show that their products are safe and effective. “Because so many bogus companies and claims exist in the sports nutrition world, it helps when you have legitimate companies that put forth the effort to present clean, safe products,” Billingslea said. “Bluebonnet Nutrition has done a really super job in providing just such a product line for the sports nutrition category for the supplement retailers like ourselves with their Extreme Edge® products. These products don’t make outrageous claims, avoid the ingredients that can do more harm than good in the long run, and provide an unadulterated, finished product that you can feel comfortable about selling to your customers.”

Bluebonnet’s Extreme Edge line offers extremely pure and effective products designed for hardcore bodybuilders and strength/resistance-trained athletes, as well as endurance athletes, according to the company. “Its core nutritional regimen designed to take before, during and after training—Pre Workout, Carbo Load and Post Workout—that are not only great-tasting, they are Certified for Sport by NSF,” said MacDonald. “The Extreme Edge products pack a clean and mean punch. They are free of over 165-plus substances banned by major professional and collegiate sporting authorities (e.g., NFL, MLB and NCAA), making them safe for bodybuilders and athletes to take while providing all of the necessary nutrients they need for optimal muscle recharging, refueling and recovery.”

Launched in 2013, Onnit Lab’s T+ combines key amino acids with botanical extracts, the T+ formula aims to enhance performance through endocrine optimization. T+ has a competitive advantage in the marketplace because the product has been scientifically proven to benefit young and healthy athletes. “A research study conducted at Florida State University utilizing competitive power lifters showed significantly greater performance improvements when supplemented with T+ versus placebo,” said Marcus. “Statistical differences in improvement up to 36 percent were found were found between the two groups in bench press and total weight combined for squat, bench press and deadlift.”

MTI offers the ingredients HMB and BetaTOR. HMB is a metabolite of the essential amino acid leucine. The calcium salt form of HMB (CaHMB) aids in increasing muscle protein by decreasing protein breakdown and increasing protein synthesis, while BetaTOR is the pure, free acid form of HMB. The delivery form is rapidly absorbed to produce higher peak levels in the blood as well as improved retention by tissues resulting in maximum results. Studies have shown that BetaTOR combined with an intense training program increases strength, endurance, and power; improves body composition; and aids in recovery, the company stated.

According to Baier, HMB has a strong following among professional athletes as well as health-conscious everyday consumers because it’s been clinically proven to increase strength, improve endurance, and aid in recovery.

Delivery & Support

The sports nutrition category offers a variety of delivery options from capsules to powders and liquids, and according to Twinlab’s Stover, it differs from product to product which delivery method is best. “Powders are the biggest category in general, and the ubiquitous tablets/soft gels/capsules,” he said. “People always say they want something different, but their wallets don’t always say the same thing. Liquids like our Amino Fuel liquid are popular globally, but we haven’t seen a dramatic shift in the percentage of product format over time like one might think.”

Twinlab is currently overhauling its entire sports nutrition line. In January the company launched ProSeries, its new hardcore/bodybuilder line that returns Twinlab to its sports nutrition roots. The company is also expanding its CleanSeries line to include Gainers formulas and soon, the first “super certified” liquid aminos. In addition, Twinlab is completely updating its Twinlab Fuel line of high performance basics with better performing, better priced and punchier shelf graphics, according to Stover.

And when it comes to offering retailer support, many companies pull out all of the stops to assist their retail partners. For instance, TMR offers literature, displays, shelf talkers and other merchandising materials, while in addition to utilizing advertising and social media, Twinlab does local store and gym “invasions” with its team of brand ambassadors with demos, expos, and sampling are the core of the company’s programs.

Onnit Labs recently created a “master booklet” of all of its products including its performance based supplements as well as the company’s tangential products to support athletic performance including organic foods and fitness equipment, which is sent to potential wholesalers and those interested in promoting the company’s products. In addition, Onnit’s “Honor Roll” integrates professional athletes, high-performing fitness experts, and well-known nutritionists to best represent the company’s products.

“Retailers looking to enhance their sales should use real life applications as a testing ground for the supplements,” said Marcus. “Once the buzz around a particular product is created, as long as the science and proof behind the actual function of the product is sound, success is likely.” VR

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