Natural Foods Merchandiser

Giving nutrition a sporting chance

The past two years have seen some major shake-ups in the sports-
nutrition and weight-loss category with the launch of the pharmaceutical weight-loss pill Alli, more merger and acquisition activity, and the increasing pressure of the credit crunch on the supplement supply chain. However, in light of these new challenges and with rumors about increasing protectionism, the SNWL category is consistently pushing for an ever-greater connection to a global consumer market.

“Sports-nutrition brands will have to think differently to maintain growth, and finally start to understand who their customer really is,” says Csaba Reider, CEO of Las Vegas-based sports nutrition manufacturer Xyience. “Brands will need to identify niche customer segments to diversify their opportunities. Our new sports-nutrition line is geared toward truly functional products for extreme athletes as opposed to just bodybuilders. This new way of thinking for us takes existing popular product categories, but digs further into our specific consumer segmentation.”

So with competition heightened in all market segments, where will the sports-nutrition category take us in relation to new ingredients, innovative blockbusters and potential threats?

Glucomannan gets a new hat

Dietary fiber has become a household phrase. It is especially interesting due to its impact on risk factors for cardiovascular disease, but it is gaining momentum throughout the SNWL category. One of the most popular and commercialized sources of dietary fiber is glucomannan, a polysaccharide extracted from the tubers of the konjac plant, which consists primarily of mannose and glucose. Its influence on the physiological processes in the body comes from its capacity to hold water and viscous solutions in the stomach.

A 2008 meta-analysis on glucomannan investigated its effect not only on cardiovascular markers such as blood lipids, but also in one of the sports market’s key categories: weight loss. Fourteen studies met the inclusion criteria, including 531 total subjects. The results: significant body-weight reduction. It also appears to beneficially affect multiple cardio markers.LuraLean, a refined form of glucomannan and 2009 NutrAward finalist, is a recent release from Atlanta-based AHD International. Through AHD’s proprietary manufacturing process, it is suggested to be free of enzymes such as mannanase—often found in glucomannan, which when exposed to moisture and heat (potentially during storage), can result in the breakdown of glucomannan, limiting efficacy.

Whey gets a makeover

The industry staple and ubiquitous protein form whey has had some recent pricing struggles. Despite its current perception as a commoditized protein source, its inherent bioactives, such as glycomacropeptide, colostrum and lactoferrin, are still major selling points to capitalize and commercialize whey as a premium product.

The last real shifts in whey innovation were the commercialization of two whey fractions: whey protein isolates and concentrates. However, Australia-based TGR Biosciences isolated what it calls a whey growth-factor extract, or Lactermin. This fraction contains many of the major proteins, such as lactoperoxidase and lactoferrin, together with a variety of minor proteins and peptides, such as the growth factors IGF-I, IGF-II, PDGF, FGF, TGF-ss and betacellulin. Together, these proteins may promote tissue repair and anti-inflammatory activity, as well as offer a good safety profile.

Creatine’s missteps

Creatine has been integral in the historical development of the SNWL category, and has provided perhaps the largest volumes of peer-reviewed research surrounding any ingredient in the category. Despite its initial success, and with an annual turnover climbing from $50 million in 1996 to $400 million in 2001, it must be reinvented to retain price premiums.

To achieve this new image, the most popular branding idea is binding creatine with another active such as citrate, malate and, more recently, ethyl ester (CEE). These novel ideas are meant to overcome creatine’s poor solubility when delivered in its monohydrate (CM) form, with the marketing suggestion of greater bioavailability and performance.

In 2009, the first in vivo human data directly comparing CEE to CM were published. The seven-week, double-blind trial looked at how pills plus resistance training affected body composition, muscle mass, muscle strength and power, serum and muscle creatine levels, and serum creatinine levels in 30 men who weren’t resistance trained.

Subjects took either CM, CEE or placebo at a dose of 0.3 grams per kilogram of fat-free body mass (approximately 20 grams a day) for five days followed by 0.075 grams per kilogram of fat-free mass (approximately 5 grams a day) for 42 days.

The most important measurement of the study in relation to the marketing claims surrounding CEE was the assessment of muscle creatine levels. This study demonstrated that total muscle-creatine content was significantly higher in CM and CEE compared with placebo, with no differences between CM and CEE. In addition, there was little effect of CEE on muscle levels of creatine over a six-week period compared with CM. This trial demonstrated that CEE is less effective at increasing creatine levels than CM over the short term and no better in the long term.

Ingredients set for success

Alpha-GPC (alpha-glyceryl phosphoryl choline or A-GPC) is an acetylcholine (AC) precursor, which is a neurotransmitter important for brain and muscle function. It has been suggested that maximizing the body’s stores of AC helps maximize muscle performance.

Beta-alanine, an essential amino acid, is showing promise for the aging athlete. Previous studies demonstrated that a significant reduction in muscle carnosine stores occurs in the elderly, which may lead to reduced muscle function and exercise capacity. A recent trial demonstrated a significant increase (28.6 percent) in physical performance in elderly men and women who took beta-alanine. The authors of the study suggest that BA supplementation improves endurance in the elderly by increasing muscle carnosine levels. This, they believe, could have important implications in the prevention of falls and the maintenance of health and independent living.

Low-dose caffeine research may take some of the heat off hypercaffeinated concerns. Caffeine’s effective dose for most applications is relatively high (more than 250 mg per serving). Recently, a study investigated the amino acid tyrosine, green-tea extract and low-dose caffeine on resting metabolic-rate energy intake and appetite. Caffeine induced a thermogenic response of 6 percent above baseline value for an average of four hours, compared with placebo.

Mark Tallon, PhD, is the founder of NutriSciences, a London-based consulting firm.

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