Consumer interest in health and exercise, together with the perceived need to maximise personal potential, boosts demand for products aimed at performance and shifts many products once seen as niche into the mainstream. Judy Davis looks at innovations in this growth market.
Highly Bioavailable Creatine
Many sportspeople use supplementary creatine to increase muscle mass, enhance muscle performance and treat neuromuscular problems. Creatine is taken up into muscle cells, where it is converted to phosphocreatine and used by muscles for energy production in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Unfortunately, creatine is not particularly soluble, nor is it well absorbed from the gut. Thus, to achieve an effective dose, fairly large amounts of creatine have to be taken, typically in excess of 5 grams per day. In addition to the added expense, these higher doses can cause side effects such as bloating and gastrointestinal distress.
According to researchers from the University of Nebraska, creatine ester pronutrients can solve the problem. Compared with other forms, esters have greater solubility and permeability across the GI tract. Creatine esters are converted by esterases in the intestine and blood to the biologically active form of creatine, which can then be taken up and utilised by the muscle cells. In addition, creatine esters are resistant to conversion to creatinine in the acid environment of the stomach—another factor known to reduce bioavailability of creatine. According to the patent application, the increased stability and improved absorption of creatine esters result in higher blood creatine levels than can be achieved with standard creatine monohydrate supplements. (PCT Patent Application WO 02/22135)
Canadian company MuscleTech Research and Development has patented an alpha-lipoic-acid-based food supplement for athletes and body builders. The supplement also includes a source of amino acids, such as whey protein isolate, whey peptides and/or whey protein concentrate.
Alpha-lipoic acid is a naturally occurring compound present as a cofactor to several mitochondrial enzymes involved in metabolism and energy production. It has been shown to improve and possibly mimic the activity of insulin—a hormone that, as well as regulating blood glucose levels, increases amino acid uptake into skeletal muscle, inhibits protein degradation and stimulates protein synthesis. The inventors believe that the combination of lipoic acid and amino acids they describe in the patent application should lead to improvements in muscle size and strength. The supplement can be formulated into drinks or protein bars, or be provided as a dried or granular powder to be taken with liquid. (US Patent Application 20020006907)
Sigma-tau HealthScience in Italy has developed a muscle-energising supplement aimed at providing a boost of energy for tired and aching muscles during prolonged bouts of physical activity. The supplement has two main components, alkanoyl L-carnitine and ribose.
L-carnitine is a vitamin-like compound known to facilitate transfer of free fatty acids into the mitochondria for energy production, and ribose is a pentose sugar, intermediate in ATP synthesis. According to the patent application, the combination of propionyl and/or isovaleryl L-carnitine, together with ribose, boosts the energy capability of both cardiac and skeletal muscle systems and also prevents myocardial insufficiency and muscle fatigue. (PCT Patent Application WO 01/95915)
Growth Hormone Booster/Restorer
Human growth hormone is produced by the pituitary gland and is instrumental in growth and development and maintenance of muscle tissue and organs. Its production drops with increasing age, and loss of muscle mass and other effects symptomatic of ageing are attributed in part to a lack of growth hormone. Studies have indicated that growth hormone injections may help increase energy levels, muscle mass and strength, and reduce the tendency toward fat. Injections of human growth hormone and oral dosage forms are available; however, these are inadvisable on the grounds of possible untoward side effects, and are banned by most sports governing bodies.
A Canadian inventor has now developed a dietary supplement or natural growth hormone 'secretagogue,' aimed at triggering increased release of endogenous growth hormone. The product includes a particular combination of amino acids in specified proportions designed to stimulate growth hormone release, together with a group of branched-chain amino acids proposed to work in synergy with the released growth hormone to improve muscle mass and strength and promote muscle tissue regeneration and repair. (European Patent Application EP 1 176 880)