Who will best navigate the sports-nutrition category? Those well-informed, quick to change, and innovative with regard to rapidly shifting consumer preferences in taste and function, says Mark J Tallon, PhD. As always, research leads the way in ingredient innovation — but what you do with that research is key to finding the formula for continued success in this dynamic category
The past two years have seen some major shake-ups in the sports-nutrition and weight-loss (SNWL) categories with the launch of the pharmaceutical weight-loss pill, Alli; increased merger and acquisition activity; and the increasing pressure of the credit crunch on the supply chain. However, in light of these challenges and with rumours 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 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 it all to play for, where will the sports-nutrition category take us in 2009 in relation to new ingredients, innovative blockbusters and potential threats?
Glucomannan gets a new hat
Dietary fibre has become a household word. 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 commercialised sources of dietary fibre is glucomannan, a polysaccharide extracted from the tubers of the konjac plant, which consists primarily of mannose and glucose. Its capacity to influence physiological processes in the body comes from its capacity to hold water, and for viscous solutions in the stomach.
A 2008 meta-analysis on glucomannan investigated its effect not only on cardiovascular markers (ie, blood lipids) but also in one of the sport market's key categories, weight loss.1 Fourteen studies met the inclusion criteria, including 531 total subjects. The results: significant body-weight reduction (-0.79kg). It also appears to beneficially affect multiple cardio markers.
LuraLean, a refined form of glucomannan and 2009 NutrAward finalist, is a recent release from AHD International. Through AHD's proprietary manufacturing process, it is suggested to be free of enzymes such as mannanase — often found in glucomannan, and when exposed to moisture and heat (potentially during storage), can result in the breakdown of glucomannan, limiting efficacy.
According to AHD, its processing method results in substantially greater viscosity, which could impact efficacy. In an in vitro study, these properties were tested against other standardised glucomannan for their ability to retain viscosity: LuraLean retained its viscosity for more than 24 hours, while other forms broke down in roughly three hours.2
Whey gets a makeover
The industry staple and ubiquitous protein form 'whey' has had some recent pricing struggles. Despite its current perception as a commoditised protein source, its inherent bio-actives such as glycomacropeptide (GMP), colostrum, and lactoferrin are still major selling points to capitalise and commercialise whey as a premium product.
The last real shifts in whey innovation were the commercialisation of the whey fractions, whey protein isolates (WPI), and concentrates (WPC). However, the Australian-based TGR Biosciences isolated what it calls a whey growth-factor extract (WGFE), 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 have been suggested to possess biological properties such as the promotion of tissue repair and anti-inflammatory activity, as well as offer a good safety profile.3
As one of lactermin's first commercial applications, the sports-nutrition category was a good choice, especially if the data filed in TGR's patent on lactermin are eventually published. The data filed in the associated TGR patent (WO 2007/028211) describe subjects being administered 20g WPI, WPI + 1g or 2g WGFE immediately after resistance exercise.
The results showed a significant and beneficial change in the expression of genes involved in inflammation, and to a significantly greater degree than with whey alone. Although the gene expression markers are interesting, the most important aspect is the significant reduction in post-exercise soreness. This can be linked to significant improvements in functional capacity following previous muscle-damaging training sessions. Substantiation of such hypotheses is required but these are exciting results.
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 single ergogenic ingredient. 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.4,5
To achieve this, 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.6 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 nonresistance-trained men.
Subjects took either CM, CEE or placebo at a dose of 0.30g/kg fat-free body mass (approximately 20g/day) for five days followed by ingestion at 0.075g/kg fat-free mass (approximately 5g/day) for 42 days.
The most important measurement of the study in relation to the marketing claims surrounding CEE were those assessing muscle creatine levels. This study demonstrated that total muscle-creatine content was significantly higher in CM and CEE compared to 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 to 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. All hype, no help?
Ingredients set for success
As the sports-nutrition market continues to mature, brands will need to identify niche customer segments to diversify their opportunities. Here is an update on three natural products' associated research offerings for distinct exercising populations.
Alpha-GPC (alpha-glyceryl phosphoryl choline, A-GPC) is an acetylcholine (AC) precursor, which is a neurotransmitter important for brain and muscle function. It has been suggested that maximising the body's stores of AC would help maximise muscle performance.
A recent human trial examined the effects of A-GPC supplementation on growth-hormone levels, exercise performance and fuel use.7 The randomised, placebo-controlled, crossover design was on seven men experienced in resistance training. Subjects were given either a placebo or 600mg A-GPC 90 minutes before completing exercise tests and an assessment of metabolic rate and blood hormones.
Study results showed a significant increase in growth hormone when taking A-GPC (44-fold) compared to placebo (2.6 fold). Also, there was a significant (14 per cent) increase in peak bench-press force, showing a performance effect from supplementation of A-GPC. More importantly, there were no effects on heart rate and blood pressure, which can be utilised in the marketing of such products as safe and effective. Future work should focus on longer-term body composition changes.
Beta-alanine is showing promise for the ageing 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.8
A recent trial studied the impact of the amino acid beta-alanine over 90 days on the physical working capacity at the fatigue threshold in elderly men and women.9 In this double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled design, 26 subjects (mean age 72.8 years) took either beta-alanine (BA: 800mg, three/day) or placebo. The results demonstrated a significant increase (28.6 per cent) in performance from pre- to post-supplementation in those taking beta-alanine (no change with placebo).
These are great results that support the rapidly growing evidence base on BA as an efficacious sports-nutrition ingredient. The authors of the study suggest that BA supplementation, by increasing muscle-carnosine levels, improves endurance in the elderly. This, they believe, could have important implications in the prevention of falls, and the maintenance of health and independent living in the elderly.
Low-dose caffeine research may take some of the heat off hyper-caffeinated concerns. Caffeine finds its way into almost all sports-nutrition categories in one form or another. However, its effective dose for most applications is relatively high (>250mg/serving). Recently, a study investigated tyrosine, green-tea extract (GTE), and low-dose caffeine on resting metabolic-rate energy intake (EI) and appetite.10
Dietary supplements were administered as 500mg GTE, 400mg tyrosine, 50mg caffeine or placebo tablets, each separated by at least a three-day washout. The acute thermogenic response was measured for four hours following ingestion. Blood pressure, heart rate (HR), and subjective appetite sensations were assessed hourly, four hours post-dose.
Caffeine induced a thermogenic response of six per cent above baseline value (per four hours, mean) compared to placebo. The thermogenic responses to GTE and tyrosine were not significantly different from placebo. Ad libitum energy intake was not significantly different between treatments but was reduced by eight per cent (tyrosine), eight per cent (GTE), and three per cent (caffeine) compared to placebo. No significant difference in haemodynamics was observed between treatments. Only caffeine was thermogenic in the given dose, and caused no haemodynamic side effects.
This is an interesting study and one of the lowest-dose caffeine trials to bring about a significant effect on a process known to support weight management. Given the recent concerns over higher-dose caffeine products such as energy shots, this 50mg dose is a welcome piece of literature.
Mark J Tallon, PhD, is the founder of NutriSciences, a London-based consultancy firm specialising in health-claim substantiation, product development and technical writing. www.NutriSciences.net
Disclosure: At the time of writing, Dr Tallon does not receive payment for the sale or marketing of any of the products mentioned.
1. Sood N, et al. Effect of glucomannan on plasma lipid and glucose concentrations, body weight, and blood pressure: systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008;88(4):1167-75.
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4. Bamberger M. The magic potion. Sports Illustrated 2008; 88, 58-61.
5. Metzl JD, et al. Creatine use among young athletes. Pediatrics. 2001 Aug;108(2):421-5.
6. Spillane M, et al. The effects of creatine ethyl ester supplementation combined with heavy resistance training on body composition, muscle performance, and serum and muscle creatine levels. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2009 19;6(1):6.
7. Ziegenfuss T, et al. Acute supplementation with alpha-glycerylphosphorylcholine augments growth hormone response to, and peak force production during, resistance exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 2008, 5(Suppl 1):15
8. Tallon MJ, et al. Carnosine, taurine and enzyme activities of human skeletal muscle fibres from elderly subjects with osteoarthritis and young moderately active subjects. Biogerontology 2007;8(2):129-37.
9. Stout JR, et al. The effect of beta-alanine supplementation on neuromuscular fatigue in elderly (55-92 Years): a double-blind randomized study. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 2008 7;5:21.
10. Belza A, et al. The effect of caffeine, green tea and tyrosine on thermogenesis and energy intake. Eur J Clin Nutr 2009;63(1):57-64.