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Nutrients for the new wave of sports consumers

What sports nutrition products will blast ahead this year? Those that are innovative and responsive to rapidly shifting consumer preferences in taste and function, says Mark Tallon, Ph.D., who assesses the complex consumer, company and economic drivers in this ever-evolving category. Tallon is founder of NutriSciences, a London-based consultancy firm specializing in health-claim substantiation and product development.

The past two years have seen some shake-ups in the sports-nutrition and weight-loss categories with the launch of the pharmaceutical weight-loss pill Alli, increased merger and acquisition activity and the economic and credit problems affecting manufacturers and suppliers. Consequently, SNWL companies are being pushed into establishing greater connections with all types of consumers.

"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 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, product blockbusters and potential threats?

Whey gets a makeover
The industry staple and ubiquitous protein form whey has been subject to recent raw-ingredient pricing fluctuation. Despite its current perception as a commoditized protein source, its inherent bioactives such as glycomacropeptide, colostrum and lactoferrin allow whey to be marketed as a premium product.

The last real shifts in whey innovation were the commercialization of its protein isolates and concentrates. However, Australia-based TGR Biosciences has now isolated what it calls a whey growth-factor extract, or lactermin, that contains many of the major proteins such as lactoperoxidase and lactoferrin, along with a variety of minor proteins. Together, these proteins could promote tissue repair and anti-inflammatory activity, and they also have a good safety profile.

The sports-nutrition category is a good choice for one of lactermin's first commercial applications, especially if the data filed in TGR's patent on lactermin is eventually published. TGR's lactermin study results showed not only a beneficial change in the gene markers involved in inflammation, but also a significant reduction in post-exercise soreness. This can be linked to significant improvements in functional capacity following previous muscle-damaging training sessions. More study is needed, but these are exciting results.

Creatine makes headlines for the wrong reasons
Creatine has been integral in the development of the SNWL category, and has provided one of—if not the—largest volumes of peer-reviewed research surrounding any single performance-enhancing ingredient. Despite its success—with sales climbing from $50 million in 1996 to more than $400 million in 2001—creatine must be reinvented to retain its price premiums.

To achieve this, branding has taken many forms, but the most popular is binding creatine with another active such as citrate, malate and, more recently, ethyl ester. These novel formulations are meant to overcome creatine's poor solubility when delivered in its monohydrate form, with the marketing suggestion of greater bioavailability and potentially better performance.

SNWL companies are being pushed to establish greater connections with all types of consumers.

Creatine ethyl ester has been one of the most successful adaptations. The first in-vivo human data on this compound was released earlier this year. This double-blind study examined how a seven-week creatine supplementation regimen combined with resistance training affected body composition, muscle mass, muscle strength and power, serum and muscle creatine levels, and serum creatinine levels in 30 nonresistance-trained males. Participants were randomly assigned to a maltodextrose placebo, creatine monohydrate or creatine ethyl ester group. Results demonstrated that total muscle-creatine content was significantly higher in participants who took CM and CEE compared to the placebo group, with no differences between CM and CEE. In addition, there was little effect of CEE on muscle levels of creatine during a six-week period compared to CM.

In conclusion, this trial demonstrated that CEE is less effective at increasing creatine levels than CM for the short term and no better in the long term. It would seem the marketing claims over the past few years for this product could be misleading.

Glucomannan gets a new hat
Dietary fiber has become a household word. Its effect on risk factors for cardiovascular disease is especially interesting, but it's also 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. It works by absorbing water to create a viscous mass in the stomach, making people feel full.

A 2008 meta-analysis on glucomannan investigated its effect not only on markers of cardiovascular disease, such as blood lipids, but also on one of the sports market's key categories: weight loss. Researchers analyzed 14 studies with a total of 531 subjects. The results: a significant reduction in body weight. The authors also concluded that glucomannan appears to beneficially affect multiple markers of cardiovascular disease.

LuraLean, a refined form of glucomannan, is a recent release from AHD International, based in Atlanta. Through AHD's proprietary manufacturing process, it is said to be free of enzymes such as mannanase. When mannanase is exposed to moisture and heat, it can result in the breakdown of glucomannan. According to AHD, its glucomannan processing method results in substantially greater levels of viscosity, which could impact efficacy. In an in-vitro study, LuraLean retained its viscosity for more than 24 hours, while other forms of glucomannan broke down in significantly shorter periods.

Ingredients set for success
Alpha-GPC, or alpha-glcerol phosphoryl choline, is a precursor to acetylcholine, which is a neurotransmitter important for brain and muscle function. It has been suggested that increasing the body's stores of A-GPC helps maximize muscle performance.

A recent randomized, placebo-controlled crossover human trial examined the effects of A-GPC supplementation on growth-hormone levels, exercise performance and fuel. Seven men experienced in resistance training were given either a placebo or 600 mg of A-GPC 90 minutes before completing exercise tests and an assessment of metabolic rate and blood hormones.

Study results showed a significant—44-fold—increase in growth hormone when taking A-GPC compared to placebo. Also, there was a 14 percent increase in peak bench-press force. More importantly, there were no adverse effects on heart rate and blood pressure. Future work should focus on the longer-term impact A-GPC can have on changes in body composition.

Those who took BA demonstrated a 28.6 percent increase in performance.

Beta-alanine, an 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 double-blind, placebo-controlled trial studied the effect of beta-alanine on the physical working capacity at the fatigue threshold, or PWCFT, in elderly men and women. Twenty-six subjects with a mean age of 72.8 years were randomly assigned to either 80 mg of BA three times daily for 90 days or a placebo. Subjects were given a cycle test before and after the supplementation period to determine PWCFT. Those who took BA demonstrated a 28.6 percent increase in performance on the post-trial test, compared to no change with the placebo group.

These results support the rapidly growing evidence showing that BA is an efficacious sports-nutrition ingredient. The authors of the study suggest that BA supplementation could also help prevent falls and maintain independent living for elderly men and women.

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—more than 250 mg per serving. Recently, a University of Copenhagen study investigated the effect of three different food ingredients—tyrosine, green-tea extract and low-dose caffeine—on resting metabolic-rate energy intake and appetite.

Participants took either 500 mg of GTE, 400 mg of tyrosine, 50 mg of caffeine or a placebo, each separated by at least a three-day washout. The acute thermogenic response, or metabolic rate, was measured for four hours following ingestion. Blood pressure, heart rate and subjective appetite sensations were also assessed hourly for four hours post-dose.

The participants who took caffeine had a thermogenic response of 6 percent higher than those who took a placebo. The thermogenic responses to GTE and tyrosine were not significantly different from placebo. Voluntary energy intake was reduced by 8 percent with tyrosine, 8 percent with GTE and 3 percent with caffeine, compared to placebo, though these disparities were not statistically significant.

This is one of the lowest-dose caffeine trials to show a significant effect on a process known to support weight management. Given recent concerns about higher-dose caffeine products such as energy shots, this 50 mg dose is a welcome piece of literature.

Breathing aides for athletes

Another sports supplement category to watch is breathing aids. For example, Nu Century Herbs, based in Michigan City, Ind., developed AirAide, a blend of herbs designed to relax the bronchial-tube linings for easier breathing—and ultimately better athletic performance. Endorsed by marathon winners, the product claims to increase the user's breathing capacity to better optimize oxygen intake during aerobic activity. As controversy about performance-enhancing drugs continues, athletes may be increasingly reaching for herbal products like this one. —Hilary Oliver

The whey to win the performance-product race
Food and beverage manufacturers that formulate with whey protein are finding they can easily deliver both nutritional value and taste. This natural dairy protein has made a flash on the US food and beverage market, with nearly 1,900 products containing whey introduced in the last five years, according to Chicago-based market research firm Mintel.

"Whey protein is a nutrient-rich ingredient, making it ideal for performance product formulations. It is an easy-to-use, highly soluble ingredient," says Alan Reed, senior vice president, U.S. manufacturing and ingredient marketing for the trade association Dairy Management Inc., based in Rosemont, Ill.

Whey protein remains clear at the low pH range of 2.8 to 3.5 found in acidic beverages such as sports drinks. This allows formulators to pack more protein into each beverage while maintaining clarity and mouth feel. Because whey has a clean, natural taste, it is well suited for fruit-flavored sports drinks and numerous foods, including nutrition bars, yogurts and smoothies.

—Kimberlee Burrington, dairy ingredient-applications coordinator for the Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research

Who's got whey?

Recent product launches featuring whey protein as a key ingredient include:

  • Starbucks' Vivanno Nourishing Blends smoothie beverages
  • Tula Foods' Better Whey of Life yogurt
  • Kellogg's Special K2O Protein Water
  • Bolthouse Farms Perfectly Protein drinks
  • Kraft's South Beach Living Tide Me Over Drink mixes
  • Detour Protein Bars
  • Mix1 protein and antioxidant drink

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