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Sports nutrition: past, present and future: in order to understand where this market is headed it's important to know where it's been.

As the incidence of obesity among consumers skyrockets, the sports nutrition industry continues to grow at a steady rate each year. As a result, sports nutrition companies acknowledge that they no longer need to cater to just bodybuilders or hardcore athletes. In just the last few years, they have realized that their products are relevant and positively received by a much wider demographic.


Nutrition Business Journal (NBJ), Boulder, CO, estimates that the $22 billion sports nutrition industry will experience sales growth of more than 5% a year over the next five years and approach $29 billion by 2013. Total nutrition sales, including vitamins, health foods and other related products, are expected to exceed $90 billion this year.

The Evolution Of Sports Nutrition

Twenty years ago the most popular products available to sports nutrition enthusiasts were things like weight gainers and protein powders, and maybe for the really cutting-edge folks, amino acid tablets. The big players back then were Twinlab with its "Fuel" product lines, while other companies like Champion and Optimum Nutrition were coming on strong with products of their own.

The demographic target in the mid- to late 1980s was the very narrow 18- to 25-year-old crowd consisting mostly of hardcore bodybuilders, along with pro and amateur athletes. This niche group of buyers was heavily influenced by the simple marketing messages of "old school" products, which carried claims like "protein adds muscle" and "calories add weight."

As time went on, however, a new breed of sports nutrition companies emerged, along with more attractive products, greater science and better marketing claims. One of the primary leaders in this new sports nutrition movement was MetRx. The company's meal replacement product and its mostly direct mail marketing campaign led by company president Scott Connelly brought the industry to the next level.

From a functional aspect, MetRx delivered on its body transformation promises and became one of the most well known sports nutrition companies of its time. MetRx was also one of the first companies to deliver something not yet familiar to consumers at the time--on-the-go nutrition. Indeed, MetRx was one of the first companies to develop a meal replacement in a single serving pouch that consumers could take with them anywhere. Many companies would soon follow their lead.

As the sports nutrition industry gained credibility, it moved into new markets, tapping a variety of consumer groups from "weekend warriors" to soccer moms. Bill Phillips of MetRx fame moved into a higher profile after joining nutritional/exercise biochemist Anthony Almada and marketer Ed Byrd, founders of Experimental and Applied Sciences (EAS), a company that conveyed the message that consumers could build the perfect body, drug free, using university-proven products.

EAS's first claim to fame was creatine monohydrate, a compound that is primarily found in skeletal muscle and has been shown to build strength and lean body mass. While the ingredient as a finished product already existed in the U.K. under a small brand, EAS would be the first company to introduce, market and subject it to university clinical trials. It was marketed under the name Phosphagen. The good news: EAS's creatine product worked as advertised--in fact, just about everything EAS produced worked as promised--and it confirmed their message to consumers that they could achieve a very high level of drug-free fitness through science-driven supplementation.

Mr. Almada and Mr. Byrd, while co-leading EAS, had also sponsored two university clinical trials--all in the first year of the company's history. When Mr. Phillips joined EAS 18 months after its birth, a much greater breadth and investment in university studies were undertaken, in an effort to both confirm their claims on products before they were commercialized and increase consumer confidence in the brand. Once positive results were established, they would tout the clinical research results in subsequent marketing materials, media relations, advertising and promotions, including participation at several scientific conferences. Today, it can be argued, creatine is still the most popular and effective bodybuilding/performance-enhancing supplement on the market. Additionally, the pivotal role of creatine in energy metabolism ushered in a substantive and enduring wave in clinical research, spanning neurology, dermatology, geriatrics, metabolism, and muscle metabolism in both health and disease states.

By the late 1990s, sports nutrition companies were popping up everywhere to capitalize on these market breakthroughs. With a greater emphasis on drug-free fitness and the promise of convenience, the sports nutrition category was welcoming new consumers daily.

Today's big players include: Iovate with its flagship Muscletech products, BSN, EAS, Optimum Nutrition, Cytosport, Labrada, Universal Nutrition, Gaspari Nutrition, MRP and a host of others. All of these companies benefit from very sound, secure science, which sets them apart from the rest. They also test their products vigorously to validate their claims through university and independent studies.

The sports nutrition consumer has certainly evolved during the last 25 years. In today's market, just about any type of product sporting just about any type of functionality can be found at local heath food stores, as well as mainstream outlets like grocery stores. This has broadened the market, offering a function for everyone, whether they are 18 or 50.

Cutting-Edge Products

Lately, pre/post cycle testosterone boosters and advanced creatine/arginine products have taken the market by storm. The big three creatine/nitric oxide-producing products in the marketplace are Gaspari's SuperPump 250, BSN's NoExplode and Muscletech's No Vapor.

These products feature amino acid technology from several different angles. Not only do they use many different types of creatine with different types of arginine (and other co factors such as citrulline) for nitric oxide release, but they also use other aminos with caffeine and glucose polymers (and other varying glycemic indexed carbohydrates) for optimal absorption. This provides intense focus while preventing central nervous system blowout, thereby supporting optimal nutrition for muscle growth. These are extremely advanced products that have become staples in the sports nutrition industry.

Key Growth Areas

The most notable growth in the sports nutrition market has been in the ready-to-drink (RTD) protein segment. Led by Cytosport's massive Muscle Milk lineup, EAS Labrada, Atkins, Premier, and others, these high protein drinks have taken a huge chunk out of the powders market. Packaged using a patented and gentle aseptic process designed by Tetra Pak, these low acid drinks are rapidly growing in popularity among the sports nutrition crowd. The aseptic packaging method protects amino acid compositions compared to retort canned methods of old, which damaged proteins and produced off notes.


Another key growth area has been the liquid shot delivery systems. Usually in two-ounce containers, performance benefits have focused on increased energy and sexual stimulation. While the shot business is still in its infancy, the market will very likely witness an explosion in these types of delivery system in the very near future.

FSI Nutrition in Omaha, NE, is the leading sports nutrition shot manufacturer in the U.S. Scott McGill, vice president of sales and marketing, offered his thoughts on where this market is headed. "We've seen several trends emerge within [the sports nutrition] category. One is simply the massive growth [the shot] category has exhibited, which can be attributed to several factors including convenience, ease of consumption, and the overall growth of the energy category as a whole," he said. "Further, we've seen more formulas targeting not only the health and wellness segment, but also the ability to utilize liquid shots specifically for athletes. We are currently developing concentrated vitamin/mineral formulas with more advanced anabolic ingredients, such as amino acids specifically targeting high level athletes to promote performance-enhancing effects before, during and after training."

While the liquid gel delivery systems continue to become more popular with endurance athletes (mostly because of convenience), it has yet to gain the broad acceptance of RTD protein drinks and nutrition bars.

Speaking of protein bars, unfortunately their popularity peaked a few years ago and sales have flattened. Just over a decade ago, however, this was an area of incredible growth. First to market was Dave McCabe's Worldwide Protein Bar, which became an overnight success as the first high protein bar ever produced. After Worldwide dominated the market, the entire bar business grew immensely, up until 2004 when it trailed off and dipped significantly in response to the low carb crash.

Stability of protein in these bars has always been an issue, with many formulators turning to sugar alcohols (maltitiol, sorbitol). While these sugars increase stability in the bars, it's a different story when it comes to consumers' stomachs--many sugar alcohols cause gastric distress. Furthermore, taste, though much improved over the years, is still a relative barrier to repeat purchase for consumers.

Cutting The Fat: New Alternatives to Stimulants

Weight loss discoveries over the past few years have centered on fats that support healthy weight loss. Sesame lignans, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) and the newest kid on the block, fucoxanthin, all possess some degree of clinical substantiation that shows they may help consumers lose weight safely and effectively--and they are stimulant-free (no caffeine, yohimbe, ephedrine, etc.). Fucoxanthin, a natural carotenoid found in edible seaweed, possesses strong thermogenic and visceral fat reducing properties, which have been shown to support a normal metabolic rate and contribute to healthy weight management.

By stimulating the expression of the uncoupling protein genes in the mitochondria of fat cells and suppressing fat cell differentiation, fucoxanthin promotes thermogenesis (increased body heat to burn more calories) and suppresses lipid accumulation in white fat cells. White fat cells are those that accumulate in the liver and around the belly as a result of being overweight. While sesame and CLA work to balance hormones and promote lipid burning, fucoxanthin increases thermogenesis.

Prior to these new options, one had to resort to a damaging combination of ephedra, caffeine and aspirin to increases thermogenesis and induce weight loss. However, following the deaths of some professional athletes abusing ephedrine FDA finally pulled the herb from the shelves, only recently allowing it back on the market in low doses. Since then, scientists have found other effective alter- natives to stimulant-based weight loss without the use of ephedra/ ephedrine. MRP's DREN is one new product that utilizes an exciting new ingredient called beta-methoxy phenylethylamine and other stimulants to burn white fat (the fat around hips and thighs).

Amino acid technology is advancing every day. One company leading the way is New York, NY-based Kyowa Hakko. The company has created a new gluta-mine product called Sustamine, which is a dipeptide of the two amino acids L-alanine and L-glutamine, resulting in the creation of L-alanyl-L-glutamine. Compared to L-glutamine, Sustamine improves viable cell growth and increases product yield in media applications. Furthermore, Sustamine itself dramatically reduces the level of ammonia, which is a byproduct of L-glutamine degradation. Unlike glutamine powder, Sustamine is very soluble in water and stable in solution, therefore it can be utilized in a variety of applications. Most recently, the ingredient received Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) status for use in foods and beverages.

Research shows that after intensely working out, glutamine levels in the body are reduced by as much as 50%. Since the body relies on glutamine as cellular fuel for the immune system, scientific studies suggest that glutamine supplementation can minimize the breakdown of muscle tissue and improve protein metabolism. Glutamine's cell-volumizing effects have also been shown in several studies. In fact, one recent study showed up to a 400% increase in growth-hormone levels when as little as 2 grams of free-form L-glutamine was consumed.

The best part about formulating with Sustamine is that it can be utilized in many liquid products and remain stable. Some applications include aseptic RTD protein drinks, enteral drugs, cell culture media, and most important, all sports nutrition products.

Another relative newcomer to the sports nutrition arena is Fabuless. This product consists of a minimal amount of palm and oat oil. The specific oat fraction digests very slowly, allowing Fabuless to penetrate the intestinal system. Upon digestion, the body will identify a high level of undigested fat at a relatively late stage of the digestive process, suppressing the hunger signals it would normally start sending.

Other honorable mentions go to beta-alanine, which is a non-essential amino acid commonly found in many foods, such as chicken. Beta-alanine is not much of an ergogenic aid by itself. However, when it enters the muscle cell, it becomes the rate limiting sub- strate to carnosine synthesis (beta-alanine and histidine dipeptide metabolism). One study reported that 4 weeks of supplementing with beta-alanine (4-6 grams per day) resulted in a mean increase of 64% in skeletal muscle. Due to the immediate hydrolysis, carnosine cannot be taken up into the muscle intact, so supplementation with beta-alanine and even histidine may be beneficial.

Protein ingredients have been completely revolutionized by the sports industry. For years companies were using the usual whey protein concentrates, but top whey suppliers such as Glanbia Nutritionals (which recently purchased Optimum Nutrition for $315 million), Fonterra and Hilmar discovered that whey isolate fractions have multiple health benefits, such as immune system enhancement and boosting nitrogen levels in the bloodstream for optimal muscle growth. These companies produce whey protein isolates that contain 100% pure ultra-filtered/micro-filtered (UF/MF) whey protein isolate, the finest quality and most easily assimilated whey protein on the market.

UF/MF whey protein isolate utilizes special processing methods that do not damage or denature whey protein peptides. This process, along with the quality of protein used leaves the protein intact and allows the body to absorb it quickly and easily without bloating, gas or stomach upset. Whey protein isolate is also rich in the highly bioactive fractions glycomacropeptide and beta-lactoglobulin, immunoglobulin, glycopeptides and lactoferrin. These are the main components in whey that feed the immune system and muscle tissue along with high amounts of branched-chain amino acids.

In terms of high end protein innovations, DSM has been touting its Pepto-Pro product for the last several years, gaining some significant traction in the market. The special casein peptide is absorbed quicker and acts faster on muscle recovery, because it is one step closer than any other protein to complete digestion.

PeptoPro is unique in that it is a predigested milk protein derivative, which is neutral in taste. DSM's patent-protected enzyme reduces the typical bitter taste, while at the same time generating tiny protein fragments (peptides) that are rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream and so fuel the muscles. PeptoPro even contains 26% glutamine in a stable peptide form for use in RTD protein drinks and can supply the added benefits of muscle and intestinal health.


Davisco has also thrown its hat in the protein innovation ring with its new alpha lactalbumin, which shows much promise in infant formulations and functional beverage applications. A truly functional protein, alpha-lactalbumin is the purest isolated form of bovine alpha-lactalbumin commercially available.

Alpha-lactalbumin is the primary protein in human milk, but it is rich in the amino acid tryptophan, which is a precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin. The huge benefit here is that alpha-lactalbumin has been shown to play a role in regulating neurobehavioral effects such as appetite, sleep, muscle memory, pain perception, mood, anxiety and stress control.

Micellar casein is another protein now heavily utilized in sports nutrition drinks. It is the natural, undenatured form of casein found in milk and is separated from milk by means of ultrafiltration, without the use of chemicals, which increases the amount of bioactive milk peptides that support immune function as well as enhance muscle growth. Micellar casein has the unique ability of being able to form a "gel" in the gut, thus providing a steady release of amino acids into the bloodstream, which makes it an excellent choice for a long lasting anti-catabolic protein. Studies have shown that it can sustain steady amino acid elevations for up to seven hours. It was shown to offer a strong anticatabolic effect not noticed with fast digesting whey protein, and actually fostered a much more positive overall net protein balance in comparison.

While whey protein may increase protein synthesis and boost nitrogen levels higher than casein, most scientists are now recognizing that micellar casein may play an integral part in preventing muscle breakdown and is a great protein to be utilized in any muscle growth system.

Other more high tech functional future technologies include specific supplementation that can prevent cortical processes, which can cause central nervous system neurotransmitter decline and reduced signal to the muscle. Providing nutritional support for the central nervous system so that mind-muscle connections stay strong in times of physical and mental stress will increase accuracy, and improve reaction speeds and endurance.

About the author:

Pete Maletto is president and senior food scientist at PTM Food Consulting, Long Branch, NJ. The company has been leading the way in functional food development through its vast experience in the biochemistry of nutritional ingredients. With over 20 years experience in beverage, dietary supplement and food development, the company has developed many innovative products for the top sports nutrition companies in North America. PTM Food Consulting can be reached at 888-736-6339; E-mail:; Website:

RELATED ARTICLE: This article in a nutshell:

* The evolution of sports nutrition

* Cutting-edge products

* Key growth areas

* Cutting the fat: new alternatives to stimulants

By Pete Maletto President & Senior Food Scientist PTM Food Consulting Long Branch, NJ
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Author:Maletto, Pete
Publication:Nutraceuticals World
Date:Oct 1, 2008
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