Immunity, probiotics and protein drive sports nutrition as COVID-19 boosts consumer demand for athletic enhancers
25 Mar 2021 --- The COVID-19 pandemic has acted as a catalyst on the sports nutrition industry, propelling consumer awareness and demand for products aiding athletic activities during lockdown measures.
This, combined with continuous scientific advances, makes the sports nutrition sector “primed for major growth” in the future.
NutritionInsight discusses these developments with experts from Beneo, Lonza and FrieslandCampina Ingredients.
Changing face of sports nutrition
The traditional distinctions setting sports nutrition apart are becoming more blurred. In the past, the industry was mainly defined by specialist supplements targeted at groups like bodybuilders and professional athletes.
Vaughn DuBow, product manager at Lonza, looks back to Arnold Schwarzenegger as one of sports nutrition’s founding fathers, a man who boasted of eating roughly ten to 15 eggs per day.
“The science of sports nutrition has come a long way since those days. What was once ‘eat more meat and potatoes’ has transformed into an over US$20 billion industry of clinically-proven ingredients, technologically advanced ingredient delivery systems, and unique manufacturing processes that bring effective performance solutions to the masses,” he remarks.
As science has advanced, so have consumer expectations. Broadening market demand means everyday people are seeking out ingredients once reserved for professional athletes.
Konstantin Grissmer, product manager of functional carbohydrates at Beneo, notes how NPD targeting the masses has made regular foods, such as snack brands, turn sportive. This has enabled industry players to reach the occasionally active consumer, as well as professionals.
COVID-19 and lockdown athletics
While the pandemic has had a constraining impact on many areas of life due to lockdown measures, a surprising boom has been seen in sports nutrition. DuBow highlights research showing the rates of exercise increasing among consumers.
“Beginning in June of 2020, 56 percent of consumers had increased their sports nutrition supplement use within the prior six weeks,” he notes. “We’ve seen this growth taper going into 2021, with 34 percent of consumers still increasing sports supplement use.”
“Yet, we still see that the majority of users who increased their usage remain committed to their new higher-dose routine.”
Grissmer also highlights how the pandemic has developed a new area of at-home nutrition for sports endurance, particularly in the rise of e-gaming. Alternative carbohydrates like Beneo’s Palatinose are offering healthier alternatives to caffeine, taurine and glucose products traditionally used to maintain concentration, he says.
The higher dosage routine means that that “proverbial sports nutrition pie” has gotten larger, says DuBow.
In particular, a merging of sports nutrition and immune health as “never seen before” is occurring.
“Athletes are more aware of their immune system and their overall health, and now want products that not only will help them run faster or jump higher but also ones that support their overall health and well-being.”
These trends are expected to lead to record-breaking sales over the next year, he continues.
Immunity and probiotics
The growth in demand for immunity-boosting products has led to a surge in NPD.
Floris Daamen, marketing manager of performance and active nutrition for FrieslandCampina Ingredients, highlights the company’s work in answering these demands, saying this area will remain a fixture for some time.
“Immunity awareness is high and will likely remain a long-term priority; a fact which led us to develop our range of Biotis Immune Health solutions,” he remarks.
“Some argue these trends will fall off the agenda once we eventually return to normality, but we will see. I believe they will be a characteristic of our industry for many years to come.”
DuBow says Lonza expects similar longevity for the immunity trend in sports nutrition, adding that strain-specific probiotics are and will continue to lead the way.
“As we begin to learn more about the human body, science has shown that there is an undeniable relationship between our gut and our overall health.”
Over 70 percent of the human immune system lives in the gut tissue, and as more people learn about the gut-brain axis, they’re realizing probiotics aren’t just for digestive health, he says.
Lonza’s latest ingredient, TWK10, is a novel probiotic strain derived from Taiwanese kimchi backed by clinical studies for its ability to improve athletic performance and endurance.
It was also shown to provide body composition benefits such as reduced fat mass and more muscle mass. “We know that the TWK10 probiotic is just the beginning of the intersection of sports nutrition and probiotics.”
Daamen emphasizes that protein continues to carry substantial weight in sports nutrition and that original innovation for supplements and products delivering protein holds a lucrative position for the market.
“To take health and wellness even further, future innovation should also focus on the ‘protein plus’ trend,” he explains.
“Producers that move past traditional protein powders to products fortified with protein and additional health-supporting ingredients – such as prebiotics for digestive support or mental well-being benefits – will have the advantage as more consumers look for holistic products that offer a range of health benefits.”
For example, FrieslandCampina Ingredients recently released a high concentration protein gel concept formulated with Nutri Whey Isolate Clear, providing up to 15 percent protein content in a small, convenient portion.
Delivery and dosage
A final area highlighted by DuBow is the development of new delivery formats. As sports nutrition becomes more and more personalized, athletes want dosage solutions that are tailored to their performance needs, he says.
Recognizing this, Innova Market Insights pegged “Tailored to Fit” as a top trend for 2021. The market researcher notes that 64 percent of global consumers have found more ways to tailor their life and products to their individual style, beliefs and needs.
“Capsule manufacturers like Lonza have seen a rise in demand for plant-based capsule polymers, like hydroxypropyl methylcellulose (HPMC) or pullulan (naturally fermented from tapioca), to deliver products to the vegan and vegetarian athlete.”
Other dosage forms also allow for enhanced functionality of performance-driven ingredients, like Lonza’s Licaps liquid-filled hard capsules, DuBow continues.
“These technology-driven formats offer enhanced absorption benefits, tamper-proofing and a seemingly endless variety of options for customized release profiles to deliver those hard-hitting sports nutrition ingredients where and when athletes need them the most.”
By Louis Gore-Langton
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