CHICAGO — Move over isotonics and protein powders, the sports nutrition beverage market is growing as it evolves with specialized — and at times somewhat unconventional — products. Whereas in some food categories, namely bars and snacks, sports nutrition products are designed to appeal to a mass-market, health-conscious lifestyle, within the beverage sector, a growing range of new products are more niche as they address specific body requirements before, during and after participating in a sport.

Some include nutrients to target potential aches and pains after strenuous activities. Some are simply about endurance.

Dairy Farmers of America (D.F.A.), Kansas City, Kas., offering Sportsman Shake is one example. It is D.F.A.’s Sports Shake, the original energy milkshake, rebranded and in a larger size with the tagline of “power your obsession.”

Sportsman Shake is not your typical performance beverage. It comes in an 11-oz shelf-stable can in chocolate, coffee and vanilla varieties. The cans have either a hunting design, with the catchphrase of “each sip hits the mark,” or fishing, with “one sip and you’ll be hooked.”

Sportsman sport shakes, Dairy Farmers of AmericaSkim milk and cream provide 12 grams of protein per can, along with potassium for hydration and calcium. The company explains that the latter helps consumers stay sharp by assisting with carrying nerve impulses throughout the body. The product also provides energy in the form of calories, with one can containing 350 to 360 calories, 9 grams of fat and 53 to 56 grams of sugar. The coffee variety is made with brewed coffee, which provides caffeine.

The beverage shows how nutritional needs differ by sport and physical activity, and how consumers are gaining a better understanding of this. Today’s shoppers are seeking varied beverages to get the nutrients they need to perform at their best.

A growth opportunity

Beverage marketers are wise to be proactive in the U.S. sports nutrition market, which was valued at $28.4 billion in 2016 and is expected to reach $45.3 billion by 2022. The figures reflect a compound annual growth rate of about 8%, according to Zion Market Research.

For the most part, sports nutrition is about improving athletic performance. The target audience includes everyone from professional and academic athletes to workout aficionados, and eight-hour-a-day employees who want to take out their bureaucratic frustration on a punching bag. Sports nutrition products include foods, beverages and supplements specially formulated with macro and micronutrients that assist with overall health, performance and muscle development.

“When formulating for sports nutrition, the carbohydrate-to-protein ratio (about 3-to-1) is important for someone who is looking to gain muscle mass,” said Jeff Reget, account manager-private label nutrition, Agropur Ingredients, La Crosse, Wis. “The protein will assist with the rebuilding of the muscles while the carbs will provide the refuel energy needed for the protein to build up the muscles.”

Protein is associated with more than building muscle. It increases strength, enhances recovery, slows age-related muscle loss, reduces appetite and more. Sports nutrition product launches with a protein claim increased by 25% in 2016, according to Innova Market Insights. The trend shows no sign of abating.

Refuel protein shakesDairy proteins have been a leader in sports nutrition beverages as they contain all the essential and nonessential amino acids. Whey proteins, specifically, are a concentrated source of the branched-chain amino acid leucine, which is associated with promoting muscle health.

Many sports nutrition products will include both types of dairy proteins: casein and whey. The combination of fast-digesting whey proteins with slow-acting casein proteins is essential for athletic recovery. This is because the combination provides a constant flow of amino acids and the essential nutrients needed to replenish a body and maximize post workout recovery while building and repairing lean muscles.

“Whey protein hydrolysates make sense for sports nutrition as they are easier for the body to absorb over isolates or concentrates,” said Marissa Stubbs, account manager at Agropur Ingredients. “The long protein chains are broken down into smaller chains, allowing for easier absorption by the body.”

Other animal proteins are finding their way into sports nutrition beverages. Chicken protein isolate powder is one example as it is a concentrated source of complete protein. The fast-absorbing, highly digestible dehydrated, defatted protein also contains no carbohydrates and is non-allergenic.

Egg white protein ingredients are now available for use in ready-to-drink beverages. There are also instantized egg white powders that allow for complete dispersion in cold water in less than one minute.

Plant-based proteins, most notably from peas, rice and soy, as well as nuts and seeds, are trending in sports nutrition, especially when used in blends to deliver a more complete amino acid profile. In beverages that might be otherwise vegan, plant-based proteins keep the vegan claim.

Other sporty nutrients

Not all sports nutrition beverages focus on protein. Isotonics for hydration remain an important category, with many beverages containing a range of nutrients for specific benefits.

Potassium and magnesium are examples as they are important for hydration. Lack of the minerals may lead to cramps or muscle spasms. The B-vitamins, which are water soluble and thus lost from the body during sweating, are critical for the conversion of proteins and carbohydrates into energy. They also are used for cell repair and production. Vitamin B-6 has been shown to be uniquely important for cardiovascular, digestive, immune, muscular and nervous system function.

V8+Hydrate, Campbell Soup Co.The Campbell Soup Co., Camden, N.J., has launched a new plant-based hydration beverage featuring sweet potato juice as a key ingredient. V8+Hydrate taps into the naturally occurring electrolytes and glucose of the sweet potato and blends it with water to create an isotonic beverage that quickly replenishes fluids and nutrients. Each 8-oz can features a full serving of vegetables and 45 calories without the use of artificial sweeteners. The beverage is available in three varieties: coconut watermelon, orange grapefruit and strawberry cucumber.

Pickle Juice sports beverage presents a unique twist on hydration. Marketed by Mesquite, Texas-based The Pickle Juice Co., the drink has a formula that helps prevent muscle cramps caused by heat and muscle exertion through a proprietary grain of vinegar that acts as an effective neural inhibitor. It also is fortified with potassium, zinc and vitamins C and E to assist with hydration and energy. Most recently, the beverage became organic certified.

New Cherrish from the same-named Bellevue, Wash.-based company is 100% premium U.S. whole cherry juice. The drink combines the health benefits of Montmorency tart cherries with the sweet flavor of Bing cherries. The drink has research-backed anti-inflammatory benefits and supports muscle recovery and improved sleep. It comes in cherry original, cherry pomegranate and cherry blueberry flavors.

“We created Cherrish because we learned firsthand that Montmorency tart cherries could pack a punch when it comes to muscle recovery and overall health, but eating fresh cherries in bulk was hard to do, and the powders and tart cherry juices available on the market year-round weren’t convenient or tasty,” said Dan Haggart, founder.

O2 Natural RecoveryO2 Natural Recovery, Columbus, Ohio, offers a namesake non-carbonated, highly oxygenated beverage line that has 2.5-times the electrolytes of leading sports drinks, according to the company. The O2 beverage was created by company founder and chief executive officer Dave Colina, a CrossFit trainer, who was disappointed with other sports drinks containing artificial ingredients. At 20 calories per 16-oz can, O2 comes in two naturally caffeinated flavors — grapefruit ginger and orange mango — and two new caffeine-free flavors — blackberry currant and lemon lime. The caffeine comes from green coffee beans for gradual absorption and sustained energy.

The science behind O2 is rooted in the ability of oxygenated water to help the body, specifically the liver, process toxins and recover more quickly. Several medical studies reveal up to a 60% increase in the rate the liver can process toxins consuming oxygenated liquids, according to the company.

“We launched the caffeine-free (varieties) as a direct response to customer demand for an O2 that they could have late in the day, or for O2 drinkers looking for something to offer their kids,” Mr. Colina said.

And let’s not forget plant waters for hydration. Coconut water is best known for being rich in electrolytes, which allows for quick and efficient hydration.

Maple water also is gaining traction. Typically sourced from Canada and the Northeastern U.S., maple water comes directly from the trees, which filter, sweeten and fortify the water with nutrients.

One example is DRINKmaple from the namesake company located in Concord, Mass., and founded by two triathletes. It is low in calories, has no added sugars and is available in grapefruit and raspberry lemon flavors.

Watermelon juice is another plant-derived beverage getting the attention of sports enthusiasts.

Tsamma watermelon juice“Watermelon juice has been shown to have an anti-inflammatory effect on muscles, reduce risk of dehydration, combat indigestion and lower risk of cardiovascular disease,” said Sarah Frey, president of Frey Farms and founder of Tsamma Watermelon Juice, Keenes, Ill.

Honest Tea, Bethesda, Md., a Coca-Cola brand, is now in the sports beverage business with Organic Honest Sport. Sweetened with sugar and fruit juice, Honest Sport comes in berry, lemon and orange flavors with each 16.9-oz bottle having 100 calories.

“Honest Sport offers a delicious choice for athletes looking for a sports drink made with simple, premium organic ingredients,” said Seth Goldman, co-founder. “(It) is a great option for any athlete looking for organic mid- or post-workout hydration.”

When it comes to carbohydrates for sports nutrition, specifically sweeteners, formulators must remember carbohydrates vary in functionality and performance. In other words, not all sweeteners are created equal.

“Alternative sweeteners are re-defining the common approach of the sports nutrition industry,” said Jon Peters, president, Beneo Inc. Parsippany, N.J. “They shift the focus from carbohydrate and protein utilization towards improved blood sugar management and fat burning.”

One example is isomaltulose, a low-glycemic sweetener made from beet sugar that occurs naturally in honey. It is fully digestible. Thus, it provides full carbohydrate energy in a balanced and sustained way, eliminating the undesired “boost-and-crash effect” generally associated with other sugars, making it ideal for sports nutrition products.

“Isomaltulose provides natural energy in a balanced way with less blood glucose fluctuation and steadier insulin release, resulting in an improved metabolism,” said Mr. Peters. “This helps the body burn more fat for energy, which makes it an ideal carbohydrate in sports nutrition.”


Chicken in a beverage … it’s a thing

A national market study of U.S. consumers about trends in high-protein foods and beverages was conducted in December 2017 by Cypress Research, Kansas City. The online study surveyed 1,000 young, middle- and older-age adults who self-identified as “fitness enthusiasts,” “healthy/active” or “not particularly active” in order to gauge differing levels of interest in high-protein products related to various demographic and lifestyle characteristics.

Chicken protein shakeThe study showed consumers consider high protein (52%) the most important of 17 product label health claims followed by lower fat (43%), lower calorie (40%) and high fiber (40%).

“Statistically, a high-protein product health claim is significantly more important to fitness enthusiasts (64%) and healthy/actives (57%) than those that are not particularly active (41%),” said Marjorie Hellmer, president and co-founder of the research firm. “High protein is also more important than other product health claims to middle- (56%) and older-age adults (53%) than younger counterparts (46%).”

The survey explored traditional sources of protein, as well as newer, emerging options, including a growing range of plant proteins and chicken-based protein.

“The study showed that chicken-based protein appealed to 81% of consumers as a high-protein source compared to 75% appeal for dairy-based proteins and 64% for plant-based proteins,” Ms. Hellmer said. “Nearly 70% of consumers are interested or very interested in buying foods fortified with chicken-based protein. Although a much smaller proportion of consumers showed interest in buying beverages fortified with chicken-based protein (27%), a full 63% fitness enthusiasts expressed interested in such chicken protein-fortified beverages.”