KANSAS CITY — Ingredients for muscle mass and post-workout recovery remain mainstays in sports nutrition, but the category is evolving and broadening. Ingredient examples are phospholipids for cognition and probiotic cultures for digestive health.

“It’s very well-known that health is increasingly perceived holistically by consumers, especially younger demographics,” said Paige Wilkinson, global marketing manager, active living for Fonterra and based in Auckland, New Zealand. “So for nutrition brands, we have moved beyond needing to just convince consumers that well-being and nutrition are important. It is now about providing tailored solutions to the right consumers.

“This is even more critical for the sports and performance consumers, who are often considered first movers in nutrition trends and the aspirational segment of the health and wellness market.”

Fonterra in 2022 conducted a project with athletes that found a liking for a powder containing whey protein isolates under the Fonterra brand NZMP (New Zealand Milk Products) and phospholipids under the Fonterra brand Nutiani. The whey protein isolates provided muscle health and strength. The phospholipids were added for focus cognition and stress management. After a month of consuming the product daily, 58% of athletes said they noticed improvement in their mindsets.

Naturally present in milk as part of the milk fat globule membrane (MFGM), phospholipids are complex lipids clinically shown to support a range of mental health benefits, including staying positive and focused under stress, said Shakti Singh, PhD, technical engagement manager, active living for Fonterra. The level of phospholipids in the human brain begins to decline as early as when consumers reach their 20s, he said. The loss may reach 20% by the age of 80.

“When athletes need to perform physically, they need to have their mind and body in harmony to drive ultimate performance,” Dr. Singh said. “With the benefits of phospholipids supporting focus and mental performance (even under stress), working in partnership with protein support of physical performance, we see this being an effective ingredient combination for athlete success.”

Supporting gut health

Biotis fermentis, which FrieslandCampina Ingredients, Amersfoort, The Netherlands, launched in April, targets gut health. Biotis fermentis combines the benefits of whey protein, prebiotic galacto-oligosaccharides (Biotis GOS) and probiotic cultures by fermenting them together, creating a formulation that supports both athletic performance and holistic health, according to the company.

FrieslandCampina Ingredients cites a 2018 study in the British Journal of Sports Nutrition. Eighty-six percent of athletes in the study suffered from gastrointestinal issues believed to be associated with stresses such as training and competition.

FrieslandCampina Ingredients surveyed 150 recreational athletes between the ages of 20 to 50. After three weeks of taking Biotis fermentis daily, 80% self-reported improved satisfaction with their physical well-being and 60% reported significantly reduced bloating compared to baseline levels.

Protein powders and shakes are potential applications for Biotis fermentis.

Dairy proteins, including whey protein, have a long history in sports nutrition products.

“Whey protein has long been considered the gold standard in sports nutrition for several reasons,” said Vicky Davies, PhD, global marketing director, performance and active nutrition for FrieslandCampina Ingredients. “Unlike other proteins, it is a complete protein, meaning that it contains all nine essential amino acids that the body cannot produce on its own.

“Whey protein also contains a high level of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) and is particularly high in leucine, which plays a critical role in muscle protein synthesis.”

Plant protein muscles in

Plant-based proteins in recent years have established a presence in the category.

“More and more athletes are making the choice to get all or most of their nutrition from plant-based sources, given scientific evidence supports that plant-based sources are just as effective in building muscle mass and promoting recovery in athletes,” said Greg Belt, global head for EverGrain by AB InBev, St. Louis.

For his scientific evidence, Mr. Belt cited an article published Nov. 22, 2016, in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics on vegetarian diets.

EverGrain’s EverPro barley rice protein, which is derived from brewer’s spent grain (BSG), shows promise in exhibiting overall health and wellness benefits such as antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and ACE-inhibiting activity, he said.

“This means that consuming EverPro protein may help athletes not only to build and repair muscle but also to experience less muscle soreness post workout, allowing them to train to ever higher heights,” Mr. Belt said.

EverPro provides up to 35 grams of protein per serving in an 11-oz format. Its functional properties work well in beverage applications in categories such as protein, hydration and energy drinks. Other potential applications include bars, ready-to-drink coffee and waffles.

“In addition to its solubility, EverPro’s protein powder has a low viscosity, which means it doesn’t have the thickness, grittiness and bitterness found in other plant-based protein powders, providing a smoother and more pleasant drinking experience for athletes,” Mr. Belt said.

EverPro’s subtle malt taste minimizes the need for maskers, bitter blockers or artificial sweeteners in applications, according to the company.

EverGrain and PIPA, a nutrition artificial intelligence (AI) company based in Davis, Calif., in March partnered to study barley through PIPA’s computational platform LEAP. The platform will assess thousands of molecules and identify polyphenol combinations that may lead to faster muscle recovery for athletes.

“The partnership aims to accelerate clinical research on the health and wellness benefits of EverPro,” Mr. Belt said. “It puts AI in service of the consumer demand for clean, single-source ingredients that offer both bioavailable and potentially bioactive peptides, and phytonutrients to support overall health and well-being.”

Plant-based peptides

Patented peptides within fava beans are found in PeptiStrong from Nuritas, Wilmington, Del.

The company points to a study from Maastricht University in The Netherlands and published Feb. 7 in The Journal of Nutrition. It involved 30 men of the ages 19 to 29 and found PeptiStrong increased muscle recovery following immobilization and did not differ from milk protein in modulating the loss of muscle size during short-term immobilization and regaining the muscle size during remobilization.

A patented precision-hydrolysate made up of a group of peptides, Pepti-Strong has been formulated into multiple product matrixes such as capsules, tablets, powders, gel shots, electrolyte drinks, cereal and protein bars. It has been combined with flavors such as chocolate, peach, cookie dough, berries and citrus.

“We are still in the early stages of working with these peptides, and there are likely other health benefits that we have not yet been able to tap into,” said Andrew Franklyn-Miller, PhD, chief medical and innovation officer for Nuritas.

A berry with benefits

Mibelle AG Biochemistry, which offers supplements for skin vitality and hair growth, entered the sports nutrition category this year. Based in Buchs, Switzerland, with a US office in Mahwah, NJ, the company introduced EnduBerry NU, which contains the haskap berry (Lonicera caerulea), a member of the honeysuckle family (Caprifolliaceae) and native to Asia and North America.

The ingredient has been shown to extend endurance performance as well as optimize heart rate, blood flow and oxygen use for endurance training. The dark purple water-soluble powder works in applications such as pre-workout formulas, electrolyte drinks and sport powder beverages.