From ashwagandha to probiotics, sports supplement formulators have some top-notch ingredients to choose from.
The global sports nutrition market was valued at USD $15.6 billion in 2019 and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 8.9% from 2020 to 2027.1 At the same time, the global sports medicine market is projected to reach $15.2 billion by 2027, expanding at a CAGR of 8.2%.2 The increasing demand for sports medicine, owing to the shift towards a healthy lifestyle adopted by the young population, and rising incidences of injuries among athletes and fitness enthusiasts, are some of the major factors driving the market.2 Consequently, the ingredient recommendations provided in this article will heavily skew toward recovery-related ingredients for sports supplements.
My first and foremost recommendation is ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), an adaptogenic herb that has been used in Ayurvedic medicine3 for over 3000 years. It was described by Dioscorides (78 AD) in his book Kitab-ul-Hashaish as a “Rasayana”—a rejuvenator “that promotes a youthful state of physical and mental health and expands happiness.”4
Various studies have demonstrated that ashwagandha extract is capable of increasing testosterone levels in men by about 15%-17%5,6,7—and testosterone’s importance to building and maintaining muscle is well established. Furthermore, in other research, ashwagandha extract was found to increase muscle size and strength more than exercise alone7 and helped double the reduction in body fat percentage compared to exercise alone.7 In addition, ashwagandha extract has been shown to enhance cardiorespiratory endurance (measured as VO2max) and improved self-assessed quality of life in healthy athletic adults.8 These clinically validated benefits make a powerful argument for including a quality ashwagandha extract in your sports supplement product line.
Besides, you don’t want to be left out. According to Data Bridge Market Research9, the global ashwagandha extract market is expected to reach $102.72 million by 2029, growing at CAGR of 11.4%.
Quercetin, which naturally occurs in a variety of plant-based foods and herbs, including onions, apples, berries, teas, tomatoes, broccoli, lettuce, and red wine10,11, is a particularly good recovery ingredient.
Clinical research has shown that supplementation with quercetin significantly reduced muscle weakness associated with eccentric exercise-induced severe muscle damage when compared with placebo and also increased performance, measured as isometric strength, compared to baseline.12
More impressive, though, is research on quercetin phytosome, a form believed to be better absorbed.13 A study on triathlon athletes demonstrated that quercetin phytosome significantly improved time to complete the run. In addition, post-run muscular pain, cramps, localized pain, and post-exercise recovery time were all considered better with the supplementation.
According to SpendEdge14, the global quercetin extract market is expected to reach $110.08 million by 2024, growing at CAGR of 6.53%.
Tart Cherry Extract
Another good recovery ingredient is tart cherry extract. According to the journal Current Sports Medicine Reports, tart cherry extract (TC) “has many antioxidant and anti-inflammatory polyphenol compounds. TC lessens pain and accelerates strength recovery after exercise, and decreases blood markers of inflammation/oxidative stress. These improvements occur in both strength and endurance exercise.”15
Clinical research16 has demonstrated that supplementation with tart cherry extract improved recovery of muscle strength, reduced muscle damage, enhanced exercise recovery, promoted faster recovery from workouts, and provided powerful antioxidant support against oxidative stress in subjects performing upper- and lower-body resistance training.
While specific market data on the tart cherry extract market isn’t available, ReportLinker17 reports that the global dried tart cherry market is expected to reach $313 million by 2027, growing at CAGR of 4.5%.
Beta-caryophyllene (β-caryophyllene) is a phytocannabinoid terpene derived from pepper oil. It has been shown to be particularly effective in relieving pain and inflammation. Unlike its CBD cousin, β-caryophyllene may lawfully be used in dietary supplements, and there is no regulatory challenge in doing so as there is with CBD.
Published research18 on β-caryophyllene supplementation examined its effects on delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), which relates to swelling of muscles, tenderness, rigidity, pain, disruption of muscle fiber, alteration in the kinematics of joint, acute tissue damage, and reduction in power and strength. β-caryophyllene was shown to significantly reduce pain and effectively reduce DOMS, with improved recovery and without any side effects.
Currently, market data on β-caryophyllene is not readily available
Anyone reading this article is no doubt aware of the popularity and trending of probiotics as a category in the natural products industry. While sports nutrition isn’t typically the first application that comes to mind for probiotics, it is indeed an important application.
This is true, at least, for Bacillus subtilis, a spore-forming probiotic that provides its own protection against destruction by stomach acids and that survives transit through the stomach intact.19,20 Besides the usual benefits for immunity, digestion, and gut health21,22,23, in combination with strength training Bacillus subtilis has also been shown to help optimize body composition, improve physical performance, decrease inflammation associated with exercise, and promote a leaner body and improved strength with strength training.24,25
According to Kingpin Market Research26, the global Bacillus subtilis market is expected to reach $104.8 million by 2026, growing at CAGR of 8.7%.
While there are many good ingredients I can recommend for your sports supplement line, ashwagandha extract, quercetin phytosome, tart cherry extract, beta-caryophyllene, and Bacillus subtilis are five of the very best. Include these among the trending, must-have ingredients for your sports supplement products.
Gene Bruno, MS, MHS, RH (AHG), is a certified nutritionist and registered herbalist with 42 years of dietary supplement industry experience. With a master’s degree in nutrition and a second master’s degree in herbal medicine, he has a proven track record of formulating innovative, evidence-based dietary supplements. Mr. Bruno currently serves as both the vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs at NutraScience Labs and professor of nutraceutical science at Huntington University of Health Sciences.