Active nutrition’s new stars: 2023 SupplySide West Report


Suppliers discussed their latest and greatest efforts in active and performance nutrition, ranging from a new gut-muscle-axis ingredient to a landmark study in female athletes.

Photo © Lund

Photo © Lund

Active nutrition ingredients aren’t chasing the status quo. During October’s SupplySide West trade show in Las Vegas, ingredient suppliers discussed their latest and greatest efforts in active and performance nutrition, ranging from a new gut-muscle-axis ingredient to a landmark study in female athletes.

The Gut-Muscle Axis

FrieslandCampina Ingredients (Amersfoort, The Netherlands) discussed the company’s new Biotis Fermentis ingredient, which made its North American debut at this year’s SupplySide West show.

Biotis Fermentis is a microbiome-supporting ingredient combining whey protein, probiotic cultures, and FrieslandCampina’s Biotis GOS galacto-oligosaccharides prebiotic ingredient. “We ferment [those ingredients] together…and what you’re left with is a fermented whey protein with metabolites—or postbiotics is another word for those,” said Vicky Davies, director of marketing for performance, active, and medical nutrition for FrieslandCampina Ingredients, at SupplySide West.

Davies called Biotis Fermentis a “first-of-its-kind innovation in the sports nutrition market” because it targets the gut-muscle axis. By supporting the gut microbiome, Biotis Fermentis can help reduce gut discomfort in athletes and active individuals who often experience digestive issues stemming from stress caused to the body from regular, high-intensity exercise. Davies estimated that up to 86% of athletes who regularly or heavily exercise experience some level of gut discomfort. She said clinical and consumer research on Biotis Fermentis showed that the ingredient not only improved symptoms of gut discomfort but also improved energy levels and muscle health. A new clinical study on Biotis Fermentis in athletes is set to publish soon, she added.

The gut-muscle axis is a newer area of research in active nutrition. Davies explained the concept: “The gut is connected to a lot of the other systems in the body, so when you look at how the gut can digest and metabolize food well, but also then utilize protein to deliver that to the muscles, that’s showing the connection between the gut-muscle axis. The microbiome can also produce, believe it or not, small proteins, and that as well can influence muscle health, brain health, cardio health, and all different parts of the body.”

For Your Electrolyte Consideration

At SupplySide West, Bartek Ingredients (Stoney Creek, ON, Canada), the leading producer of malic and fumaric acid, introduced Refortify, its new range of electrolyte and fortification salts. Three Refortify ingredients debuted at the show: magnesium malate, mono sodium malate, and mono potassium malate. Said the company, “These ingredients address the crucial electrolyte and mineral supplement needs of consumers with products that are emerging as new solutions in this fast-growing area.”

Notably, the Refortify ingredients are suited for a wide range of product applications, including ready-to-drink beverages and gummies, making them ideal for electrolyte-containing products such as for pre- and postworkout, said Moe Emami, director of marketing and business development for Bartek Ingredients, at SupplySide West.

The Refortify line fills a gap in a market that is plentiful in mineral salts (lactates, citrates, magnesium lactate, magnesium citrate, etc.) but not so in malates, he said. “Bartek is the first company in the industry, not only being the largest producer of malic and fumaric acid but now we’re expanding the product portfolio by producing these derivatives of malic and fumaric acid that have some additional value to the industry, such as electrolytes for fortification,” he said.

Emami anticipated other ingredients being added to the Refortify line down the road. “There will be more products coming out later on under the same brand,” he said. “There are a lot of different mineral salts that you can have as part of malic and fumaric acid.”

The Refortify ingredients offer formulators a host of benefits. For instance, when sodium malate or potassium malate are added to beverages, “they will not only enhance the sodium and potassium content for electrolyte claims but also enhance the taste and flavor attributes,” Emami pointed out.

With magnesium, he said, “Some of the magnesiums that you find in the market as an ingredient to add either as a source of magnesium or just electrolytes have some off-notes that adversely impact your product flavor and taste. Magnesium malate is tasteless, number one. Number two, it’s more bioavailable than any other magnesium salt out there.”

Fenugreek Study in Female Athletes

Finally, Gencor (Austin, TX) discussed a recently published study on its proprietary fenugreek extract for women, called Libifem. The study, which was conducted in female athletes, found that Libifem supplementation resulted in improved exercise performance, including increased leg-press power, and reduction in total fat mass.

It’s part of an ongoing initiative at the company to conduct more research in female subjects, especially related to sports nutrition, said Christopher Bailey, director of scientific affairs, Gencor, at SupplySide West. “There’s a big discrepancy in sports nutrition research for women,” he said. “There’s eight times less research on those ingredients in trials exclusively done on women compared to those done on men. So this study is unique in that it was targeting sports nutrition for women.” Earlier studies on Libifem demonstrated its benefits for female menopausal and sexual health.

As more women use sports supplements, offering an ingredient that was studied in women is a huge boon, he added—and unique in the supplement-ingredients industry. He said he expects the company’s research in females to continue. “We do see applications for Libifem beyond what we’ve done studies on now,” Bailey said. “I see us doing more sports nutrition studies in the future.”

In fact, Gencor’s global innovation manager, Mariko Hill, is a professional cricket player, and stressed the importance of female research. “I think it’s actually more important in the women’s field because you almost need a story to justify why there’s a women’s product, to some degree, and it makes it more trustable and trustworthy,” she said at SupplySide West. “Because if suddenly a brand has a pink label…you almost have to go, ‘Why is it?’”

Female athletes also deal with unique challenges related to menstrual pain, PMS, and different follicular phases, all of which can impact sports performance, she added. Those subcategories are ripe opportunity areas for supplement makers.

There are also unique challenges in designing studies for women, taking into account the impact of things like different types of birth control interventions and what their effects might be, Bailey added, depending on whether the pills are estrogen-based, progesterone-based, or neither. These can change levels of testosterone, for instance, which can skew study outcomes.

“I think in doing research for sports nutrition in women, not only do we need more studies but more studies on different situations, because [how] one birth control works for one woman is not the same for another,” Bailey said. “So to understand how these ingredients work and how exercise programs work, they’re going to have to differentiate based on the birth control used. That’s something that really has to be taken into account with these studies.”

It’s another reminder that sports research isn’t necessarily one-size-fits all. Study outcomes can be more meaningful to some athletes than others, depending on their sport. If leg-press is an important part of a sport’s training, looking for a study in which subjects engaged in leg-press testing is key, whether the sport is for men or for women. “If you’re looking at a very specific type of athlete or goal, you might need to do more studies that are more specific,” Bailey said.

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