High-Performance Sports Nutrition Ingredients

Nutritional OutlookNutritional Outlook Vol. 17 No. 7
Volume 17
Issue 7

Ingredients to help you maximize output

There was a time not too long ago when sports nutrition ingredients and supplements were targeted specifically to bodybuilders and high-level endurance athletes. But ask any ingredient supplier active in this market today, and it soon becomes very clear that the category’s consumer base is as diverse as ever. In fact, according to data from Euromonitor, bodybuilders and extreme athletes make up just 5% of total sales in this sector. The reason is simple: as more and more Americans prioritize a healthy lifestyle that includes exercise, many of them are turning to supplements to boost their energy, enhance their workout, and aid in recovery.

Euromonitor data show that in 2008–2013, the sports nutrition market grew 8% annually to $8.8 billion. The market researcher predicts 10% market growth in 2014. “This growth is best explained by expanding beyond the hardcore athlete, who made up the market for years,” says Mathieu Dondain, director of marketing and communication at Nexira (Somerville, NJ), echoing Euromonitor findings that indicate a shift towards what the firm calls “casual users” like amateur athletes and “health and image users” drawn in by the category’s implicit link with health and wellness. And with a diversified audience comes a product and ingredient landscape to match, as consumers look “to achieve different results from their sports nutrition needs,” says Dondain.

The protein aisle is feeling a large proportion of the category’s growing pains now that suppliers offer an expanded, customizable view of what constitutes a sports supplement. According to Michael Crabtree, sales manager for sports nutrition and supplements for Bioenergy Life Science (Ham Lake, MN), “standalone ingredient systems are seen with increasing rarity, and protein supplements are the archetypal isolated agent.” Instead, condition-specific or otherwise multi-ingredient offerings demanded by the general public are eclipsing single-ingredient platforms, which are used only by extreme athletes looking for optimum customizability.

Despite their differences, what amateurs and expert athletes have in common is an eye toward energy-keeping it high and steady during exercise, and replenishing it effectively afterward.


Avoiding the Mid-Exercise Crash

For many athletes, avoiding a mid-exercise energy crash is paramount. The common target? Rapidly depleting glucose.

SelectSIEVE Apple PCQ from Nutraceuticals International Group (Bloomingdale, NJ) was the recent subject of a survey appearing in Nutrafoods1, which confirmed the ingredient’s potential to regulate glucose metabolism and therefore provide athletes with a steadier stream of energy during exercise. Specifically, the ingredient was found to improve antioxidant enzyme modulation by up to 31.65%, compared to control. “SelectSIEVE Apple PCQ is an active ingredient based on balanced and highly standardized glycosylated polyphenols from apple,” explains Nichole De Block, the company’s marketing director. “These components are reported to reduce glucose absorption and slow the release of glucose in the blood stream.” When taken right before working out, the ingredient can help maintain a constant glycaemia during exercise, reducing the sensation of fatigue and breathlessness. SelectSIEVE achieves this by reducing glucose absorption through a competitive bond of phloridzin to the SGLT1/GLUT, responsible for glucose translocation into the intestinal cells.

Carnipure, an L-carnitine ingredient from Lonza Inc. (Allendale, NJ), has a track record of enhancing recovery through diminishing muscle soreness by increasing blood flow, but new research shows exciting applications in glucose regulation. “A study published in 2011 by the Greenhaff research group at the University of Nottingham2 found that L-carnitine content can be increased when taken in conjunction with an insulin-stimulating substance, such as a carbohydrate,” explains Kevin Owen, PhD, Nafta head of technical marketing and scientific affairs. Researchers found that not only did muscle L-carnitine increase after Carnipure supplementation, but also that the supplement positively impacted substrate utilization during low-intensity exercise. “Practically speaking, such glucose sparing during low-intensity exercises could potentially improve performance by prolonging the use of glycogen as fuel,” Owen says.

Kyowa Hakko USA (New York, NY) is also tapping into consumers’ desires to optimize energy mid-workout with Sustamine, a dipeptide ingredient combining the amino acids L-alanine and L-glutamine. A 2012 study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition3 supplemented athletes during rehydration breaks in a 40-minute competitive basketball game with two concentrations of the ingredient: 1 g/500 ml and 2 g/500 ml. The group taking the lower dose increased their shooting performance and visual reaction time; the group administered the higher dose had less fatigue. Researchers think the ingredient may have contributed to a more efficient fluid and electrolyte uptake than water alone can provide-especially at a low pH, which is common during exercise-therefore minimizing the negative effects dehydration may have had on the athletes.


Recovering after Training

“People are realizing the importance of recovery following an intense training session and are interested in products that can provide them with an advantage in this area,” explains Shawn Baier, chief operating officer of Metabolic Technologies Inc. (Ames, IA). And, he says, with competitive training programs like Crossfit popping up in towns and cities nationwide, consumers who never entered the sports supplement arena are finding themselves perusing the aisles looking for what might give them a competitive edge in their next workout-which might be as soon as the very next morning.

The company’s HMB, a metabolite of the essential amino acid leucine, and BetaTOR, a pure, free-acid form of HMB (HMB-FA), are both designed to aid in recovery while also increasing strength and improving endurance. “The calcium salt form of HMB (caHMB) aids in increasing muscle protein by decreasing protein breakdown and increasing protein synthesis,” Baier explains. BetaTOR is more rapidly absorbed to produce higher peak levels in the blood as well as improved retention by tissues. A 2014 placebo-controlled study appearing in the European Journal of Applied Physiology4 found that highly trained men supplemented with acid-free HMB for 12 weeks minimized or eliminated losses in strength and power during a two-week overt-training session, demonstrating improved recovery after particularly intense training. This echoed the findings of a 2013 study in the British Journal of Nutrition5 demonstrating that HMB free-acid taken before a muscle-damaging, resistance-training session decreased muscle damage and improved perceived readiness to train in the next session. Both studies confirmed athletes were able to recover quicker and train harder-and sooner-with HMB free-acid supplementation.

Peak ATP is a patented form of adenosine 5’-triphosphate (ATP) disodium, a pre-workout ingredient intended to be taken at 400 g, 30 to 60 minutes prior to exercise. According to its supplier, TSI USA Inc. (Missoula, MT), Peak ATP is capable of increasing total strength and lean body mass, reducing muscle fatigue, and increasing muscle thickness by increasing muscle excitability (resulting in more power) and blood flow (improving oxygen and nutrient flow to the muscles). But it’s with post-exercise recovery where the newest research, appearing in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition6, shows promise.

Researchers fed rats a human-equivalent dose of either 100, 400, 1,000, or 1,600 mg of Peak ATP, and monitored blood flow continuously. Researchers also supplemented college-aged human subjects with 400 mg ATP for 12 weeks. Rats fed the 1,000- and 1,600-mg doses exhibited the most robust increases in blood flow during exercise and into the recovery period, while humans at weeks 1, 8, and 12 showed significant increases in blood flow post-exercise. Researchers determined that the ingredient’s efficacy in increasing post-exercise blood flow makes it particularly effective during exercise recovery; however, the exact mechanism whereby ATP increases blood flow during recovery warrants additional research.

In light of these findings, TSI and Metabolic Technologies teamed up to create BetaATP, a combination of BetaTOR and Peak ATP. “What these two supplements do when combined is enhance your ability to train hard and recover faster, so you can do it again,” noted lead study author and sports nutrition researcher Jacob M. Wilson, PhD, in a press statement. His study, appearing in the European Journal of Applied Physiology7, showed the ingredient (at 3 g HMB-FA and 400 mg ATP) could have significant implications for elite athletes engaging in high-level conditioning because it delivers a one-two punch of ATP for fatigue and HMB-FA for speeding muscle regeneration after a prolonged workout. The double-blind study found that athletes, when supplemented with the ingredient for 12 weeks, had lean body mass increases of 12.7%, post-training strength gains of 23.5%, and an increase in vertical jump and Wingate power numbers of 21.5% and 23.7%, respectively.

Another important component in the post-workout recovery arena is a body’s nitric oxide levels, which, when healthy, promote the relaxation of smooth muscle in blood vessels, increasing blood flow as well as nutrient and oxygen delivery and therefore improving recovery and overall muscle health. Nutrition 21 (Purchase, NY) recently presented encouraging findings in this area with regards to Nitrosigine, its inositol-stabilized arginine silicate. The study, scheduled for publication in an upcoming issue of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology Journal, demonstrated significant increase in plasma arginine and serum silicon levels after just a single dose of Nitrosigine. After 14 days, nitric oxide levels-measured as salivary nitrates-were also significantly elevated due to the fact that arginine is a known metabolic donor of nitric oxide.


A Caffeinated Problem

“There are very few ingredients currently gaining traction that do not purport to benefit the athlete in terms of performance enhancement or post-exercise recovery,” says Crabtree. “Everything is implicitly energy-based.” And while caffeine, ribose, and glucose are known sources of energy, Bioenergy Life Science researchers recently put these ingredients to the test using a fatigue model. In other words, they supplemented their subjects as people do in real life: when they’re actually tired.

For this study in particular8, the company’s scientists used a mice fatigue model-they had the mice swim to a point of exhaustion for three days to achieve confirmed low energy. On the fourth day, they were fed their normal diet plus one of four treatments: either glucose, caffeine, ribose, or a 50/50 split of ribose and caffeine. Swimming time improved by 150% when the combination ingredient was used (as opposed to ribose alone improving time by 135%, and caffeine alone causing time to actually drop). Researchers speculate that without the ribose to provide energy, caffeine’s stimulating effects can cause the heart to beat shallowly and quickly, actually exhausting it. On deck are human clinical studies to confirm these findings, which wrapped in November 2013.

Indeed, caffeine is no stranger to negative headlines. Scientists and health organizations alike have recently discouraged the use of caffeine energy drinks on the grounds that they can lead to rapid heart rate, palpitations, a rise in blood pressure, or-in extreme cases-seizure or even death. Consumers are hearing these concerns loud and clear, and consequently, so are manufacturers and ingredient suppliers who have to “continue to innovate and develop products that answer consumers’ needs while considering health concerns and regulatory issues,” explains Dondain. He speculates that natural and caffeine-free products may represent a big part of the market in the coming years, as a result.

His company’s ingredient, ViNitrox, is composed of a proprietary combination of apple and grape botanical extracts and developed to answer the demands of the healthy athlete looking for an all-natural, caffeine-free label. ViNitrox helps to “ignite muscle performance and break through the fatigue barrier with enhanced and lasting performance,” says Dondain. A recent study9 enlisted 48 male volunteers practicing an average of about four hours of sports per week. Compared to placebo, ViNitrox allowed athletes to extend their endurance test by 2.5 minutes, delay a perceived maximum exertion, and extend VO2 half-recuperation time. Researchers chalk this up to grape extract’s influence on nitric oxide production, thereby increasing blood flow to recovering muscles, and apple extract’s effect on oxidative stress reduction and vasodilation.

“Now that our mainstream market wants less-processed products in their diet, more products are becoming natural and cleaner than before,” says Nutraceutical International’s De Block.


Beyond Conventional Ingredients

As the general public integrates exercise into their daily life, general-wellness ingredient suppliers are researching their products’ impact on exercise. Such is the case with PLT Health Solutions (Morristown, NJ), which markets Wellmune WGP on behalf of Biothera (Eagan, MN). Wellmune, a baker’s yeast beta 1,3/1,6 glucan, is traditionally marketed for immune-boosting formulations; however, “Immune health is of growing importance to athletes for reasons that include overall improved health and for the ability to maintain consistent, high-functioning training activities,” says Barbara Davis, PhD, RD, PLT Health Solutions’ director of medical and scientific affairs. “High-intensity exercise has been shown to temporarily weaken the immune system. This can create an ‘open window’ in the body’s defenses and lead to less-than-optimal health that may derail training programs and performance gains.”

Researchers found that after taking 250 mg/day of Wellmune for four weeks, runners completing the 2011 Texas Marathon experienced a 40% reduction in upper respiratory tract infection symptoms and a 37% reduction in the number of cold/flu symptoms, through the ingredient’s ability to activate “billions of innate immune cells to respond more effectively to foreign challenges without over-stimulating the immune system,” explains Davis.10

“From athletes in search of high-performance solutions to young adults interested in energy products, seniors who want to maintain their vitality and a good quality of life, and casual athletes who want to achieve better performance and stay in good health, this market should continue to grow,” says Dondain. “The biggest opportunity for growth stems from the fact that the audience for sports performance ingredients continues to grow.” 



  1. Borotollo V et al. “Apple biophenol synergistic complex and its potential benefits for cardiovascular health.” Nutrafoods, vol. 12, no. 3 (September 2013): 71-79.
  2. Wall BT et al. “Chronic oral ingestion of L-carnitine and carbohydrate increases muscle carnitine content and alters muscle fuel metabolism during exercise in humans.” The Journal of Physiology, vol. 589 (February 2011): 963-973.
  3. Hoffman JR et al. “L-alanyl-L-glutamine ingestion maintains performance during a competitive basketball game.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, vol. 9, no 4 (March 2012).
  4. Wilson JM et al. “The effects of 12 weeks of beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate free acid supplementation on muscle mass, strength, and power in resistance-trained individuals: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study.” European Journal of Applied Physiology, vol. 114, no. 6 (June 2014): 1217-1227.
  5. Wilson JM et al. “Beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate free acid reduces markers of exercise-induced muscle damage and improves recovery in resistance-trained men.” British Journal of Nutrition, vol. 110, no. 3 (August 2013): 538-544.
  6. Jager R et al. “Oral adenosine-5’-triphosphate (ATP) administration increases blood flow following exercise in animals and humans.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, vol. 11, no. 28 (June 2014).
  7. Lowery Ryan et al. “Interaction of beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate free acid (HMB-FA) and adenosine triphosphate (ATP) on muscle mass, strength, and power in resistance trained individuals.” Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. Published online ahead of print April 7, 2014.
  8. Zhang S et al. “Treating exercise-induced fatigue with a combination of D-ribose and caffeine, a new approach for caffeine reduction and sustained energy for better performance.” Conducted by Bioenergy Life Sciences with Beijing University of Chinese Medicine. November 2013.
  9. Nexira Laboratories, European Centre for Nutritional Studies. Approved January 2012.
  10. McFarlin BK et al. “Baker’s yeast beta glucan supplementation increase salivary IgA and decreases cold/flu symptomatic days after intense exercise.”Journal of Dietary Supplements, vol. 10, no. 3 (September 2013): 171-183.



Photo © iStockphoto.com/ChristopherFutcher

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