As customers rededicate themselves to sports and active nutrition, supplement companies are looking beyond challenges at long-term opportunities.
Of all the challenges the sports nutrition market is facing in 2022, perhaps one of the most daunting would be to start your own company during the roller coaster ride of an on-again, off-again, on-again pandemic.
But longtime expert in the field, Robert Wildman, PhD, RD, CISSN, chair, Sports Nutrition Committee, American Herbal Products Association (AHPA; Silver Spring, MD), is trusting his gut—and the consumer. With more than 15 years in the industry, most recently with Dymatize, Wildman is also the author of four books on nutrition (including one specifically on sports and fitness nutrition) and the creator of a website where consumers can seek nutrition advice.1
With the launch of TYM Athletic Performance earlier this year, Wildman can add company founder to his list of credentials. With four finished products for sports nutrition available, Wildman sees his company as “part of a greater lifestyle performance for athletes and people who exercise seriously for better fitness and appearance.” His longtime expertise and relationships in the market enabled him to partner with companies focused on training—including American Barbell, NFL Alumni Academy, XPE Sports—for, as he puts it, “a more comprehensive offering for training, coaching, equipment, and nutrition.”
When asked if he has concerns about introducing a new sports nutrition company in this category at this time, he answers “Yes and Know.” Wildman explains that he understood the constraints on the supply side. But he also “knew the consumer wasn’t going anywhere.”
And if the category sales statistics are to be believed, he’s right. The consumer wasn’t—and isn’t—going anywhere.
There are a number of reports that point to estimated growth for the sports nutrition market, which has blossomed into a broader-reaching category known as active nutrition. For instance, ResearchAndMarkets estimated the global sports nutrition and supplements market at a value of $47.5 billion in 2021, with expectations that the market will achieve a CAGR of 7.9% from 2022-2027, reaching $74.2 billion by 2027.2 Grand View Research, meanwhile, reported that the global sports nutrition market size valued at $40.0 billion in 2021 and is expected to expand at a CAGR of 8.5% from 2022 to 20303, while Mordor Intelligence projected a CAGR of 12.5% during the forecast period 2022-20274.
Rocky Roads Ahead, or Will the Future Be Sweet?
But even with strong projections, there are still issues that the pandemic highlighted for this category—and immediate, and potentially long-term, challenges that need to be addressed.
The most often mentioned of these challenges is the supply chain and what potential shortages will mean for the industry’s resilience and for consumers’ trust and wallets.
John Travis, principal technical manager, Certified for Sport, NSF International (Ann Arbor, MI), explains that “One of the biggest challenges the industry will face in 2022 is addressing the risk of the supply chain potentially limiting the availability of ingredients.”
To put it more bluntly, one company’s challenge is another company’s opportunity. Travis advises that supply chain issues could open the door for unscrupulous suppliers to sell sub-standard ingredients to unaware brands or manufacturers. “Those ingredients,” he says, “could be adulterated with cheap, innocuous substances or even substances that present doping risk or a risk to human health.” This highlights the need for thorough scrutiny when qualifying new suppliers and appropriate evaluation of incoming ingredients as a way to drastically reduce, if not eliminate, adulteration issues, he adds.
Mark LeDoux, chairman and CEO, Natural Alternatives International Inc. (Carlsbad, CA), says that “Working with primary suppliers and reputable producers of finished products has never been more necessary. The opportunity for product adulteration resulting in economic advantages to unscrupulous suppliers has never been higher, and producers and marketers of finished products need to redouble their quality-control assessments.”
LeDoux, who also serves as the chairman, board of directors, Natural Products Association (Washington, DC), urges companies to remain vigilant in testing both raw materials and finished products to avoid falling victim to product adulteration. He advises that partnering with legitimate companies that have done the science, follow the regulations (including for new dietary ingredients), and “have capacity along with a demonstrated track record to deliver when the finished products were promised” are important components for the health of the industry.
Supply chain issues may also potentially lead to price increases—and decreases in consumer trust.
Says Wildman, “The biggest challenges remain in [the] supply side of the business, and this is going to keep prices higher for consumers, at least for 2022.”
Larry Kolb, president of TSI Group Ltd. (Missoula, MT), agrees that pricing will continue to be an important factor—one which could result in additional challenges. “As many companies are striving to reduce costs while still providing quality products, [this] could also lead to the reduction of some functional benefits for some product formulations,” he says.
And Kolb addresses the potential concerns supply chain issues may have on quality and transparency. “Companies that are already vertically integrated could have an advantage here, as increasingly customers are looking for products that show origins that encourage trust.” He adds, “Products where the ingredients are sourced, formulated, and manufactured within a vertically integrated company help to provide trust and transparency, as well as cut down on some costs.”
Dan Force, vice president, marketing and innovation, Prinova USA (Carol Stream, IL), sums it up this way: “We’re perhaps in for a little bit of whiplash at some point in 2022. Everyone has aggressively been trying to push through supply chain challenges amongst growing demand. As lead times start to contract towards normal levels, stock levels are bound to rise. This could create a lull in ingredient demand mid-2022 that I believe will be isolated to the B2B side of the business, with consumer sales remaining strong.”
Marketing Challenges Create Opportunity
But supply chain and price issues aren’t the only challenges for this category. There’s talk about how the industry has morphed from a clientele of body builders and elite athletes to those who just want to enjoy a good morning jog or a yoga class but who can still be supported by products that, as Annie Eng, CEO, HP Ingredients (Bradenton, FL), puts it, will satisfy their need to meet their own endurance and strength gains as well as recovery benefits.
Kolb, too, recognizes that the category evolution with its broadened demographics has changed the market completely. “It has not only changed who is buying these products and how the consumers would like to be addressed, it also changed the kind of ingredients that are being used,” he says.
The continued expansion in the category from body builders and elite athletes to sports and active nutrition certainly allows for marketing to a broader range of customers. The challenge is in how to reach and envelope those consumers into a now-larger playing field.
“A challenge that is an opportunity is to create products that resonate with active consumers who work out at home, outdoors, or at gyms/fitness centers,” says Eng. “The landscape of how we are working out is impacted dramatically by the pandemic.”
Eng views what she calls “this fluctuating, flexible fitness landscape” as one challenge that involves “formulating and marketing in a way that speaks to the more active-nutrition mindset” rather than only sports and athletic performance.
She explains the difference in psychographics, if not demographics, with these examples: “A middle-aged woman who is a competitive athlete will have different needs and goals than a middle-aged woman who enjoys being fit and healthy. Amateur male cyclists will have different needs and goals than their age counterparts who are more into defining their physique.”
And although fitness centers and gyms may be currently struggling, Eng does not believe a broadened approach of focusing on consumers with different needs, nor an emphasis on at-home fitness, will drive fitness centers and gyms out of business.
Quite the opposite. She is suggesting there is room for the market to grow with the right marketing strategies.
Kolb speaks to another audience consideration that presents a challenge: where consumers are purchasing their products. “Brick-and-mortar versus online sales is not a new challenge,” he says, “but continues to be an important part of the decision-making process for most companies. Getting in front of the right audience and having a strong differentiation strategy is now more important than ever.”
Innovate, Imaginate, Perspirate
Elyse Lovett, MBA, vice president, marketing, Nutrition21 (Harrison, NY), says that “One of the biggest challenges we see with sports nutrition products is formulation flexibility. Sports nutrition today, more than any other category, caters to a broad range of consumers that have varying product preferences, from supplements to foods to beverages. The ultimate win for any ingredient is the ability to flex its muscle in a variety of applications while still meeting consumer demands for vegan, non-GMO, and clean label.”
But there’s one more challenge—this one a lofty one—raised by Steve Fink, vice president, marketing, PLT Health Solutions (Morristown, NJ), for this category, if not the whole industry. He says that “probably the biggest challenge is continuing innovation and the commercialization of truly groundbreaking ideas. They both take imagination and a lot of perspiration.”
Fink, a former law firm intellectual property attorney before becoming an executive in the dietary supplement industry—or, as he characterizes it, “before he saw the light”—believes that “One of the things that has made this industry so great was that up-and-coming brands with great ideas could emerge out of nowhere and take the industry by storm. If they were clever and resourceful, these brands could become giants in the industry. A lot of the biggest brands today were little up-and-comers yesterday. The pandemic has made it harder on the innovative, emerging companies. Without the ability to meet in person, these smaller companies might not have the resources to get their message out there. Little emerging brands that can bring evolution and revolution have a harder time.”
His solution? Create a big tent. Fink claims that, at PLT, “We love working with the industry leaders—but we also love working with startups and emerging brands.” And, he says, PLT has the internal resources to function as an innovation partner with established companies and the go-to-market capabilities and know-how to collaborate with emerging companies.
Science for Addressing Challenges
If there’s one thing that can go a long way in helping overcome the challenges of consumer trust in ingredients and finished products, it’s science.
In fact, a new report from ADM (Chicago) reporting on nutritional supplements found this: “When considering nutritional supplements, 59% of global consumers want to see scientific evidence supporting supplement efficacy.”5
Here are some of the recent studies that suppliers have shared.
“Last year was a very productive research year for Nutrition21,” says Lovett. Among the published studies in 2021 were three on its sports nutrition ingredients. “This research helped us add another layer of substantiation, which strengthened our communications and product development opportunities, particularly for gamers and active nutrition consumers, both of which are looking for impactful muscle, energy, performance, recovery, and cognitive health benefits,” she says.
The new research on the cognitive benefits of nooLVL, a patented complex of bonded arginine silicate with an additional optimized dose of inositol, demonstrated that nooLVL significantly increases cognitive performance in gamers after a single dose and within 15 minutes, according to a company press release.6 The research was conducted at Texas A&M University and published in Nutrients. The double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled crossover trial was conducted in 26 male and female experienced gamers who were randomly assigned to consume 1,600 mg of nooLVL or 1,600 mg of a placebo (PLA).7
The new study on Nitrosigine, Nutrition21’s patented complex of bonded arginine silicate, published in Nutrients, showed results that support its ability to enhance memory and cognitive function in healthy adults, according to a company press release.8,9
The double-blind, crossover, placebo-controlled study observed 16 participants, ages 18-28 years old, during two separate trials, each of which were approximately three hours in length. The results of the trials showed that immediate memory performance in the ingredient group significantly improved compared to the placebo group between trials.8,9
During the study, the introduction of Nitrosigine also maintained delayed memory scores in comparison to the placebo group (for which delayed memory scores decreased); significantly increased the total RBANS scores, showing an 11% increase; and showed a 27% increase in memory scores.8,9
The third published study last year from Nutrition21 was published in the Journal of Exercise and Nutrition and, according to a company news release, demonstrated the benefits of Velositol, a patented amylopectin-chromium complex, when combined with 15 g of protein for those who engaged in resistance training.10,11
The double-blind, active-controlled study included 35 recreationally active men who were randomized to one of three groups: 1) 2 g of Velositol plus 15 g of whey protein isolate, 2) 15 g of whey protein isolate alone, or 3) 30 g of whey protein isolate alone. The study concluded that the addition of Velositol to a 15-g dose of whey protein increased total squat reps, vertical jump power, and vertical jump height to a greater extent than when 15 and 30 g of whey protein were consumed alone.10,11
In February of this year, Gencor (Irvine, CA) issued results from a study published in The Journal of Dietary Supplements that supported “the safety and efficacy of supplementation with Tesnor in boosting testosterone levels in healthy young males.”12 Tesnor is Gencor’s proprietary blend of two herbal extracts, cocoa bean (Theobroma cacao) and pomegranate peel (Punica granatum).12,13
The randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study divided the 120 male participants ages 21-35 into three randomized groups over the span of 56 days: 1) placebo, 2) Tesnor (200 mg), and 3) Tesnor (400 mg). As part of the trial, subjects were directed to engage in 40 minutes of aerobic exercise four days per week, maintain their regular diet, and refrain from consuming any nutritional supplements or energy drinks with ergogenic benefits.12,13
Results showed that the high-dose group saw significant increases in total testosterone and luteinizing hormone, compared to baseline. Post-trial, this same group demonstrated significant improvements in hand grip strength and mid-upper-arm circumference.12
PLT is expected to soon announce results of a 2021 unpublished clinical trial on its proprietary ingredient Slendacor Weight Management Complex. Following a previous published clinical trial14 on the ingredient, which launched in 2017, the combination of clinical work on Slendacor will allow for claims and messaging related to non-stimulant calorie burning that make the ingredient “ideal for sports/active nutrition formulations,” Fink says.
He advises that the new study measured resting metabolic rate in 60 healthy, but overweight, women and men who were supplemented with a single, daily 900-mg dose for seven days of the ingredient or a placebo. The study also measured heart rate, blood pressure, and mood. According to Fink, Resting Energy Expenditure (REE) and calorie burning increased significantly from baseline on day 1 and on day 7; the ingredient group showed an increase in REE of up to 15.2% compared to placebo. Fink reports that the ingredient group did not experience heart rate or blood pressure increases during the study, indicating that the ingredient did not show stimulant activity.
In 2021, TSI Group shared results of an unpublished, randomized, placebo-controlled, dose-ranging crossover study on Peak ATP, its patented form of adenosine 5’-triphosphate (ATP) disodium. Conducted by researchers at Brazil’s Federal University of Piaui, the study included 20 recreationally trained men in their late 20s. The benefits of 100 mg, 200 mg, and 400 mg of orally administered Peak ATP as a premix powder were evaluated.15
Results showed that a single 400-mg dose of Peak ATP improved lower-body resistance training performance and energy expenditure, increasing the number of set 1 repetitions by 13%, numerical increases in total repetitions by 7%, and total weight lifted by 6%. A dose of 200 mg numerically increased set 1 repetitions by 6%. The 100-mg ATP group saw no improvements over placebo. However, subjects taking 100 mg and 400 mg of ATP saw the lowest perceived exertion, while those taking 200 mg experienced the highest perceived exertion.15
“These results confirm the immediate benefits of Peak ATP for athletes, weekend warriors, and everyday exercisers,” said Kolb in a press release. “This [ingredient] is crucial to helping everyday people exercise harder and more frequently as they pursue their long-term wellness goals,” he added.15
HP Ingredients reported on results from a trial on LJ100 tongkat ali, published in Andrologia last year, that showed the ingredient “was able to increase testosterone even in healthy young men when consumed in high doses,” says Eng. “[The results showed] significant increases in testosterone (14%) and free testosterone (34%) were recorded after two weeks,” she adds. The placebo-controlled, double-blind study had 32 healthy young men (average age 24.4) consume either 600 mg LJ100 or a placebo daily for two weeks.16
New research published last year in The Journal of Nutrition showed that 500 mg/day, for a 12-week period, of Cognizin, Kyowa Hakko’s (New York) branded form of citicoline, improved overall memory performance, especially episodic memory, in healthy older males and females with age-associated memory impairment (AAMI). The findings suggest that regular consumption of citicoline may be safe and potentially beneficial against memory loss due to aging, according to a company press release.17,18
A total of 100 healthy men and women between ages 50 and 85 were evaluated as a part of the randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Participants were randomized to receive either a 500 mg/day dosage of citicoline or a placebo, with memory functions assessed at baseline and at the end of the intervention using standardized computerized tests.17,18
Maria Stanieich, marketing manager, Kyowa Hakko, adds that “There’s considerable demand for memory-focused ingredients for all ages, encompassing the aging population and e-gamers—and as stress and mood are the top health concerns among Gen Z and millennials, Cognizin is not just a performance ingredient but a nutrient for the brain that improves cognitive decline over time.”
Game On! Trends Aplenty
A lot of energy is driving the sports nutrition market, and there are likely as many trends to watch as challenges to overcome. PLT Health Solutions’ Steve Fink says, “This is one of the most exciting times I can remember in my nearly 20 years of working in the sports/active nutrition field.”
Synergy and Functionality
For starters, TSI Group’s Larry Kolb goes right to the sweet spot for the supplement industry: immune health. He notes that the strong link between muscle health and the immune system “will provide further growth for this category.”
For TSI’s own branded ingredients—myHMB, PeakATP, and Hobamine—says Kolb, the company is focused on “researching effective synergistic combinations of our ingredients.” For instance, he reports that “co-administering myHMB and vitamin D resulted in clinically validated greater increases in strength.”
For PLT’s Fink, it’s the trend “toward more complex, multi-benefit sports/active formulations that is bringing benefit packages to products that are better targeted to use occasion and consumer wants.” Specifically, he’s pumped about benefits like cognitive and focus support, joint and muscle recovery, weight management, and original approaches to energy profiles being built into formulations for the category.
According to Fink, some of these are new trends that didn’t exist five years ago. PLT is relying on the category’s expansion to active-lifestyle consumers to further popularize its branded ingredients, such as Dynagenix Muscle & Joint Formula and RipFactor Muscle Accelerator, both launched in 2020.
In development discussions that PLT is having with sport- and active-product companies, Fink says, “We’re seeing both reformulations and totally new concepts being developed. These discussions cover traditional types of sports products, like preworkouts, but we’re also seeing products targeting everyday active people.”
Perhaps one of the most buzzed-about trends is how adding cognitive-function ingredients will impact the category. Kolb, for one, believes that esports is a category in sports nutrition that will provide substantial growth for the overall market.
Nutrition21’s Elyse Lovett is here for it. “We believe there will always be a strong focus on the physical component of sports nutrition. We also see mental fitness starting to emerge as an attractive benefit in products, hence the launch of nootropic ingredients in the last few years. The latter has risen to prominence during the rapid growth in esports, but it will likely transcend to other professional sports where focus, reaction time, and memory are crucial for performance benefits like they are in the gamer space.”
With its nootropic ingredient, nooLVL, Nutrition21 has good reason to view this as a positive trend. According to Lovett, this branded ingredient has resonated with gamers due to its ancillary benefits for both gaming performance and cognitive health.
PLT, too, is on board with this movement. Its branded ingredient Zembrin (Sceletium tortuosum) is clinically demonstrated for supporting calm focus and alert serenity, says Fink. Whether the trend is or isn’t related to the pandemic, Fink’s not sure. But he claims that “across the industry, ingredients that promote focus, reduce stress, and improve mood are finding their way into formulations” for the sports and active nutrition category.
Maria Stanieich says Kyowa Hakko’s Cognizin is backed by clinical trial data to support mental focus, recall, and overall cognitive health, which she says are areas of innovation that consumers will seek in 2022. “As many individuals are dealing with ongoing post-pandemic stress, brain fog, and simply burnout, addressing cognitive health is a real opportunity for new product formulations,” she adds.
For SRCarnoSyn beta-alanine, the advanced delivery form of Natural Alternatives International’s signature, well-established and -researched, patented ingredient CarnoSyn, Mark LeDoux says, “We have identified several healthy aging and wellness functions that are beyond sports nutrition…[however] we are working on more applications that are suitable for the elite or specific market of sports nutrition as well.”
Transparency and Trust
As consumers’ expectations for transparency rise, says PLT’s Fink, there is a greater interest in the use of proprietary, branded ingredients in formulations. “This trend is a response to some pretty interesting shifts in consumer attitudes,” he says.
According to Fink, “Origin stories are incredibly important. Consumers want to know where the ingredient is coming from, how it’s made, what the science says, and whether it is sustainable and socially responsible.” You often can’t offer this type of information for non-branded ingredients, but branded ingredients can help build trust and overall brand loyalty, he adds.
Stanieich agrees. She says that companies that are thinking ahead in innovation will have an advantage working with branded ingredients, such as those from her company. She references 2021 survey results from two organizations, the Council for Responsible Nutrition and Ingredient Transparency Center, which, she says, “revealed supplement users prefer branded ingredients two times more than the generic ingredients.”
Sustainability and Protein
“Many of our customers are starting to tackle sustainability,” says Prinova USA’s Dan Force. In response to those requests, he advises that Prinova is leveraging ingredient technology and sourcing. For example, Force shares, “Our plant-based protein portfolio, which is suitable for sports nutrition formulations, offers options for brands looking to meet needs for healthier eating, flexitarian diets, and reduced environmental impact. We now offer a barley protein isolate that is produced from the ‘spent grain’ from beer production.” He adds that this product can be marketed to consumers as “‘upcycled’ and carries a substantially lower carbon footprint than even pea protein.”
Maggie McNamara, marketing director, Gencor, says, “The idea of sustainable nutrition is not lost on consumers today and is more important than ever.” She believes that the sports nutrition sector “is going to have to quickly embrace this megatrend, as there is just no getting around it.”
“As consumers are becoming more ethically and environmentally aware, brands need to take into account these consumers’ needs and demands when producing and delivering sports nutrition products,” states McNamara. She adds that Gencor believes that “quality begins on the farm.”
Kolb says that “protein is by far the largest individual ingredient in sports nutrition, and the rise of renewable plant proteins, which have compositional shortcomings in comparison to animal proteins, created an opportunity for TSI’s branded ingredient myHMB. Adding myHMB to soy protein, for example, has been shown to significantly increase the muscle-health benefits of this specific plant protein.”
Lovett believes 2022 will reveal some interesting protein trends. “While using high payloads of protein in sports nutrition formulations has been the standard for years, particularly in nutrition bars,” she says, “this can cause sensory issues for finished products. Fortunately, there is a way to support the power of protein in products by using ingredients that can optimize their function while using less protein. This helps formulators preserve an ideal taste and texture profile that is more appealing to a broader range of consumers.”
Robert Wildman advises that great strides have already been made to improve sensory and functional aspects in plant-derived proteins, and he expects to see more plant-based recipe alternatives to animal-derived ingredients. “Also, I think we will continue to see more innovation in synergies like protein and probiotics, as well as subfractions of proteins such as alpha-lactalbumin from whey,” he notes. TYM Athletic Performance’s finished products include ProTym, a hydrolyzed whey protein isolate powder.
HP Ingredients is bucking a trend in expecting movement back to pill popularity, based on one word: convenience. Says Annie Eng, “We think that a ‘return to’ capsules and tablets will become more prominent”—not necessarily for the dedicated sports nutrition enthusiast but rather for the new psychographic encompassing the active-lifestyle consumer.
She explains that “powders and stick packs need to be mixed and shaken up. But with pills, [you] just swallow in a second.” Eng suggests this appeals to a target market that “doesn’t isolate his or her workout goals from the rest of his or her life.” Instead, she says, it’s a 24/7 mindset, and quick convenience is prized. The company’s branded ingredient LJ100 is an excellent fit not only for powders but conveniently also for capsules and tablets, she adds.
One trend is moving in a downward direction—and in this case, that’s truly a good thing: doping.
There may have been a collective sigh of relief from the supplement industry with the closing of the 2022 Winter Olympics, because while there was a doping scandal—and it was a doozy—this time there were no dietary supplements either implicated or scapegoated (at least not when this article went to press).
For the supplement industry, the change in the conversation around doping revolves around a number of things: education, partnerships with athletes, and, to the extent possible, with organizations like USADA, WADA, and other sports-governing bodies, third-party certifiers, and companies that embraced those sports certifications. NSF is one of those companies who made a difference.
NSF’s John Travis says, “There is definitely more awareness now around anti-doping and the risks athletes face daily when using supplements. Ten years ago, an athlete found guilty of doping was often considered a victim of the system. Now, it’s widespread for such an athlete to be ostracized by their peers.”
Travis credits the industry, in part, advising that “most reputable brands are now aware of the role supplements have played in some anti-doping offenses and are more sensitive to athletes’ needs for products that won’t cause them to run afoul of any anti-doping rules.”
Gencor announced early last year that Levagen, its branded version of palmitoylethanolamide (PEA), received the Informed Ingredient certification for absence of WADA-prohibited substances from LGC, the UK’s designated National Measurement Institute for chemical and biomeasurement.19
TSI Group’s myHMB also had news on the verification front, announcing last December that its β-hydroxy β-methylbutyrate monohydrate ingredient (myHMB) is now USP-verified, making it the only USP-verified HMB ingredient on the market. “This is a significant way for TSI to differentiate the quality of myHMB from other HMB products. It’s one thing to say that the ingredient you’re producing is better than any other manufacturer’s; it’s another to have such a highly respected third party verify that what you are doing meets their strict standards,” commented Kolb in a press release.20
Despite the progress in this area, the industry needs to remain vigilant. Says Travis, “Third-party certifications such as NSF Certified for Sport meet the growing need from athletes for clean products and the desire from brands to deliver them. We benefit everyone involved by serving the trusted role of conducting certifications as an independent third party.”