Sports Supplement Ingredient Trends

Published on: 
Nutritional Outlook, Volume 19, Issue 4

New interest areas, from grass-fed whey to plant-based caffeine


The dietary supplement industry is no stranger to changing consumer interests. With each passing year, shoppers obtain new information that alters their purchasing habits. All of this makes delivering successful dietary supplement products a bit challenging.

Within the sports-nutrition category, companies must make sure to answer to general trends, but they must also compete for customers seeking bold results-all the while ensuring the safety of their ingredients. The following is a brief look at the changing sports-supplement landscape. Some ingredients are just now capturing consumer intrigue, and others might present new opportunities for improving athletic performance and/or reducing time to recovery after exercise. Fortunately, these ingredients are all backed by growing collections of positive and peer-reviewed science.


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Grass-Fed Whey

Whey protein products continue to sell strong, but they are also diversifying. A number of manufacturers are now sourcing (and promoting) whey protein from grass-fed cows.

While the industrial convention of grain-fed cows saves money and may even have a lower environmental footprint, allowing cows to pasture can earn the favor of socially conscious consumers and anyone complying with grain-averting paleo or Bulletproof diets. And in a time when plant proteins are on the rise, making animal protein seem just a little bit greener should help retain customers.

The “grass-fed” trend is already evident in a number of different products, including proteinpowders and sports bars and cookies.


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Plant-Based Caffeine

Plants like green tea, coffee, and yerba maté (pictured) are poised for growth in today’s increasingly clean-label marketplace. In the sports category, they’re suitable alternatives to anhydrous caffeine (which doesn’t sound so appealing, does it?).

As standalone products or additives to larger formulas, caffeine may help amateur and seasoned athletes improve performance outcomes. In the last half year alone, studies on caffeine supplementation suggested better performance with caffeine over placebo for Division I collegiate athletes, Brazilian Jiu-jitsu athletes, and handball professionals. A review of studies on coffee supplementation found benefits over placebo for endurance cycling and running.

For the manufacturer seeking a more exotic caffeine source, guayusa (Ilex guayusa) is relatively new to market. If a long history of use in South America isn’t enough to ensure you of its safety, scientific studies on guayusa toxicology are now being published.

(Also read Guayusa Is More Than Caffeine  and  Energy Drink Makers Turn to Natural Botanical Ingredients)


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Although it’s less familiar to the average consumer, L-carnitine is gaining popularity in the sports market. Because this amino acid helps transport fatty acids for energy, L-carnitine is increasingly used in pre-workout formulas. The benefits of L-carnitine, however, are more for workout recovery, as published studies suggest potential anti-inflammatory and muscle-protective benefits with L-carnitine supplementation in both men and women.

At the end of last year, gave its “New Product of the Year” award to a pre-workout supplement containing L-carnitine touting benefits such as boosted energy, focus, and fat loss. But manufacturers aren’t the only parties interested in this ingredient. In January, the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention (USP) said it plans to include a functional ingredient monograph for L-carnitine tartrate in its upcoming Food Chemicals Codex, First Supplement to the Tenth Edition. The organization is especially interested in figuring out how to limit contamination of such products with D-carnitine, an ingredient that antagonizes L-carnitine.

Manufacturers interested in L-carnitine for their product portfolios have a variety of options. Beyond dietary supplements, the GRAS-approved ingredient can be used in fruit juices, fruit-flavored drinks, carbonated soft drinks, food bars, and meal replacement products.


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Without a doubt, branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) represent one of today’s most popular sports supplement ingredients. A significant amount of published research suggests that BCAAs can support muscle recovery and the immune system after exercise.

Since the market is already saturated with BCAA products, manufacturers with vested interest in this ingredient would be wise to have a strong understanding of the BCAA market and nuances. Fortunately, a BCAA market report compiled by the United States BCAA Industry is now available for purchase. The 137-page report is replete with market analysis, product application basics, supply chain figures, regional market breakdowns, ingredient manufacturer profiles, and upcoming trends.


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Also read:

Six Trends Driving the Sports Drinks Market

Is Egg Protein Poised for a Sports-Nutrition Comeback?

Protein Isn’t the Only Game in Town for Sports Nutrition