KANSAS CITY — A partnership and a product launch point to a promising future for proteins sourced from cow’s milk. Already benefiting from a history of use in the sports nutrition category, dairy proteins may offer opportunity for clean label promotions, in addition to better known functional and health benefits.

FrieslandCampina Ingredients, based in The Netherlands, has partnered with Cayuga Milk Ingredients, Auburn, NY, to produce Refit milk proteins MPI 90 and MPC 85. The two farmer-controlled cooperatives will seek to provide a source of milk proteins from the Finger Lakes region in New York state.

“These ingredients ensure a more sustained release of protein than whey proteins do, so are ideal for recovery or endurance sports,” said Uwe Schnell, managing director North America for FrieslandCampina Ingredients. “We’re happy to now offer our American customers a local, trusted source of milk proteins, while also ensuring customers achieve stable access to high-quality, easily traceable solutions.”

The two companies pointed to research from FMCG Gurus, a market research company based in St. Albans, United Kingdom, that found 87% of sports nutrition consumers are looking for products with minimally processed ingredients.

“Consumer needs for milk protein solutions are not only growing but also diversifying,” Mr. Schnell said. “People are looking for nutritional support for a wider range of moments and needs, from a pre-exercise boost to a nighttime recovery solution, and they’re interested in an ever-broader range of applications, from powder to bar, shake to shot. We’re excited to make it easier now for our US customers to meet the evolving needs of these smart shoppers, with a fresh, local solution that lives right at home.”

GoodSport, a new sports nutrition beverage, derives many of its hydration capabilities from ingredients sourced from ultrafiltered milk. Michelle McBride, chief executive officer, founded GoodSport Nutrition, Chicago, after looking for a natural source of hydration for her son, who was active in youth sports. Andy Friedman, the founder and former CEO of SkinnyPop Popcorn, is now a founding partner in GoodSport Nutrition. Bob Murray, PhD, former director of the Gatorade Sports Science Institute, helped to develop the formulation and now is chief hydration officer for GoodSport.

Keeping ‘white tissue’ healthy

Collagen, another ingredient sourced from animals, is important to the sports nutrition category because it helps keep “white tissue” healthy, said Angie Rimel, marketing communications manager for Gelita USA, Sioux City, Iowa.

“Consider that every sport requires a degree of strength, power and speed, relying on the intact composition of the collagen matrix proteins in the white tissue,” she said. “Why is this important? Because the whole musculoskeletal system is connected and protected by a network of connective tissue, largely represented by the muscle fascia, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, bone and also the skin. Collectively known as the ‘white tissue,’ this network is formed mainly by the body’s most abundant protein: collagen.”

"People are looking for nutritional support for a wider range of moments and needs, from a pre-exercise boost to a nighttime recovery solution, and they’re interested in an ever-broader range of applications, from powder to bar, shake to shot." 
— Uwe Schnell, FrieslandCampina Ingredients

Keeping white tissue healthy is important to muscle health and performance, she added. Gelita offers Bioactive Collagen Peptides that allow for more effective training, strength and flexibility of ligaments and tendons to help athletes and active people gain and maintain indirect improvements to performance, she said.

The collagen ingredients from Gelita may help with body toning, increased muscle strength, bone stability and flexibility, joint health support, mobility support, increased health and quality of ligaments and tendons, improved skin elasticity, and immune health support, according to the company.

“Now, more than ever, active consumers are interested in clean labels and transparency,” Ms. Rimel said. “Therefore, they will be looking for natural products backed by science. Gelita’s Bioactive Collagen Peptides offer a robust body of scientific evidence. Furthermore, (they) are derived from native collagen and are food in their own right rather than an additive and thus contribute meaningfully to a clean label.” 

Botanicals break into sports nutrition category

Mushrooms, berries and other botanicals are joining more familiar proteins in the ingredient lists of sports nutrition product launches. They provide specific benefits for consumers seeking to build strength and avoid inflammation in joints as well as providing other benefits, including immune health.

Botanicals especially are used in sports nutrition products that promote immunity, use adaptogens, and address the mental aspects of health and performance, said Max Maxwell, manager of market intelligence, strategy and development for Chicago-based Glanbia Nutritionals, a business of Glanbia.

“There are niche consumers in this space that are highly committed to plant-based and botanical ingredient sources to provide functional benefits where previously synthetic ingredient efficacy had been sufficient,” he said. “These (sports nutrition) consumers are just as concerned with the source as they are the impact.”

Botanical ingredients like ashwaghanda and reishi mushroom powder may help consumers optimize mental and physical health, he said, adding ingredients like elderberry, cranberry, ginseng and turmeric are believed to to offer immune system support.

The FitNox ingredient from Glanbia Nutritionals includes botanicals.

“Botanical ingredients such as FitNox can function as ergogenic aids for consumers,” said Corbin Hohl, scientist for Glanbia Nutritionals. “Many ingredients used for the ‘pump’ effect in sports nutrition products are amino acids or dairy-based solutions, but FitNox offers clinical benefits from a blend of moringa leaf, pomegranate and black ginger extracts.”

Dan Petrillo, sales manager for Nura, Berkeley Heights, NJ, added botanicals like ashwagandha, rhodiola and turmeric offer benefits such as recovery, mood enhancement, reduced stress and anti-inflammatory.

Botanicals and whey protein combine in a new protein drink from Z Natural Foods, West Palm Beach, Fla. The company’s mocha mushroom protein is a blend of whey protein isolate, MCT oil, chocolate that is 100% cacao, a Colombian dark roast coffee and two kinds of mushrooms. Each serving contains 20 grams of protein.

“The whey protein alone provides a long list of extraordinary health benefits, but with the incredibly healthy lion’s mane and cordyceps mushrooms, no other coffee mushroom drink comes close to this powerful superfood for cellular growth, repair and antioxidant density,” said Jon Parker, director of nutrition science for Z Natural Foods.

The product will help fuel workouts and repair sore muscles, according to the company.

Recovery benefits from cherries

Cherry juice was the focus of a meta-analysis published in the March issue of the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism. Researchers from St. Mary’s University and Northumbria University in the United Kingdom found Montmorency tart cherry juice, powder or tablets had a significant positive effect on improving the recovery of muscle strength and reducing reported muscle soreness after exercise. The meta-analysis examined 14 previously published studies.

“In previous studies, we have found tart cherries to have significant benefits on recovery after strenuous exercise involving runners, cyclists and team sports players,” said Glyn Howatson, PhD, a professor in the sport, exercise and rehabilitation department at Northumbria University. “However, there are some inconsistencies in the scientific literature, and therefore we wanted to clarify the effectiveness and identify the factors most affected by tart cherry supplementation.”

Flavor takes top priority among sports nutrition consumers

While consumers seek sports nutrition for physical benefits like building muscle mass, they want consuming those bars and shakes to bring enjoyment as well.

“Taste” was the No. 1 driver of nutrition and performance product purchases among all generations in a report from Comax Flavors, Melville, NY. Among the 1,200 respondents of the ages 18 and over contacted in April 2020, 52% cited flavor as the most important attribute, and 36% cited flavor as an important attribute driving nutrition and performance products purchase intent. The preferred flavors in the study were chocolate, with 52% of respondents saying they like sports nutrition products with that flavor, and vanilla, at 51%.

“The nutrition and performance market continues to grow,” said Catherine Armstrong, vice president of corporate communications for Comax Flavors. “Activity in new protein sources such as plant-based proteins is fueling growth. We wanted to see how the market is changing and better understand consumers’ habits and usage among the general population.”

Ingredient suppliers are taking flavor into account when addressing the sports nutrition category.

T. Hasegawa USA, Inc., Cerritos, Calif., the US subsidiary of T. Hasegawa Co., Ltd., this year introduced Boostract, a flavor modifier, to the North American market. In the sports nutrition and coffee/tea categories, the ingredient has been shown to mask bitter flavors and amplify the mouthfeel inherent in the beverage products. The Boostract flavor modifier also has been shown to boost the sweet characteristics of fruit notes, such as making citrus taste fresher or highlighting the distinct flavor notes of an exotic tropical fruit in beverages.

Boostract enhances the effect of kokumi, which translates to “rich taste” in Japanese.

“The moment a food is harvested or produced, it typically begins declining in taste, so an extra flavor boost is required to better define a delicate flavor note,” said Jim Yang, vice president of research and development for T. Hasegawa USA. “Often the nuances of flavor complexity are lost during large scale production, so Boostract enables us to deliver a better flavor and taste experience for our customers and ensure consistency in their products.”

The Comax Flavors report addressed plant proteins like peas in sports nutrition products as 32% of respondents said they look for “plant protein” as an “active ingredient” in protein powder. The percentages were 25% for protein bars and 22% for ready-to-drink products.

Off-flavors potentially may be an issue with plant proteins, but pea protein ingredients from Nura have a neutral taste, said Dan Petrillo, sales manager for the Berkeley, NJ-based company.

“Pea protein is highly digestible and provides the nine essential amino acids, which serve as the building blocks of protein that is used for maintaining healthy skin, bones and muscles,” he said. “Pea protein also provides iron, which plays a role in the utilization of energy as well as muscle function.”

Pura offers a monk fruit/erythritol blend for use in reduced-sugar applications, including sports nutrition products, to keep in a product’s sweet taste.

Beneo GmbH, Mannheim, Germany, recommends Palatinose (isomaltulose), a functional carbohydrate, for managing glycemic index in sports nutrition drinks, bars and other food items. The sweetener is digested slowly, which leads to a slow and steady blood glucose response. Palatinose may reduce sucrose levels in applications and is about 50% as sweet as sucrose.