The sports nutrition market has undergone a significant shift over recent years. Once the preserve of serious athletes and bodybuilders, sports nutrition products are increasingly used by a wider group of consumers looking to support personal health and wellbeing.
In 2012, the global sports nutrition market was valued at US$20.7 billion, and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of nine percent from 2013 to 2019, to reach a predicted value of US$37.7 billion in 2019.
One of the major factors driving this future growth of the market is the exposure of sports nutrition products among a more general consumer base, not only for bodybuilders and elite athletes.
High-protein food and drinks are big business in the US, accounting for 19 percent of global new product launches with a ‘high protein’ claim in 2012. In addition to new user groups in the sports nutrition market, the market for sports nutrition is also expanding from its dominant market shareholders in the US and Europe towards developing markets, such as the Asia Pacific.
Because of their population size, countries such as India and China offer significant potential for future opportunities. Moreover, increased participation in national and international sporting events in these countries provides a good launch pad for the sports nutrition market and is further expected to escalate the demand for these products.
In particular, protein-based beverages have gained in popularity as a wider range of consumers become aware of the benefits that protein can offer with regards to muscle mass development and general nutrition.
Manufacturers have been quick to tap into the sports drinks trend, but are often presented with formulation issues when developing high-protein sports beverages.
Today’s consumers lead busy lives and are looking for drinks that deliver energy, hydration and muscle recovery. As a result, demand is growing for beverages that can provide the nutrients required to maintain an active lifestyle.
Alongside carbohydrates and fats, protein is one of the three fundamental macro-nutrients the body needs. Made of amino acids, small units essential for growth and tissue repair, protein supports the body with the energy it needs. Proteins can be found in animal sources, such as meat, fish, eggs and dairy products, but are also available in a variety of plant sources.
The World Health Organisation recommends that adult women consume approximately 48 g of protein a day, and adult men about 56 g. In reality, however, the amount of protein needed depends heavily on the age and health of a person.
Furthermore, serious athletes and bodybuilders will require more effective and targeted nutrition products to enhance lean body mass gains and post-exercise muscle recovery. Products such as ready-to-drink protein beverages offer a convenient and healthy solution to meet nutritional needs.
According to a recent study, liquid forms of protein can achieve peak blood amino acid concentrations twice as quickly after ingestion than solid protein-rich foods, enabling consumers to maximise the rate of muscle protein synthesis.
When it comes to choosing protein-enriched beverages, consumers are primarily looking for products that are easily digested and readily available to maximise the amount of protein uptake by the body.
The whey protein market, for example, continues to expand, particularly in Asia Pacific, where demand often outstrips supply. Dairy proteins, such as whey-protein concentrates (WPC) and whey-protein isolates (WPI), are some of the most common ingredients found in sports beverages, since they contain high levels of the three branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) leucine, isoleucine and valine.
It is suggested that BCAAs improve endurance and protein synthesis as they do not need to be metabolised by the liver first, enabling them to supply energy quickly during exercise.
Even though dairy proteins still dominate the ingredient lists of protein-enriched beverages, blending whey protein with a range of other proteins, such as soya, is becoming more common amongst manufacturers.
Although these other proteins have a more moderate digestion rate than whey, research has shown that they may enable the body to sustain an elevated blood amino acid level over a longer period of time when compared with protein solutions based solely on whey. This research supported an extended muscle protein synthesis period of between one and four hours during the postexercise period for the blend used in the study versus whey protein alone.
Soya proteins in particular offer distinct benefits in protein drinks as they are not only good quality proteins, having a high protein digestibility corrected amino acid score (PDCAAS) of 0.98, but they are also an excellent source of L-glutamine and Larginine, both essential amino acids.
Consumers still have high expectations when it comes to taste and flavour, even when selecting products with multiple functional benefits. However, the branched chain amino acid structure of protein molecules means it can often be difficult to create a smooth-tasting beverage.
Each protein imparts its own specific taste and has a different texture profile. Depending on the characteristics of the taste profile and the quantity of the ingredient used, this can pose distinct formulation challenges when it comes to beverages.
Whey protein, for example, can sometimes impart an unpleasant astringent mouthfeel with cheesy flavour notes, while soya proteins can give a slightly beany or bitter flavour. This can pose as a hurdle to mainstream acceptance of acidic beverages containing a high protein content.
Consumers also often experience a chalky or grainy mouthfeel when drinking high protein beverages. Achieving the right balance between nutrition, taste and mouthfeel is therefore key for the product’s commercial success.
Sourcing The Right Protein
To meet growing consumer demand for great-tasting, protein-fortified beverages, new ingredients that echo the benefits of traditional proteins but are more refined to consumer tastes have started to emerge on the market.
Soya protein isolates, for example, efficiently deliver greater nutritional benefits than some other traditional soya protein sources when used at the same inclusion level, since they provide such a high level of protein per gram.
Soya protein concentrates contain larger amounts of non-protein components, relative to soya protein isolates, which contain a minimum of 90 percent protein and are low in saturated fat.
Furthermore, the clean flavour of new isolated soya protein products means that the taste of the finished product is impacted much less by the presence of soya proteins. This appeals to sports drinks manufacturers as it allows consumers access to higher amounts of protein without increasing fat intake or compromising on taste.
Isolated soya protein products have been designed to help manufacturers meet the growth in demand from health-conscious consumers for nutritionally enriched, refreshing beverages. Traditional isolated soya proteins often appear opaque in acidic beverages, and stabilisation and homogenisation can be required to keep the protein in suspension due to the poor solubility of soya in low pH environments.
New isolated proteins products, on the other hand, are 100 per cent soluble at pH values below four and the high solubility means that stabilisation and homogenisation are not required.
Overall, soya proteins remain a strong alternative to dairy proteins as beverage manufacturers are looking for ways to mitigate volatile ingredient prices. Plant-based proteins are also often favoured by consumers as a renewable and sustainable protein option.
The sports beverage market has seen rapid growth in recent years, as busy consumers looking for options geared towards healthy, active lifestyles have caused the industry to shed its bodybuilder image.
In particular, the advantages of protein are becoming well known among health-minded consumers in developed markets such as North America and Europe, as well as developing markets, including the Asia Pacific.
When choosing a protein source, manufacturers need to consider the quality of their protein sources to ensure products provide a good balance of both essential and non-essential amino acids, are easily digestible, readily available and low in fat with a neutral taste profile.
Blending whey protein with case in and soya protein isolates offers multiple benefits, including nutrition, flavour, functionality and value necessary to create great-tasting sports product formulations.
At the same time, these types of blends have been shown to prolong amino acid availability, resulting in an extended period of muscle protein synthesis after exercise. The key for beverage manufacturers lies in finding the best protein options for replacing either some, or all of the dairy proteins in their formulations, without sacrificing taste or nutrition.