The global sports nutrition category has undergone dramatic growth—from US$6.7 billion in 2010 to US$10.8 billion in 2015, according to Euromonitor International. The reason behind this is simple: more and more people are recognising the benefits of sports nutrition products in helping them to achieve their performance and wellness goals.
Besides growing in size, the global sports nutrition market has also seen a rapid expansion of its consumer base over the past decade, Euromonitor reports. For years, the category was a niche, targeting elite athletes and bodybuilders, or ‘core users’ of sports nutrition. These individuals are typically high-volume users, consistent purchasers and are well informed, highly critical users.
However, with consumers putting ever more focus on weight-management and fitness, sports nutrition has become increasingly attractive to mainstream consumers, or ‘casual users’. These are mass channel shoppers who are more attracted to convenient product formats and tend to seek out trusted and familiar ingredients, with a preference for clean labels and, often, free-from formulations.
Furthermore, another important group has now emerged, most notably in developed markets and in the urban centres of developing markets. It is comprised of people who view performance in a new way. They are dedicated sports and exercise enthusiasts, but they are not athletes. Rather, they are highly motivated people who see fitness as the gateway to a high-performance lifestyle.
In the context of sports nutrition products, these people are called ‘fitness lifestyle users’. They are typically health and wellness evangelists—very brand conscious but also willing to experiment with new products, formats and ingredients.
Whey Protein Takes Pole Position
The growth of the sports nutrition category and the expansion of its consumer base have been good news for dairy proteins— and whey proteins in particular.
The value of the global whey protein market is expected to reach US$13.5 billion in 2020, compared with US$9.2 billion in 2015, representing an anticipated compound annual growth rate of 6.5 percent for the period.
This success will largely be attributed to the growing awareness that, nutritionally, whey is one of the highest quality protein sources available. In addition, it has a taste that is generally better accepted by consumers than other protein sources. Furthermore, whey protein is very versatile and straightforward to incorporate into products, so it is popular with manufacturers, too.
Athletes use proteins to help them build lean muscle and recover more quickly after exercise, with the ultimate aim of improving their performance. There are many options available to them but the taste and nutritional quality of these products vary greatly. Generally, however, athletes regard whey proteins as a superior protein in both of these areas.
Whey proteins have a superior nutritional quality and are renowned for their beneficial effect in the sports nutrition arena. High in essential amino acids (EAA) and branchedchain amino acids (BCAA), particularly leucine, whey proteins stimulate muscle growth and re-generation more effectively than other protein sources, as found by various research.
Whey proteins enhance recovery by effectively helping to refuel the muscles through insulin-mediated glycogen synthesis. They are easily digested and quickly absorbed by the body, ensuring rapid delivery of the necessary building blocks for fast recovery. Lastly, they provide a taste advantage over some commonly consumed plant-based protein sources.
Finely-chopped And Fast-acting
With sports nutrition such an important sector today, we now expect whey protein hydrolysates to play a bigger role in the future development of the category. Hydrolysates are premium proteins that have been finely chopped—or ‘predigested’— so they are absorbed more quickly by the body than standard proteins. This ensures they get to work faster when helping the muscles recover after exercise.
The growing popularity of CrossFit is a great example that highlights the relevance of whey protein hydrolysates to modern sports nutrition consumers, especially the new ‘fitness lifestyle users’ as mentioned previously.
CrossFit involves daily workouts—known as ‘WODS’ (workouts of the day) —that are a combination of aerobic activity, weight-lifting and gymnastics. It is followed as an exercise philosophy that is practised in more than 10,000 affiliated gyms worldwide, half of which are in the US. Its methodology is also used by fire departments, law enforcement agencies and military organisations, and it is also becoming increasingly popular as a competitive sport.
CrossFit is a fun, exciting and varied approach to exercise but it also puts great pressure on the body. In particular, because of the frequency and intensity of exercise involved, huge demands are placed on the muscles. Ideally it should be practised daily, and this means there is only a small window for muscle recovery between WODs.
Whey protein hydrolysates have been shown to help reduce muscle recovery times from days to hours, so they are ideal for supporting people in their efforts to stay in perfect shape to maintain their CrossFit regime.
As a result, it is predicted that participants will increasingly seek out sports nutrition products that enable them to recover fast enough to maintain the intensity of their WODS day after day. In turn, this will drive demand for premium sports nutrition ingredients, such as whey protein hydrolysates, that deliver this benefit.
Tailoring sports nutrition products for different consumers is essential. Traditionally, gels and powdered shakes have been the format of choice for sports nutrition enthusiasts, but the growth of the category and the widening of its appeal have led to other types of products finding favour, including snack bars and ready-to-drink clear beverages.
Newcomers to sports nutrition tend to prefer these formats because they are convenient and palatable options that provide good taste and texture as well as great nutritional value.
Previously, it was problematic to use whey protein hydrolysates to cater for these consumers. Whey protein hydrolysates were usually difficult to formulate with, and presented taste issues such as astringency and bitterness.
Happily, these problems have now been addressed with a new generation of whey protein hydrolysates, which have been ‘mildly’ hydrolysed using the latest processing technology. As a result, they are easier to work with across a wider range of temperatures and pH values, and in turn offer the performance benefits of hydrolysates but with improved taste and functionality.
This opens the door to using these next-gen whey hydrolysates in formats such as crystal-clear beverages, 100 percent whey-based milky drinks, protein gels and powder shake applications. In this way, companies can create a range of sports nutrition products based on hydrolysates that will appeal to all types of consumers—not just the hardcore users.
Life is too short for slow proteins. Hydrolysates deliver the benefits of whey more quickly than any other type of protein. And now, thanks to the latest advances in processing technology, the benefits of hydrolysates are available to more people than ever before.