The sports nutrition category has long been a source of big arms, big egos and big money.  And some big risk takers, too, as past steroid scandals have shown.  And it’s a category that seems especially susceptible to The Next Big Thing, whether it’s muscle building products, free radical scavengers or what have you, all hawked by celebrity athletes.

A recent scandal revolved around “geranium oil extract” used in sports supplements.  Patrick Arnold, the driving force behind the Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative (BALCO), unearthed a compound originally patented in the 1940s as a decongestant that can function as a stimulant and goes by the names methylhexaneamine (MHA) or dimethylamylamine (DMAA).  He marketed pre-workout supplements under a variety of names containing the ingredient. Arnold cited DMAA as a constituent of the botanical geranium oil extract via a single scientific paper of dubious provenance out of China.  A review released by the American Herbal Products Association in early August states there is no evidence that DMAA a natural substance, even though it was being marketed as such.  Some in industry said it’s basically a lapsed drug, and the World Anti Doping Agency agreed, banning the substance in 2010.  It’s a sign that the envelope pushers are still active is this category.

But despite the black marks, sports nutrition remains a robust growth category, and the outlook is bright. According to Nutrition Business Journal, the annual growth in the sales of sports nutrition supplements averaged 7.5 percent from 2000-2009 before shooting up to over 9 percent in 2010.  NBJ predicts that growth to prevail at about that level least through 2013.


Pumping with protein

The mainstay of workout products is protein.  While many strength athletes have overdone protein in the past with 20-egg power shakes and such, there’s no doubt that a dose of high quality protein at the right time aids in muscular recovery and growth. Whey is the big winner, with a claim to rapid digestibility.  But casein and soy concentrates and isolates have big market shares, too.

Protein hydrolysates are another choice. “Sports nutrition products in general will see further growth.  As far as proteins are concerned, more companies and consumers are starting to look at the benefits of protein hydrolysates as opposed to regular protein concentrates and isolates,” said Reto Rieder of DSM Nutritional Products.  DSM markets a protein hydrolysate called PeptoPro, which is the sole protein ingredient in a new PowerBar powdered performance drink product called Isomax.  This is an entrant in a growing minisegment – recovery drinks.  The idea of adding protein to a recovery drink is old hat among amateur locker room chemists, but has only recently entered the mainstream.


Continuing with carbs

To build those muscles or win that race, you have to have endurance, and there are a number of functional ingredients in the carbohydrate category to help.  One superstar is ribose, a sugar metabolite that’s a building block of the ATP energy molecule. Ribose is only mildly sweet and adds only a few calories per gram but it has been shown to help the body better mobilize its energy reserves.  On the other end of the calorie spectrum is Vitargo, a functional carbohydrate derived from barley starch via a patented process that studies show enters the bloodstream faster than any other.  “The Vitargo molecule is pure and unique and actually has a patent on it like a drug does,” said Anthony Almada, CEO of Genr8, which markets a powdered product based on the molecule that packs 280 calories into each serving.