The whey proteins in Boost Breeze provide extra protein for health and energy.
The functional food arena is filled with the kind of fascination usually reserved for science fiction. According to Nutrition Business Journal, sports powders and formulas made up a $1.6 billion industry in 2002. New products made from amino acids, peptides and whole protein from diverse sources not only are helping to pack pounds of lean muscle tissue onto professional and amateur athletes, but they are also instrumental in the repair of limbs and organs woefully damaged by burn, accident or disease.

Amino Acid Functionality

Early “body building” efforts in the medical foods arena focused on human subjects with specific health defects, particularly “inborn errors of metabolism,” notes Barry Titlow, chief executive officer for a distributor of fine chemicals. Individuals with phenylketonuria (PKU), a metabolic disease, take supplements in which proteins have been stripped of the amino acid phenylalanine. The PKU victim's inability to metabolize phenylalanine can result in severe mental deficiency.

“This area continues to grow,” says Titlow, who notes that more bars and ready-to-drink beverage options now are joining the traditional powder offerings. “The products out there have been really awful tasting, but they are getting better.”

Expect new delivery systems for these products in 2003—probably puddings and more chewable bar-type products. “I wouldn't be surprised if someone came out with a burger patty either,” says Titlow.

Product developers also are modifying amino acid/protein dietary supplements for the obese and diabetics on severely restricted diets, as well as for individuals on vegan diets. All three groups need nutrient-dense foods without a surplus of sugars. Soy protein supplements, now in vogue among vegans, are deficient in methionine, an essential amino acid not synthesized by the body. Meatless and low-protein diets also are likely to be deficient in carnitine, a non-essential amino acid that assists in weight loss, helps the body metabolize fatty acids, and promotes heart health.

Bodybuilders seek foods that, like this Met-Rx Protein Plus bar, are high in protein and low in carbohydrates.

Athletes Fuel Supplement Market

Muscle and organ are built from the body's nitrogen sources, which are largely consumed protein. “Anything that improves the retention of nitrogen is likely to improve the body's manufacture of new cells,” explains Anthony Almada, founder of IMAGINutrition, his current consulting and product development firm, and a co-founder of EAS, one of the largest sports nutrition companies. Steroid drugs, special dietary agents, and protein all promote nitrogen retention. With steroid usage curtailed by controversy, severe health risk, and outright ban, sales of dietary supplements promoting muscle growth and/or recovery have boomed. “Today the use of these supplements in sports surpasses pharmaceutical usage,” says Titlow.

But do athletes even need more protein than the average couch potato? According to Almada, more than 100 studies on humans involved in vigorous and frequent resistance training indicate that such subjects require 1.5 to 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight each day to maintain a neutral or positive nitrogen balance. That balance ensures the body is not losing more protein than it is consuming.

Is Whey the Way?

“The consensus today is that, in the context of muscle building, whey protein is best,” states Almada. “And in the context of female health, soy protein is best.”

Almada warns that some of what passes for protein gospel today may not be firmly grounded in science. Recent research from Nestle, for example, seems to indicate that casein, derived from milk protein, is a “slow protein,” that is, digested relatively slowly, assimilated slowly. Yet it may promote reduced protein breakdown. Whey, on the other hand, is a “fast protein,” easier to digest and quick to enter the bloodstream. How the different protein types ultimately affect the active body remains an open and ongoing investigation.

BCAA for Recovery

Exercise breaks down cellular tissue. Three essential amino acids—leucine, isoleucine, and valine—are critical to the rebuilding process, working together to assist the healing of muscle, skin and bone tissue. Called branch chain amino acids (BCAA), these are key ingredients in many new supplements that promote rapid workout recovery.

Another amino acid the body uses for its repair work is glutamine. It helps produce new immune cells and aids in DNA and RNA production. Since glutamine is not stable in solution, it is used in peptide form using partially digested wheat protein. Glutathione, a peptide formed from glutamine, is a strong antioxidant. Almada notes, however, that evidence supporting its role in helping a healthy person produce more muscle is questionable since the amounts needed would make a product with an effective dosage cost prohibitive.

Creatine Controversy Hurts Sales

Creatine has sat on the cusp of controversy since its introduction to supplements in 1993. “What made creatine revolutionary was that, unlike with other ingredients, you could see results quickly, sometimes in several days,” says Almada, himself a pioneer in the development of creatine-based products. “Creatine is the closest thing to a steroid in terms of producing results.” Though sales are diminished in comparison with highs in 1998 and 1999—when sales hovered around $250 million—creatine still attracts a following.

One of the problems with incorporating creatine into formulations (it is found mostly in beverages) is instability. “Often there is only a trace of creatine left after one month on the shelf,” claims Almada.

Researchers are studying the use of creatine in the treatment of degenerative diseases, particularly ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease), Parkinson's and Huntington's diseases, and Muscular Dystrophy. “It even lowers cholesterol levels,” adds Almada.

Taurine No Bull

Fueling much of the growth in the sport drink market are products that feature key—and somewhat controversial—non-essential amino acids.

Taurine, the ingredient from which the famous Red Bull beverage draws its name, was first identified in the gall bladder of oxen, notes Almada. The most abundant free-floating amino acid, taurine seems to improve carbohydrate metabolism. High concentrations of taurine have been found in the heart muscle as well as in skeletal muscle, white blood cells, and the nervous system. It may protect against heart problems and hypoglycemia. As a component of bile, it may improve fat digestion and protect against atherosclerosis, too.

According to Nutrition Business Journal, sales of products containing taurine topped $800 million last year. Roughly $600 million of that came from Red Bull alone.

Carnitine and Other Trends

Carnitine, which is not a true amino acid by some measures, is being used in supplements due to its virtues as an antioxidant and cardio protectant. “Carnitine use is way up,” notes Titlow. It helps the body metabolize fats and use them as energy. It is touted as an aid in weight loss on most of the products in which it appears. It apparently lowers triglyceride levels and the associated risk of heart disease, too.

“We're seeing more use of tyrosine and phenylalanine,” observes Titlow, who sees them most used in products aimed at elevating mood and alertness. “They give a feeling of satiety and have a calming effect, unlike ephedra.” Excited by the enormous success of Viagra, supplement manufacturers want a piece of the action, too. New supplements promising improved sexual performance through “all natural” ingredients are on the rise.

For example, Veromax Sexual Performance Enhancer for Women is touted as a “proprietary amino acid potency powder blend” and contains arginine, alanine, glutamic acid, and lysine. Look for this market, too, to heat up fast.

Much of the information in this article was derived from Mintel International's Global New Products Database,, 312-932-0400.

Sidebar: Going Global

Being physically fit and lean has manifested in several products in Japan. Late last year, Kirin Beverage presented its Hot Amino Supli, an amino acid supplement that contains several amino acids such as sodium aspartate, alginine, lysine, alanine, glutamate and leusine.

In the same country, Fanci presented its Slim Player Chewable supplement, also for those focused on exercise and dieting. The chew contains fish peptides, which help promote fat metabolism and muscle formation. Additionally, to further support health, the supplement contains garcinia and coenzyme Q10.

One of the more creative Japanese products introduced in 2002 was a grapefruit-flavored drink based on research done on wasps. These insects' “fat metabolism enables them to travel 100km per day,” notes the GNPD. Meiji Dairies Corp.'s Vaam Water 500 Takahashi Naoko Bottle was formulated with 17 amino acids and packaged with the name and picture of the Japanese Olympics marathon champion Naoko Takahashi. Launch date was July 20th and was to be available until mid-December 2002.

In Finland, Bioteekki launched Bantamer Dietary Supplement, tablets that contain glycomacropeptides (GMP), a good source of BCAAs, which help to develop lean muscle. GMP also has been found to regulate energy and appetite, and may play a role in reducing dental cavities.