Energy products are more likely to be used by sedentary consumers seeking mental stimulation. Sports products are more likely used by consumers engaged in physical activity, or at least wishing for a better lifestyle.

The sports and energy product category continues to experience phenomenal growth. Products in this group are about as diverse as the people who consume them. Market research groups define the category as sports drinks, energy drinks, protein powders and liquids, gels, energy bars and athletic bars. However, the consumer and formula profiles for sports and energy products are not the same. Energy products are primarily used by sedentary consumers seeking mentally stimulating ingredients. Sports products are meant for consumers who actively engage in some level of physical activity, although market research reports show that some sports product consumers are not necessarily active in sports; they are just seeking a healthier lifestyle.

Sports food and beverage formulas tend be different for exercise products, depending on whether manufacturers are targeting use before (preparation), during (performance) or after (recovery) the exercise event. “It also depends on whether the product is intended for practice or competition, and if it is for an endurance athlete in a sporting event such as football or resistance training session,” says Marie Spano, vice president, International Society of Sports Nutrition spokesperson.

Cadbury Schweppes’ Accelerade Advanced Sports Drink, with sugar, trehalose and whey protein isolate, among other ingredients, notes that it is the first sports drink to contain carbohydrates and protein “in a patented 4:1 ratio.” It claims to extend endurance, speed muscle recovery and enhance rehydration.

Champion Carbs

“Pre-competition, the biggest goal is simply topping off muscle glycogen stores, preventing hunger and ensuring adequate hydration. Therefore, something light and easy to digest, with little to no fiber, little to no fat and high carbohydrates is key,” says Spano.  For energy products, the carbohydrate requirements usually are based on acceptable taste and the sweetness levels needed to mask the added stimulants, which are characteristically bitter.

Sports products typically contain 10g to 20g of carbohydrates such as fructose, glucose, sucrose and maltodextrin. Traditional energy products are loaded with sugar, high-fructose corn syrup or lower calorie artificial sweeteners. A wider array of sweetening alternatives now are offered in both sports and energy products for consumers seeking to avoid the rush of blood sugar and insulin.

Isomaltulose, a disaccharide derived from sucrose, is digested slowly and designed to release carbohydrates into the bloodstream gradually for a lower glycemic response. Research has found that oxidation of ingested isomaltulose is significantly less than that of sucrose, most likely due to its lower rate of digestion 1. Sucromalt syrup, derived by enzymatic conversion of sucrose and maltose, is composed of oligoglucose with fructose and leucrose linkages, and it is slowly digestible, designed for sustained energy release. Erythritol is a lower calorie and natural alternative, derived from fermented grains or sugar. Erythritol is emerging in new energy beverages due to its improved sensory results with other beverage ingredients and significantly higher gastrointestinal tolerance levels than other polyols.

Nutritious breakfast cereals may also soon become the new sports and energy products. Researchers announced at the 54th Annual Meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) that lower blood lactate levels were found in cyclists who consumed whole-wheat cereal with milk, suggesting better glycogen storage linked to the protein and carbohydrate content. Other reports relate consuming lower glycemic index (GI) carbohydrates in breakfasts with greater satiation throughout the day2.

Research in elderly patients indicated moderate exercise and vitamin D supplementation improved gait speed and body sway, and training improved muscle strength. Vitamin D-fortified milk may offer other benefits to the younger crowd as well.

Reaching the Finish Line

“During competition, the goals are very similar—prevent hunger pangs, keep a ready source of energy available to fuel competition and keep the athlete hydrated. Also, for the endurance athlete or an athlete who is taking part in an all-day tournament  playing multiple exhaustive games in a row, it is vital they replace electrolytes—mainly sodium to prevent hyponatremia, a dangerously low blood sodium level which can  lead to coma and death. Research also shows that drinking one of the newer sports drinks that contain some protein may help prolong exercise,” says Spano.

Many sports performance products contain electrolyte and carbohydrate cocktails, since these ingredients are lost through sweat and urination during intensive exercise. The electrolytes that athletes seek at this point range from mixtures of sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium. Due to variability in sweat rates and body electrolyte content, individual fluid replacement assessment is recommended by the ACSM.

Energy products primarily are marketed around the stimulant(s) added. They are consumed for the perception they may improve mental performance or enhance calorie-burning—without requiring engagement in vigorous phy-sical activity. Many energy drinks reportedly contain an average of 50mg to 145mg of caffeine per serving.  Single or multiple stimulant forms may be added, including pure caffeine, green tea, guarana, ginseng and yerba mate. Energy products, especially beverages, continue to include captivating and exotic ingredients to team up with the stimulants. Taurine, acai extract and d-ribose are among the functional ingredients that might be declared.

Photo courtesy of Dairy Management Inc.
Makers of sports and energy bars are looking to decrease sugar content and increase the use of ingredients such as isomaltulose, a disaccharide derived from sucrose that digests slowly and produces a lower glycemic response. Photo courtesy of Dairy Management Inc.

Healing Foods

Combinations of proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals have been reported to assist the body’s repair from intense exercise and tissue damage. “Post-competition, it is vital for an athlete to replace glycogen stores and rehydrate. Research shows that during the two-hour window post-exercise, providing carbohydrate in a 3:1 or 4:1 ratio (carb: protein) helps promote muscle recovery and growth3,4. It is preferable to eat something within 30 minutes and then again within one to one and a half hours. Adding protein here seems to help decrease markers of inflammation that are reflective of muscle damage,” explains Spano5,6,7.

L-carnitine is responsible for fatty acid transport to the mitochondria to convert energy from fatty acids. Carnitine supplementation is best retained when ingested with simple carbohydrates8. Researchers have reported that both one and two gram doses of L-carnitine reduced markers of oxidative stress that leads to muscle damage after exercise, as well as improved recovery9.

Vitamin C is an important antioxidant in the diet. Many sports product consumers also associate vitamin C with repairing connective tissue damage from intensive exercise. Research indicated that vitamin C supplementation improved recovery from exercise by assisting muscle soreness, muscle function and plasma concentrations of malondialdehyde10.

Omega-3 fatty acids (especially EPA and DHA) are well-known for their association with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease by lowering triglyceride levels and cholesterol. The FDA permits a qualified health claim surrounding coronary heart disease, giving additional credibility to the ingredients. Omega-3s also reportedly improve recovery time by inhibiting the inflammation that slows down a body’s repair efforts around injury11.

Mixed results are reported on the benefits from vitamin and mineral additions to sports and energy products. Moderate levels of magnesium and zinc were shown to improve strength and muscle metabolism. However, it is unclear  whether these observations relate to impaired nutritional status12. Other reports show that the use of vitamin and mineral supplements does not improve measures of performance in people consuming adequate levels in their regular diets13. Adding excessive levels of vitamins and minerals to products could be degenerative. Research shows that too much zinc actually lowers HDL cholesterol and suppresses the immune system14.

Since electrolytes and carbohydrates are lost through sweat and urination during intense exercise, many sports performance products contain cocktails of these two ingredients.PHOTO COURTESY OF PRNEWSFOTO/WORLD LEARNING, DIANE BONDAREFF

Performance Powerhouse

“Pre-exercise is similar to pre-competition with one main difference. If a person is engaging in resistance training, or something that requires quite a bit of muscular strength such as rock climbing, they would benefit from taking essential amino acids (EAAs) approximately 30 minutes beforehand,” explains Spano. Essential amino acids include isoleucine, leucine, lysine, threonine, tryptophan, methionine, histidine, valine and phenylalanine.

“Research at the University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, has shown that EAAs are vital for increasing muscle protein synthesis (MPS) or muscle growth15,16. When compared to their studies on whey protein taken pre-exercise, EAAs increased blood arterial amino acid concentrations by 100%, whereas whey only yielded an approximate 30% increase. Non-essential amino acids play no role in MPS,” explains Spano17.

Branched chain amino acid (BCAA) supplements provide the amino acids leucine, isoleucine and valine. Some athletes reportedly experienced increased mental clarity during exercise after consuming these ingredients. Performance under extreme conditions, such as high altitude or heat, may also be improved with BCAAs18.

Whey protein is a source of BCAAs. Whey protein is primarily a mixture of beta-lactoglobulin and alpha-lactalbumin. Research on whey protein found that it plays a role in accelerating muscle mass development and strength19,20. (For more information on whey, refer to the Prepared Foods July 2007 issue. Also, see sidebar “Whey to Train” for current research on whey protein and sports nutrition.)

Creatine, found in animal proteins, is used in muscle tissue for the production of phosphocreatine, which is associated with the formation of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), or energy. Creatine is used by bodybuilders, and studies support that it helps increase muscle mass, as opposed to muscle endurance21.

Beta alanine acts as a buffer to counteract acid production in the muscle tissue and may be  related to improved recovery time22. “It should be taken for at least six weeks and will increase muscle carnosine levels, which current research indicates may help prolong exercise bouts and/or help an athlete maintain their intensity levels longer,” says Spano.

“Vitamin D seems to be the vitamin of choice lately due to heightened media attention,” says Spano. Research in elderly patients with moderate exercise indicated that vitamin D supplementation improved gait speed and body sway, and training improved muscle strength23.

Most sports and energy products are categorized as dietary supplements, and the ingredients still have limited clinical studies or GRAS status to support their efficacy for wide-range use. In addition, dietary supplements are now regulated more stringently by the FDA. “Personally, I think this is great, as those with adulterated, misbranded ingredients will face tighter regulation,” says Spano.

Yet to Come

While consumers seek products to keep them going and going, whatever their sport or lifestyle, ingredient manufacturers and formulators try to stay a step ahead in their own race. Energy products continue to pack in greater quantities of stimulants, in addition to other functional ingredients. For the sports product industry, “The bar market is beyond saturated, and any new introduction should be highly innovative. Consumer demand for more healthy products is growing tremendously. People are turning over their favorite bar, looking at the label and putting it back on the shelf when they see partially hydrogenated oil in it or high fructose corn syrup as the very first ingredient and several other types of sugar to follow,” says Spano.

“The energy drink business, though still profitable, is getting to the point where companies need something significantly different vs. the ‘copy cat’ beverages that are out there with a similar container, similar design and similar ingredients. There is no clear leader now, and products that do well and continue to grow in consumer demand should taste good and be innovative and different…Plus, they should be science-based,” suggests Spano. Solid and inventive science enables development of new ingredients and discovery of new properties and applications for the old. Consumers benefit with products that promote health, wellness and performance, as the industry competes to see who will meet their needs.  NS


1 Achten, et al. 2007.  Exogenous oxidation of isomaltulose is lower than that of sucrose during exercise in men. J Nutr. 137:1143-8.

2 Warren, et al. 2003. Low glycemic index breakfasts and reduced food intake in preadolescent children. Pediatrics. 112:e414.

3 Tipton KD, et al. 2001. Timing of amino acid-carbohydrate ingestion alters anabolic response of muscle to resistance exercise. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 281:E197–206.

4 Borsheim E, et al. 2002. Essential amino acids and muscle protein recovery from resistance exercise. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 283:E648–57.

5 Ivy JL, et al. 2002. Early post-exercise muscle glycogen recovery is enhanced with a carbohydrate-protein supplement. J Appl Physiol. 93:1337-44.

6 Romano-Ely BC, et al. 2006. Effect of an isocaloric carbohydrate-protein-antioxidant drink on cycling performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 38:1608-16.

7 Saunders MJ, et al. 2004. Effects of a carbohydrate-protein beverage on cycling endurance and muscle damage. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 36:1233–8.

8 Stephens FB, et al. 2006. Insulin stimulates L-carnitine accumulation in human skeletal muscle. FASEB J.  20:377-9.

9 Spiering BA, et al. 2007. Responses of criterion variables to different supplemental doses of L-carnitine L-tartrate. J Strength Cond Res. 21:259-64.

10 Thompson, et al. 2001. Prolonged vitamin C supplementation and recovery from demanding exercise. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 11:466-81.

11 Simopoulos AP. 2007. Omega-3 fatty acids and athletics. Curr Sports Med Rep. 6:230-6. 

12 Lukaski HC. 2000. Magnesium, zinc, and chromium nutriture and physical activity. Am J Clin Nutr. 72(2 Suppl):585S-93S.

13 Lukaski HC. 2004. Vitamin and mineral status: effects on physical performance. Nutrition. 20:632-44.

14 Moyad MA. 2004. Zinc for prostate disease and other conditions: a little evidence, a lot of hype, and a significant potential problem. Urol Nurs. 24:49-52.

15 Willoughby DS, et al. 2007.  Effects of resistance training and protein plus amino acid supplementation on muscle anabolism, mass, and strength. Amino Acids. 32:467-77.

16 Tipton KD, et al. 2004. Protein and amino acids for athletes. J Sports Sci. 22:65-79.

17 Tipton KD, et al. 1999. Nonessential amino acids are not necessary to stimulate net muscle protein synthesis in healthy volunteers. J Nutr Biochem. 10:89-95.

18 Vukovich MD, et al. 1997. Effects of a low-dose amino acid supplement on adaptations to cycling training in untrained individuals. Int J Sport Nutr. 7:298-309.

19 Cribb PJ, et al. 2006. The effect of whey isolate and resistance training on strength, body composition and plasma glutamine. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 16:494-509.

20 Cribb PJ, et al. 2007. Effects of whey isolate, creatine and resistance training on muscle hypertrophy. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 39:298-307. 

21 Becque, et al. 2000. Effects of oral creatine supplementation on muscular strength and body composition. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 32:654-8.

22 Spano M. 2007.  New research bulks up on sports nutrition. Natural Foods Merchandiser. Apr:38-40.

23 Bunout D, et al. 2006. Effects of vitamin D supplementation and exercise training on physical performance in Chilean vitamin D deficient elderly subjects. Exp Gerontol. 41:746-52.

Whey to Train

A recent study reveals that personal trainers who know about whey protein recommend it to their clients. Results from a June 2007 survey of 318 IDEA Health and Fitness Association members were released recently at IFT’s annual meeting in Chicago. Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) sponsored the study, which showed that 85% of personal trainers are aware of whey protein. Of that percentage, 68% of them recommend it to their clients, and 59% of those rate it as a high-quality protein.

 Whey protein is considered by trainers and fitness-related health professionals to better deliver benefits than soy, meat/poultry, beans, eggs, wheat gluten or peanuts, according to the survey. It reportedly helps burn more fat while retaining muscle than the above-mentioned proteins. Moreover, whey protein is considered by these professionals to better increase lean muscle and enhance physical performance when compared to soy, beans, casein, egg, wheat gluten or peanuts.

 Further research determined that consumers prefer whey protein meal replacement bars and beverages than those made with soy or a combination of whey and soy. Findings published in the Journal of Food Science (online early articles) reveal that in prototype beverages, whey protein contributed to sweet flavors often preferred by consumers. Prototype bars made with whey protein had a sweet aroma and vanillin flavor, while the texture was characterized by adhesiveness and cohesiveness.




  • The ACSM’s position on fluid replacement for athletes

  • FDA’s web page on dietary supplements

  • The Dietary Supplement Information Bureau’s guide to supplements

  • FDA’s “Numerical Listing of GRAS Notices”

  • Type in the word “supplements” in the search field for many articles on the subject