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Bringing Functionality to Sports Nutrition Beverages

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Gencor™ supplies quality branded, science-backed, functional ingredients for the sports nutrition market

Looking past the electrolyte

Sports drinks have long been advertised to replenish water, boost sugars and salts and replace electrolytes that are lost through intense activity or exercise with the added benefits of achieving greater levels of performance. Sports drinks are everywhere, and so are the perceived and promised benefits, but athletes from the professional level to the weekend warrior are now looking for more in their beverages and just like how CrossFit gained popularity for those seeking more, the functional beverage is making its way into Sports Drinks. Consumer interest in functional beverages is on the rise — increasing by 11% in 20201​ — as they become more health conscious.

The Covid Fallout

The last couple of years have proven to be some of the most challenging as the Covid pandemic wreaked havoc in the lives of Americans with significant disruptions to work, schools, hospitals, and government. It didn’t help that while facing all this uncertainty, Americans couldn’t ‘escape’ to their favorite gym, sports club, or fitness studio as these were the first businesses to undergo forced shutdowns. A direct result of less people working out at these establishments was a minimal demand for sports drinks.2

Renewed Focus on Health

Since the beginning of the pandemic, there has been a rise in health awareness and the need for adequate nutritional content in foods and beverages has also fostered the demand for sports nutrition products. Health clubs and fitness centers too have witnessed consistent growth due to an increase in health concerns and changes in lifestyle. For the past couple of years, everyone seeking a more active and healthier lifestyle is turning towards these sports drinks to aid their newfound healthy living commitment. A surge in the middle-aged and geriatric populations engaged in sports activities has further fueled the sports nutrition market’s growth.​3

Consumers today don’t just want their beverages to taste good and help them stay hydrated; they also want added health benefits. It comes as no surprise that athletes and frequent exercisers have different nutritional needs from the general population. Combined with increased awareness of the uniqueness of each person’s needs, the demand for tailored sports nutrition remains a hot topic in this sector.

Drinks, Drinks Everywhere

Mordor Intelligence​ recently reported that the US sports drink market is projected to witness a CAGR of 4.54% during the forecast period (2021-2026) as sports drinks are gaining popularity in the United States, mainly among athletes and individuals involved in vigorous physical activities. Rising demand for various beverages due to increasing health awareness and growing demand from the millennials are identified as the major drivers for the growth of the sports drink market.2  ​This is true of functional drinks with specific purposes, like sports and protein drinks. Further, consumers don’t just want recovery and hydration from these drinks to enhance overall physical performance; they also want these drinks to improve mental focus. Cognitive health is gaining ground among sportspersons and athletes to help with faster decision-making capabilities and focus for enhanced sporting performance. This in turn will help such functionalities become popular among mainstream consumers of sports and protein drinks.

Beverage companies in the US have made a concerted push to increase the demand for their sports drinks through various endorsements of popular athletes and celebrities and promotional campaigns at concerts, various fests and events, among others. These tactics have provided a boost to the market growth in the country.2

Interestingly enough, searching the #SportsDrink​ Hashtag on Instagram will return 75.9 K posts while videos tagged with #SportsDrink​ on TikTok have over 10.6 MILLION views.

As sports nutrition has evolved, the consumer has segmented into three core markets:

  • Performance nutrition: the core market for sports nutrition focused on products that improve performance in the acute periods before, during and after exercise
  • Active nutrition: a focus on the generational shift of consumers who exercise and are looking for nutrition solutions to promote the desire to be “ageless”
  • Health and wellness: high protein and high nutrient value products that offer consumers convenient solutions to improve the quality of their everyday diet

Challenges & Opportunities

While sports drinks remain popular with many athletes, the core demographic of consumers don’t consider themselves to be extremely active. This indicates the market currently relies on holistic wellbeing and physical and mental wellness rather than exercise.

Sports drink brands may need to work more to encourage day to day drinking habits, advertising sports drinks as a vital part of routine. Currently only 55% of consumers say that it is an essential part of their wellness routine, meaning that there are still areas to grow. With personal health being focused on now more than ever, marketing towards natural ingredients, vitamins and minerals could prove beneficial.4

What am I drinking?

Consumers are becoming more educated and are on the lookout for beverages that can offer certain types of, or specific health benefits.  One of the most researched ingredients in Sports Nutrition is Levagen®, also known as Palmitoylethanolamide (PEA). It is an endogenous fatty acid amide produced by the body in response to stressors, pain, and inflammation as a biological response and repair mechanism. Levagen combines high analgesic and anti-inflammatory efficacy for recovery and discomfort relief.  This product is a great alternative to NSAIDs which can cause a myriad of adverse effects.

In a 2019 double-blind​, randomized, placebo-controlled study on Osteoarthritis, Levagen was shown to demonstrate the safety and efficacy for the management of mild to moderate osteoarthritis symptoms in reducing pain and stiffness with increased function.5

As a lipophilic substance, PEA is poorly absorbed due to its limited bioavailability. Levagen+® is a clinically studied bioavailable PEA formulation that utilizes LipiSperse®​, Pharmako’s patented cold-water dispersible (CWD) technology.

In a 2020​, a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study on exercise recovery evaluated the effect of orally delivered 150 mg Levagen+ in healthy males. Results showed Levagen+ to significantly decrease myoglobin levels 1-, 2- and 3-hrs post-exercise and reduce lactate levels post-exercise.6

A 2021​ 2-week double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study on acute joint pain assessed the efficacy of Levagen+ for reducing joint pain in 74 healthy adults. Results from the study demonstrated Levagen+ to be a fast-acting and effective option for reducing pain related to any joint (not only to the knee) and improving mood.7

Reduction in joint pain was assessed by a visual analogue scale (VAS) for pain, completed in the morning and evening. Participants took 350mg Levagen®+ or placebo (175mg morning and night).

With the increased bioavailability and functionality of Levagen+ can be incorporated into a variety of beverage applications including powders, functional beverages and effervescent tablets.

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The Curcumin Factor

Scientific studies have shown Curcumin to be a powerful antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties but is limited due to its hydrophobic nature. A bioavailable curcumin (HydroCurc®​) solves the bioavailability and functional challenges of curcumin by using LipiSperse®​, Pharmako’s patented dispersion technology.

A double-blind​, randomized, placebo-controlled study was conducted to evaluate the effect of orally dosed HydroCurc on exercise recovery in healthy males. The study was conducted with 28 recreationally trained, healthy males aged between 18 and 35 years old. Muscle fatigue was induced using leg press and completion of 4 sets for as many repetitions as possible, with 1-minute rest between sets. After muscle fatigue was induced; blood parameters, VAS pain score, thigh circumference and questionnaires were completed.8

Results showed HydroCurc to effectively:

  • Lower pain score post-exercise (DOMS)
  • Reduce lactate levels post-exercise
  • Lower inflammatory markers (IL-6)
  • Reduce thigh circumference (back to baseline)

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Significant increase in Protein Kinase B median fluorescence intensity from baseline to 30 mins in the HydroCurc group (*) after a single dose of HydroCurc

This bioavailable curcumin is available in ready-to-mix powders, effervescent tablets, functional beverages and drinks.

No Ordinary Drink Will Do

The market is saturated with sports beverages, and the well-informed consumer is actively looking for a beverage with actual benefits and now, the onus lies with the manufacturers to bring to market products that meet these needs and demands. Gone are the days where a brightly colored beverage can solve all the needs of the professional athlete and weekend warrior alike. Value beyond hydration will encourage daily consumption behavior and increase the percentage of users that say these products are an essential part of their wellness routine.  Adding these functional ingredients that cater to the consumer need, beyond the traditional clientele can only help bring the sports drink into the mainstream. With functional ingredients (with scientifically backed benefits) that are easy to find in beverages, consumers can take comfort in knowing that their future drink runs are proper.



1,also%20want%20added%20health%20benefits2 David Briskey, Georgia Roche, Amanda Rao, The Effect of a Dispersible Palmitoylethanolamide (Levagen+) Compared to a Placebo for Reducing Joint Pain in an Adult Population – A Randomised, Double-Blind Study, International Journal of Nutrition and Food Sci8