There’s an entire spectrum of nutrients associated with sports nutrition. It’s impossible to pack them all into a single product and still deliver on taste. Identifying the product’s performance goal can help with nutrient selection. Managing blood sugar is one goal that can make workouts more effective and sustainable.

“Alternative sweeteners are redefining the common approach of the sports nutrition industry,” said Jon Peters, president, Beneo. “They shift the focus from carbohydrate and protein utilization towards improved blood sugar management and fat burning.”


Beneo offers isomaltulose, a low-glycemic sweetener made from beet sugar that occurs naturally in honey. It is fully digestible, and it provides full carbohydrate energy in a balanced and sustained way, eliminating the undesired “boost and crash effect” generally associated with other sugars.

“Isomaltulose provides natural energy in a balanced way with less blood glucose fluctuation and steadier insulin release, resulting in an improved metabolism,” Mr. Peters said. “This helps the body burn more fat for energy, which makes it an ideal carbohydrate in sports nutrition.”

Even natural caffeine makes sense as a source of energy. Studies show an average improvement in performance of about 12% with more benefits noticed during endurance exercise than with shorter exercise. This non-calorie stimulant, however, may exert a diuretic effect. Too much is never a good idea.

“Consumers often turn to caffeine before a workout to give an extra boost during workouts,” said Alison Raban, certified food scientist, BI Nutraceuticals. “Many formulators prefer to use botanical ingredients that are natural sources of caffeine. This includes guarana, yerba mate, guayusa, kola nut and green tea.”

Beets are also a trending ingredient due to their naturally occurring nitrates that are converted to nitric oxide in the body. These nitrates have been associated with better workouts and recovery, Ms. Raban said.

Fiber is another nutrient that is often part of high-protein performance foods. Some provide additional benefits including sweetness, creaminess (fat mimetic), color and even texture.

“Many consumers don’t realize that high levels of protein can affect digestion,” Ms. Raban said. “Including fiber can help with some of the uncomfortable effects when consuming large amounts of protein.”

Inclusions are an easy way to add protein and other nutrients along with flavor, color and texture. Most baked goods benefit from their addition, as they add eye appeal that attracts the shopper.

“Inclusions can carry protein of any source, whey or plant-based, to add flavor in any baked good,” said Aaron Dare, global director for encapsulates and inclusions, Balchem. “Our inclusion line includes flavorful, high-fat options as energy sources that make sense for bars designed for keto and paleo diets, where you need energy without increased sugars.”

Balchem’s encapsulation technology protects heat-sensitive sports nutrition ingredients, enabling their use in baked applications. “We offer a stable vitamin C for sports bars,” Mr. Dare said. “We offer multiple taste-masking capabilities that can help improve the flavor of vitamin B-complex and energy ingredients such as caffeine and guarana.”

Encapsulating minerals such as magnesium, iron, zinc and copper can assist in formulation, and they offer beneficial healthy attributes. “These minerals are necessary for muscle building and repair,” Mr. Dare said.

Prinova offers functional market forms of vitamins and minerals, including customized blends for the fortification of baked goods. “Some forms are more soluble and bioavailable than others and offer different taste profiles and stability,” Mr. Chaudhari said. “We design precise formulations choosing the most compatible market forms based on the finished product characteristics, processing conditions and regulatory requirements.”

While often focused on muscle health, athletes often tend to forget the importance of managing their immune system. Sports nutrition products can be formulated to assist.

“The demands of working out can often predispose athletes to getting sick, which can throw off training,” said Michael Kemp, nutrition manager, North America, Kerry.

Kerry’s beta 1,3/1,6 glucan is extracted from the cell wall of a proprietary strain of baker’s yeast, and more than a dozen clinical studies demonstrate its ability to help strengthen the immune system. Several of these studies have shown the ingredient to help increase vigor and mental clarity while reducing fatigue, tension, confusion and upper respiratory tract infection after intense events, such as a marathon. The ingredient is stable to common baking temperatures and is largely neutral to taste in baked goods.

The best sports nutrition products are ones that are convenient or easily snackable. Many athletes are eating meals in non-traditional locations such as during a workout, at the gym, or on the go to and from the gym.

“Making a sandwich between squat sets is not going to happen,” Mr. Kemp said. “Being able to integrate a food into the schedule of an athlete is of really high importance today.”