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The latest in weight management and sports nutrition

The sports nutrition and weight loss market is booming as consumers look to shed COVID pounds and up their games.
Taffel Sturgeon

Some market watchers group the sports nutrition and weight loss categories together. It’s a little clunky, to be sure, but there’s some overlap. Protein, as the prime example, helps build muscles and so has found a home in sports powders and recovery drinks. Protein also provides satiety, making you feel fuller longer. In that way, protein is also helpful for those looking to manage their weight.

Sports nutrition and weight management statistic

Nutrition Business Journal combines the two. According to its estimates, the sports nutrition and weight loss, or SNWL, categories grew a whopping 22% in 2021 and now account for nearly $57 billion in sales when the hydration and energy beverage market is included.

That off-the-chart growth in 2021 can be chalked up to COVID-19 in 2020 that shuttered so many brick-and-mortar sales outlets, gyms and personal trainer services focused on weight management. Still, $57 billion in sales is close to the annual sales of the entire supplements market, making the SNWL category — from energy drinks to protein powders and bars, weight-loss pills to workout and recovery drinks — a category retailers should find worth stocking prominently. NBJ estimates it will be a category worth $80 billion by 2025. 

Protein Does Double Duty 

Protein is the one macronutrient to still have an unvarnished healthy halo, unlike fats and carbohydrates. It is widely available in an ever-increasing diversity of forms and formats. The large plastic tubs of whey protein for gym rats has shifted to pea and other plant proteins that work for millennial smoothies and yoga-mom drinks. Protein, which now comes in bars, beverages and gels, is a prominent callout on every product label. 

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On the performance side of the protein ledger, protein stimulates muscle protein synthesis — it builds muscle, thanks to the nine essential amino acids, especially leucine. Higher protein intake can promote the loss of fat mass and thus have positive effects on body composition in “resistance-trained individuals,” which is a fancy way of saying people lifting weights. Protein also helps offset muscle damage and promotes recovery, according to the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 

For weight management, protein also excels. The Atkins diet made a name for itself nearly two decades ago under the contrarian idea that carbs — not fat — were responsible for weight gain. The idea that fat consumption leads to fat gain was, well, a big fat lie.

The flip side of low-carb diets are high-protein ones. Even then, nutrition science marches on — the low-carb, high-protein Atkins diet has now shifted to approximate some blending of the South Beach Diet, with its high protein plus unlimited non-starchy vegetable intake recommendations, and the keto diet’s emphasis on healthy fats.

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“It is no longer high protein, as we recommend an optimal amount of protein of 4 to 6 oz. per meal,” said Jennifer Livingston, director of communications at Atkins Nutritionals. “There is now a mandatory level of vegetables of eight to 10 servings a day, and more emphasis on healthy fats including olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds.” 

The keto diet completely upends the “fat makes you fat” idea by using fat to lose weight. Ketones are substances the body makes when glucose, or blood sugar, is lacking. This high-fat, low-carb diet compels the body to search for an alternative to carbohydrates as the typical energy source, and that leads to the body tapping fat stores. 

“As part of this movement, the keto space has evolved to include intermittent fasting, vegan and paleo-friendly protocols that minimize inflammation and include low-sugar and low-processed food programs,” said Keith Frankel, CEO of Windmill Vitamins, which has a KetoScience supplements line. “Keto commands a unique space within the weight loss and non-starch arena as it fits a variety of lifestyles and product groups.”

[Read more: Sports nutrition, weight management products address health-conscious consumers’ needs ]

Supplements for Sports

Supplements can help optimize sports performance, even for weekend warriors.

Caffeine is popular in sports formulas because it quickly provides a noticeable stimulant effect, according to the NIH National Library of Medicine’s “Caffeine and Exercise: What Next?” What’s more, even low and moderate doses of caffeine, approximating a quarter of a cup of coffee, ingested during exercise can improve performance and race time, according to the NIH National Library of Medicine’s “Effects of caffeine chewing gum on race performance and physiology in male and female cyclists.”

Caffeine belongs to a family of 20,000 compounds, mostly derived from plants, known as alkaloids. Other well-known alkaloids include morphine, nicotine and ephedrine. Now that caffeine has escaped from the coffee cup, it is ubiquitous in sports and energy drinks, gels, powders, bars and pills.

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Theacrine is a pure alkaloid-like caffeine that’s isolated from the kucha tea leaf and other plant species. Researchers at the Institute of Neurobiology at the University of Puerto Rico discovered that, like caffeine, theacrine is a blocker of adenosine receptors (which mediates pain and inflammation) and activates dopamine receptors (joy!). 

A 2021 study at Nova Southeastern University in Florida using a branded form of theacrine, called TeaCrine, along with caffeine and another alkaloid called methylliberine (Dynamine) found the combo was superior to caffeine alone in increasing reaction time and cognitive performance among e-sports gamers. 

Notably, while caffeine improved reaction time, alertness and attention, it decreased performance because of the anxiety-producing jitters. However, adding Dynamine and TeaCrine to the 125 mg caffeine rescued the decline in precision and accuracy while maintaining caffeine’s improved performance metrics in information processing speed, reaction time and neuro-cognitive performance. Also, TeaCrine lasts for four to eight hours versus caffeine’s duration of one to two hours. 

“Consumers old and new are gravitating toward the weight management category, not to hit a specific weight loss goal or number, but for the state of their overall health.” — Jarrod Jordan, chief marketing and digital officer, Iovate

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Green coffee beans are not found in your average cuppa joe. These are the red fruits that enrobe the black coffee beans within and are sometimes also referred to as coffee fruit or coffee berries. While these contain a little caffeine (between 5 mg to 20 mg per serving), they also contain chlorogenic acid, which Chinese researchers showed can prevent weight and fat gain. That makes green coffee beans promising for weight management, a bit positive for energy, plus researchers at Auburn University showed in a human study that it improves reaction time, attention and focus. 

Supplements for Weight

Supplements can also help support weight management through a variety of means. Some herbs can fine-tune metabolism to help burn fat, as with thermogenic ingredients, while others slow down digestion so the energy from foods is stretched longer, which also helps with adjacent health concerns like blood-sugar issues. 

“Consumers old and new are gravitating toward the weight management category, not to hit a specific weight loss goal or number, but for the state of their overall health,” said Jarrod Jordan, chief marketing and digital officer at Iovate, which markets the Hydroxycut weight management supplement. “There is a renewed sense of consciousness given the very public outcome of COVID on those with previous morbidities and comorbidities.” 

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Coffee, good ol’ coffee, has also been shown to have positive effects on weight loss. For every doubling of caffeine intake, the mean reduction in weight, body mass index and fat mass increases by 22%, 17% and 28%, respectively, according to Iranian researchers at the Research Center for Biochemistry and Nutrition in Metabolic Diseases at Kashan University of Medical Sciences. 

Green tea contains lesser amounts of caffeine compared with coffee, along the lines of 40 mg versus 100 mg. But it’s the green tea catechin EGCG that appears to help people lose weight by inactivating enzymes that reduce thermogenesis, or the production of body heat. More calories burned equals more weight shed. 

Researchers at the Catholic University of Sacred Heart in Rome conducted a placebo-controlled study that gave 100 overweight subjects, between the ages of 25 to 60 years old on a reduced-calorie diet, 150 mg twice daily of a branded ingredient EGCG complexed with phospholipids for increased absorption (Slimquick Pure). While there was no difference seen at 45 days, by the end of the 90-day study, the EGCG group experienced a significant 14% decrease in waist circumference compared with 7% for the diet-only group, a significant 31 lbs. weight loss compared with 11 lbs. for the diet-only group, plus significant decreases in total cholesterol and triglycerides.

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Apple cider vinegar, or ACV, is a trending supplement today, yet it does not have much research showing it helps people lose weight. One small study took place at the Shahid Beheshti University of Medical Sciences in Iran. Researchers there took 39 people, split the group in two, with both cutting calories by 250 per day, while one group also drank 1 cup per day of apple cider vinegar for 12 weeks. 

The ACV significantly reduced body weight, body mass index, hip circumference and appetite score, in addition to experiencing lower triglycerides and total cholesterol. The weight loss was 8.8 lbs. for the ACV group and 5 lbs. for the control group. Those are modest results, with the further caveat that it was a small study — and the participants had to consume 1 oz. of liquid ACV a day. 

Botanical combos: In a recent double-blind clinical study, 140 healthy overweight people followed an 1,800-calorie diet and a walking plan for 16 weeks. Half the participants were given Slimvance Core Slimming Complex, and the other half were given a placebo. Those taking Slimvance lost almost 10 lbs. more and over 1 in. more around their waist and hips compared with those taking a placebo.

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“The synergistic combination of three spice extracts that constitute Slimvance were selected from hundreds of different herbs examined using sophisticated screening techniques,” said Seth Flowerman, executive vice president of PLT Health Solutions, the ingredient supplier of Slimvance. “They were studied to assess their ability to work synergistically to inhibit fat accumulation and promote the breakdown of fat in mature fat cells.” 

It’s this type of rigorous investigation and subsequent clinical science that attracts brands that create compelling solutions consumers can trust.

The COVID-19 shutdown unlocked the weight management sector, and the COVID-19 pounds people put on still have not been shed. That means the near future of the category remains buoyant. Coupled with an always innovative functional beverage market, particularly energy drinks, and the year ahead for sports nutrition and weight loss looks to keep growing quite well. That’s good news for in-store retailers.

Product Picks

Atkins Nutritionals Vanilla Cream Shake SRP: $10.19 for 16.9 oz./4-pack 
This classic meal replacement beverage contains about one-third of the daily value of all the essential vitamins and minerals. But what really makes it a proper weight management meal replacement is 23 grams of protein. Plus, this nutritious meal replacement contains only 230 calories per bottle. 

Haleon Alli SRP: $54.99 for 60 capsules 
This FDA-approved, nonprescription OTC weight-loss pill contains orlistat as the active ingredient. Orlistat decreases the amount of dietary fat absorbed in the intestines, about 25% of which is passed through bowel movements. One pill should be taken before fatty meals. One study showed Alli led to an average additional 5.7 lbs. of weight loss over a year compared with those who only similarly dieted and exercised. 

Iovate Hydroxycut Original SRP: $19.99 for 60 capsules/30 servings 
This green coffee bean extract is standardized to deliver 45% chlorogenic acids, plus 200 mg caffeine, apple cider vinegar and B vitamins. In one clinical trial, people on a low-calorie diet took Hydroxycut for 60 days and lost 10.95 lbs. versus the placebo group’s 5.40 lbs. A different eight-week study on 90 participants showed those taking it lost 3.7 lbs. versus the placebo group’s 1.25 lbs. 

Liquid IV Yuzu Pineapple Energy Multiplier SRP: $24.99 for a pack of 14 sticks 
Each single-serve packet contains Coffeeberry for 100 mg caffeinated energy, CognatIQ coffee fruit extract to support mental functions and L-theanine to make you relaxed but not drowsy. This travel-friendly formula comes in a tasty flavor of pineapple with tart yuzu. It is also formulated with enhanced absorption technology — faster hydration than water alone.

Mason Vitamins Fat Burner SRP: $8.49 for 60 tablets 
Super Citrimax is an ingredient launched 20 years ago as the next-generation hydroxycitric acid compound to take the place of ephedra. Citrimax has been shown in human clinical trials to curb appetite, burn fat and promote normal cholesterol levels. Fat Burner also includes 80 mg of caffeine and chromium picolinate to support healthy blood sugar levels. 

Solgar Energy Kicks SRP: $43.99 for (12) 2 fl.-oz. bottles 
Fruit-forward shots provide 200 mg of caffeine from green tea, guarana and yerba mate. The packaging is family-friendly and it comes in a natural pomegranate flavor. Vitamins B6 and B12 round out the nutritional profile. It is free of gluten, wheat, yeast, salt, GMOs, artificial flavors, sweeteners, preservatives and colors. 

Windmill Vitamins Keto Science Keto Burn SRP: $19.99 for 60 capsules 
Each capsule provides healthy fats from safflower oil and patented ketone salts the body uses for energy. When taken on an empty stomach, the ketones should reduce hunger, control carb cravings and provide energy by burning more fat. It’s also available in gummies.

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