Achieving a performance edge with sports nutrition

The key demographic for sports nutrition products has evolved in recent years. Once the domain of hardcore bodybuilders and athletes, elite brands have attracted the attention of fitness enthusiasts looking to push their performance further. There is no longer a ‘one size fits all’ approach, as consumers increasingly seek tailored products and customized solutions. With different requirements for energy generation, muscle function and recovery, food, beverage and supplement manufacturers are facing growing pressures to deliver

Ready, set, go

Whether it be professionals preparing for an endurance event or so-called weekend warriors fueling themselves before a gym session, energy generation is a crucial part of obtaining peak sports performance. B vitamins, such as thiamin, riboflavin and vitamin B6, are popular ingredient choices for incorporation into sports nutrition products, as they are important for helping the body to produce energy. In addition, vitamin B12 plays a role in red blood cell formation and folate can help in normal blood formation; while both are required for the process of cell division – a key function during exercise. B vitamins have long been widely formulated in sports nutrition products, particularly since the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) confirmed that health benefits have been established for the dietary intake of certain B vitamins in contributing to normal energy metabolism and the reduction of tiredness and fatigue.1

Optimizing muscle function

In addition to the importance of energy generation, maintaining optimal muscle function forms a large part of athletes performing at the best of their ability. However, during periods of intense effort, muscles can sustain damage, making it more difficult to achieve maximum performance. For instance, in the second hour of exercise, the body gets 5-15% of its energy from amino acids. Without rapid absorption of amino acids during this window, the body breaks down muscle to retrieve energy, which degrades the tissue. It is therefore crucial that amino acids are effectively delivered to muscles both during and after exercise, to prevent any damage.

Nutritional intervention could prove key in readdressing the balance between protein breakdown and synthesis during exercise in order to maintain muscle function. Several studies show that nutrition can suppress muscle protein breakdown (MPB) following exercise. According to research, this will contribute to improved net muscle protein balance (NBAL) and increased muscle mass, a hypothesis that is leading consumers to look for products that accelerate the process of remodeling and reconditioning muscle proteins.2

Delivering on performance

In order to keep up with growing consumer demands for products that improve sports performance and repair, manufacturers are developing breakthrough formulations ® that appeal to athletes and sports enthusiasts alike. For example, DSM’s PeptoPro® is a highly advanced peptide formulation derived from dairy protein, containing all 20 amino acids needed for muscle protein synthesis, in the form of di- and tri-peptides. PeptoPro® molecules are small enough to be absorbed in the body without the need for digestion, for an instant delivery of amino acids to the muscles and support during periods of intense exercise. PeptoPro® is an appealing addition to products such as sports nutrition beverages, as it can create transparent formulations in cold water, for a smooth, refreshing drink that can be consumed on-the-go.

According to a study on the ingredient, PeptoPro® has been found to enhance both endurance and performance in trained cyclists, when taken together with carbohydrates.3 As part of the research, 13 recreationally competitive cyclists participated in a study examining the effect of PeptoPro® supplementation on cycling time performance during exercise. The results showed that the group with PeptoPro® was 1.6% faster in the last 20 km and 2.5% faster in the last 5km climb. The power output was also higher: 4.2% in the last 5 km climb.

The inflammatory effect

Since athletes require speed and quality of recovery to help achieve a consistently high performance, it is important that sports nutrition brands also consider ingredients that can obtain these effects as much as possible in new product development. During intensive exercise, the body undergoes a significant amount of stress. When the heart rate reaches 82% of its maximum capacity – between around 125-150 beats per minute (bpm) depending on age – thrombin and epinephrine (adrenaline) are released. This activates blood platelets after only three minutes of intense exercise, with the effects often lasting for 48 hours. In addition to thrombin and epinephrine production, platelets are stimulated in athletes during exercise due to mechanisms including increased body temperature, dehydration and lactic acidosis, where lactate builds up in the body.

For athletes, when the platelets are activated it acts as an early warning system for a range of stressors experienced by the body, which can slow recovery. For instance, it can result in delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), poor sleep quality and lower immune function over time – depending on the intensity and length of the exercise session. Crucially, platelet activation can lead to extended periods of tiredness that means that individuals are not fully ready for the next training session.

On the road to recovery

Backed by extensive scientific studies, DSM’s Fruitflow® is a natural antiplatelet that may help the body to recover faster following exercise. Derived from tomatoes, the ingredient contains over 30 water-soluble and concentrated bioactive compounds, and is suitable for use in foods, beverages and dietary supplements. Fruitflow® was also the first natural cardio-protective functional ingredient to receive approval of an Article 13.5 health claim from the European Commission.4

Research shows that Fruitflow® can be beneficial for athletes looking to help maintain healthy platelet function during exercise. For example, in one study, people of high and normal fitness levels undertook their typical exercise regime, with or without a supplement containing Fruitflow®. In subjects where Fruitflow® supplementation was taken before exercise, less inflammation was recorded in muscles following activity.5 As such, the ingredient would be beneficial in formulations designed to be taken in advance of intensive training. For elite athletes and serious amateurs, the use of Fruitflow® between training sessions, enabling more effective training and a stronger immune system. While for regular and occasional exercisers, the ingredient can contribute to reduced muscle soreness – often associated with high intensity interval training (HIIT) – helping lower stress on the body and speed up recovery.

Partnering for success

The proven effects of PeptoPro® and Fruitflow® have led to an ongoing partnership between DSM and Team Sunweb – a German cycling team that participates in Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) World Tour events. With the aim of improving the cyclists’ performance through nutrition and material science, and becoming a significant, sustainable and recognizable party at the highest level of international cycling, the collaboration has provided the cyclists with both ingredients during this year’s cycling season. The partnership culminated in Team Sunweb cyclist Tom Doumoulin achieving second place in 2018’s Tour de France and Giro d’Italia, while DSM’s unrestricted access to the team and use of innovative technology, such as a 360-degree video, has provided consumers across the globe with a unique insight into the tour experience and the importance of sports nutrition.

Given the varied factors that affect sports performance, both athletes and everyday exercisers have specific nutritional needs to fuel their intense exercise regimes. Particularly as consumers become more aware of the importance of the right nutrition, there is an opportunity for food, beverage and supplement manufacturers to offer tailored, nutritional solutions, to meet these growing requirements. Ingredients such as B vitamins, PeptoPro® and Fruitflow® are highlighting how advances in science can fill the gap in the sports nutrition market, helping innovative products stand out on the shelves by providing a performance edge.

For more information, please visit


  1. EFSA Journal, ‘Scientific opinion on the substantiation of health claims related to vitamin B12 and red blood cell formation, cell division, energy-yielding metabolism and function of the immune system pursuant to Article 13(1) of Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006’, vol. 7, no. 9, 2009.
  2. K. Tipton and R. Wolfe, ‘Protein and amino acids for athletes’, J Sports Sci., vol. 22, no. 1, 2004, p.65-79.
  3. M. Saunders et al., ‘Carbohydrate and protein hydrolysate coingestion’s improvement of late-exercise time-trial performance’, International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, vol. 19, 2009, p.136-149.
  4. European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), ‘Water-soluble tomato concentrate (WSTC I and II) and platelet aggregation’, The EFSA Journal, vol. 7, no. 5, 2009.
  5. O’Kennedy et al., ‘Fruitflow®: the first European Food Safety Authority-approved natural cardio-protective functional ingredient’, Eur J Clin Nutr., vol. 56, no. 2, pg. 461-482, 2017.

Ruedi Duss,
Global Marketing & Business Manager,

Leave a Reply