Taking sports nutrition to the next level of taste

The growing market for BCAAs

Fuelled by mainstream consumer interest in sports nutrition, protein has seen a meteoric rise in recent years.

In fact, with forecast sales in sports nutrition set to top £618.4 million by 2020 (Euromonitor, Sports Nutrition in the UK, 2015), the once staple of bodybuilders and Olympic athletes, is now seen as an important part of an active lifestyle. As a result, manufacturers are looking to capitalise on this increase with strong new product development (NPD). This innovation is most pronounced in the ready-to-drink category, which posted value growth of 26 per cent in 2015. 

With the popularity of endurance sports such as triathlons, marathons and obstacle courses, athletes of all abilities are looking for alternative ways to optimise their performances by implementing targeted training and nutrition programmes. While protein remains the bedrock of sports nutrition, more athletes are turning to advanced nutrition products that include innovative ingredients such as branched amino acid (BCAA) mixes and all in one pre-workout supplements. Supporting this trend Euromonitor International valued the global non-protein sports nutrition sector at 1.6 billion in 2014.  Similarly the UK has seen a vast increase in the popularity of these products, with sales forecast to reach £167.5 million by 2020.

As with protein based products in the past, the biggest hindrance for BCAAs in attracting a wide scale audience is the overpowering base off notes. Whereas most flavour companies are now very adept at masking the ‘cowshed’ off-notes associated with whey protein, masking the inherent bitter taste profile and burnt flavour of BCAAs remains somewhat of an uphill challenge for the industry. No-one likes to eat or drink a product that tastes bad. Therefore, manufacturers need to address the issue between performance and taste in order to grow mass appeal. 

So what are BCAAs and how do they help athletes?

BCAAs are essential amino acids that cannot be produced by the human body and must therefore be consumed through diet. There are three BCAAs: leucine, isoleucine, and valine, all of which can be obtained from protein found in every day food such as meat, dairy products and legumes. Studies dating back decades have found that these amino acids stimulate protein production and prevent muscle protein degradation at high concentrates.

Mainstream attraction 

So how can they help your regular athlete in their triathlon? Well for many athletes, resistance exercise, such as weight training or using exercise bands, is an integral part of their overall training regime. This form of exercise incorporates lengthening contractions and can result in delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). The effects of DOMS includes a reduction in muscle function, diminished range of motion, swelling and increased muscle soreness. We all know what it feels like walking up a flight of stairs after a particularly heavy session at the gym! However, for athletes who need to train on subsequent days to improve performance, BCAA supplementation offers them an alternative solution to the dreaded ice bath. 

Recent research has shown that using BCAAs before and after exercise can reduce the effects of muscle damage and help muscles recover more quickly when working out over a sustained period. Not only can this combat the effects of DOMS, but also help enhance an athlete’s strength and improve their muscle performance over the long-term. 

Taste versus performance 

While today’s consumers want their food and beverages to have multiple functional benefits, they still want it to taste nice. Unfortunately, many of these functional ingredients often possess unappealing taste attributes, and therefore need flavour adding to disguise the taste. As mentioned earlier BCAAs typically have an extremely bitter taste profile, as well as an unpleasant smell often described as ‘burnt’. Leucine in particular, which is considered the most effective of the three BCAAs at promoting muscle protein production, is the most bitter. This bitterness is a major hurdle for manufacturers to overcome in order to appeal to a mainstream audience. 

Bitterness is one of the most complex tastes, with a diverse range of components, making it difficult to identify a universally effective bitterness blocker. Being able to predict bitterness in functional ingredients such as BCAAs, is vitally important in transforming a poor tasting base into something that is more palate pleasing. 

If you’re interested in finding out more about Synergy’s latest research into masking bitterness in BCAA-based products, you can download our whitepaper here.

 As part of our commitment to and support of the sports nutrition market, we became members of the European Specialist Sports Nutrition Alliance (ESSNA) in 2017.

ESSNA is a highly respected trade association which represents the interests of the sports nutrition sector and is widely recognised by legislators and the mainstream media as the voice of the responsible specialist sports nutrition sector in Europe.