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Flavor and function trends in performance nutrition

Performance nutrition is a robust, growing category within the health and wellness space that many brands are eager to build into their product offerings. Once considered the domain of serious weightlifters or professional athletes, pre-, intra-, and post-workout snacks and beverages are now in demand for the broader nutrition market that includes “weekend warriors” and fitness lifestyle consumers.

In addition to consumer advocacy and education driving growth in the functional foods market, improved palatability and sensory experience have boosted the category. Delicious and exciting, flavors inspired by childhood (e.g., cereal milk, classic candy, sour lemonades), cocktail-inspired flavors (from Bellinis to mules to mudslides), and indulgent favorite flavors (e.g., grasshopper pie, s’mores, gooey cake, and blueberry bramble crisp) have increased mass market appeal of functional applications like snacks, shakes, and confections.

Performance nutrition is about timing

According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition, the timing of sports nutrition supplementation is as important as the nutrient absorbed. With increased demand for performance nutrition comes an increased understanding of the how these applications work. Consumers are becoming more aware of the importance of balancing timing with the type of nutrients supplemented, placing greater importance on formulating snacks and drinks with ergogenic nutrients targeted specifically to pre-exercise, during exercise, and post-exercise needs.

Pre-workout supplements can come in a variety of forms, and their primary functions are to increase metabolism and cognition while reducing catabolism and inflammation. For instance, a pectin-based functional gummy fortified with BCAA and caffeine can help optimize workout routines and athletic performance. Gummy applications can include a spectrum of ingredients and they are a natural fit for flavor modulation.           

Like gummies, beverages are ideal intra-workout applications because of their portability, and they present broad opportunities for ingredient supplementation. The role of supplements during exercise is to prevent dehydration and maintain blood glucose levels. By helping reduce fatigue and limit the instances of exercise-induced protein degradation and inflammation, consumers can perform better, longer.  

The role of nutrition and supplements post-workout is one that is most often discussed. Post-workout snacks, beverages, and meals help replenish nutrients expended during exercise and competition, promoting recovery, reducing inflammation, and supporting the immune system. Post-workout beverages with trending flavors like cookie dough or fruity cereal milk can be supplemented with a variety of functional ingredients like carbohydrates, proteins, and amino acids, combining exciting and on-trend flavors with in-demand functionality.

Virginia Dare exists to ensure that performance products – no matter which stage of the workout they empower – taste as great as they make consumers perform.

The demand for natural flavors

Clean label sports nutrition products represent the convergence of two major health and wellness trends into a singular, growing market. According to a report from the NPD Group, special food labels calling out non-GMO, organic, and all-natural ingredients are gaining momentum in all age categories, from Gen Z to Boomers, with Millennial parents and Gen Z leading the way.

Fitness consumers are increasingly label conscious, and, while flavor will always remain a primary deciding factor when making food purchases, food values like sustainability also drive consumer food purchasing decisions, according to the latest International Food Information Council study.

As the market for performance nutrition grows, so does the demand for flavor masking systems that eliminate the off tastes most vitamins, minerals, proteins, and other functional ingredients carry alongside their nutritive benefits. With a large segment of the market paying attention to both function and label, functional food and beverage manufacturers must be aware of the negative associations with artificial ingredients, food technology, and processing methods.

Delivering preferred taste in healthy and clean label applications requires a customized solution for taste enhancement and modulation that maintains a short ingredient list that is as natural as it is powerful. We work with formulators to identify opportunities to use natural flavors with special labels, including non-GMO and organic, to satisfy customer demand for clean label solutions with preferred taste.

Emerging ingredients & modulation

Caffeine is one example of an emerging pre-workout ingredient used in performance nutrition applications. When used as a part of a pre-workout nutrition plan, caffeine helps increase training volume and intensity and reduce fatigue, which can help when squeezing in an extra mile or a few more reps.

However, like some proteins, vitamins, and minerals, caffeine also presents a flavor challenge for formulators. Because it carries with it a bitter taste, pre-workout applications enhanced with caffeine will likely require taste modulation and masking systems to appeal to a larger market.

Our team of food scientists and flavorists works closely with our partners to develop flavor masking and modulation solutions for a variety of functional food applications. By masking the off tastes of performance ingredients like protein and caffeine, brands can seize emerging ingredient trends without compromising on the key deciding factor – taste.

Get in touch to learn more about how we can help you formulate for performance nutrition applications and visit us at SupplySide West booth 2859 to sample our performance prototypes.