Sports nutrition is a competitive and highly innovative industry with a market segment that always wants to know what’s hot, what’s best, and what’s next. Consumers within this industry perform in activities where seconds and inches count, so both producers and consumers seek novel ways to improve performance and physique. The drive for advancement leads to consistent development of products containing novel ingredients and combinations, which gives workout supplement consumers plenty of choice. From a regulatory perspective, however, new isn’t always better, since not all ingredients are permitted by Health Canada, and it takes some time for the research to catch up.
Most of the established sports nutrition brands offer products across three broad categories:pre-workout (performance), post-workout (recovery), and fat burners (metabolic aids). Products within these categories are carefully formulated to achieve their effects by different means. For example, a pre-workout supplement might boost performance by containing carbohydrates as an energy source along with some caffeine to lend a kick, but the more carefully formulated products will also include ingredients to support aspects of performance beyond energy provision, such as amino acids for endurance or creatine for gaining strength.
Consumers and formulators have long recognized creatine and caffeine as the leading ingredients in the pre-workout (performance) category, but interest is growing in alternatives to these reigning energy and performance boosters.
Nitrate, which occurs naturally in beets, is gaining popularity as pre-workout ingredient due to its positive effects on exercise performance. Nitrate (NO3) is reduced in the body to nitric oxide (NO), a molecule long associated with exercise-related functions in the body such as blood flow, muscle contraction, glucose regulation, and energy production. Nitric oxide (or simply called “NO”) is a current buzzword in the industry, a term consumers may look for when shopping for pre-workout supplements. Clinical research suggests that nitrate may boost performance by reducing the oxygen cost of exercise.
Nootropic ingredients are another type of ingredient gaining traction in the pre-workout category. Nootropics target the mental aspect of performance, and are included in pre-workout supplements to relieve stress and increase motivation, alertness, and focus. Phenethylamine (PEA) is a nootropic ingredient that has provoked a lot of interest in the market. An alkaloid found naturally in chocolate, PEA is usually included in workout supplements for mood elevating and fat-burning effects. It is a great example of research needing to catch up with ideas, though. To date, Health Canada has issued only seven licenses to products containing PEA, which, given the high level of interest in the ingredient, suggests the clinical research supporting its safety isn’t strong. Choosing to include a difficult-to-license ingredient like PEA in your supplement can mean a more arduous regulatory process, but the reward of being among a small selection of products offering an ingredient to consumers can be worth the extra effort up front.
Post-workout (recovery) supplements are formulated for different effects than pre-workout supplements, since the goal of post-workout products isn’t performance, but to help the body replenish stores, repair damage, and build muscle.
Whey protein and amino acids like glutamine are historically esteemed in this category, but antioxidants and more novel ingredients are gaining regard. Borrowing from the spice cabinet, turmeric is emerging as a popular choice. Turmeric contains the antioxidant, curcumin, which is an ingredient recognized by Health Canada for its role in relieving joint inflammation. In addition to curcumin’s benefits in joint function, a recent clinical trial links it with relief of muscle soreness and protection against muscle injury. A second trial supports the same indications and goes further to associate curcumin specifically with muscle recovery. Along the same lines, omega-3 fatty acids (which are generally sourced from fish oil) are becoming popular, since recent clinical research shows that omega-3 fatty acids effectively relieve muscle soreness and stiffness following exercise, may support immune function, and can increase cardiovascular adaptation to exercise.
Finally, since no one can see muscles hidden under a layer of fat, fat loss products are integral to any workout offering. Ingredients that combat fat come under a number of names, each linked to the way they help you trim down: appetite suppressants make you feel less hungry so you lose fat by eating less; metabolism boosters and thermogenic ingredients stimulate your metabolism to burn fat faster; and absorption effectors influence your body’s nutrient digestion to elicit changes in weight.
No one in the industry talks about fat burners without thinking of yohimbine, an alkaloid derived from the bark of a tree in Africa, which is hugely popular in the United States. Unfortunately, yohimbine can only be sold with a prescription in Canada, so supplement companies need to look elsewhere for replacement ingredients in over-the-counter products. Coleus forskohlii, a member of the mint family, contains an alkaloid called forskolin that stimulates an enzyme involved in elevating the metabolic rate and increasing use of body fat. Since forskolin doesn’t act as a stimulant, it is an attractive choice for post-workout supplements, which are typically stacked (taken in the same day) with pre-workout supplements that already contain high levels of stimulants like caffeine Carnitine is another popular choice, one that is simple to license, since it is pre-cleared by Health Canada for a number of post-exercise benefits, including muscle recovery, tissue repair, and fat metabolism.
NHP Consulting’s team of experts has the knowledge to recommend innovative or easy-to-license ingredients to achieve the effects you want; to round out your product offerings with safe ingredients that have shelf appeal; and to flag ingredients in your exercise supplements that would lead to refusal by Health Canada. Contact us today to start the discussion about formulating a new product or applying to have an existing formula approved by Health Canada.