Winter sports (Part 1): The mainstreaming of dairy proteins and the active consumer


29 Jan 2018 --- Fueling the body for outdoor winter sports can be a challenging process. In contrast to activities in the summer, during the winter months, the body can be under pressure to maintain physical stamina. The sports and active nutrition market have been enjoying a steady growth, with many amateur athletes looking to increase their performance with the use of protein-enriched foods, bars and supplements, this market is expected to grow at a steady rate for the foreseeable future. Nutrition is closely linked to health and wellness, with many of today’s consumers often opting for the healthier choices and this is not only when it comes to food but also when it comes to sports and fitness.

With the Winter Olympics fast approaching, FoodIngredientsFirst examines the options for active nutrition in the world of protein and how important protein is to recovery and fitness, specifically in winter.

Firstly, Thijs Bosch, Sales Director at Fonterra Europe, spoke to FoodIngredientsFirst, he began by addressing the fact that sports nutrition is much more mainstream nowadays. “The core base of elite and amateur athletes is growing rapidly and the sports nutrition market is a fast-growing market. What is really driving the growth moving forward is the mainstreaming of proteins in the active nutrition space. You can also see that in the different types of applications and formats that protein is being sold. Consumers have a much better understanding now what protein does for the body, so mainstreaming of protein is definitely a trend.”

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Thijs Bosch, Sales Director at Fonterra Europe

Is this need for protein different during the winter? “People associate being active more to do with the summer sports and Summer Olympics rather than in the winter, but it's definitely an interesting concept,” says Bosch. “For the athletes that participate in the Winter Olympics and especially the endurance athletes, protein-rich food is a core part of their diets because they need this for muscle recovery and to be in the top shape for their sports activities during the winter months. The interest in protein consumption during casual winter holidays, such a ski and snowboarding breaks, are also increasing,” he continues, “Protein in your diet, whether you are a sports novice or a top athlete, before these sports holidays, during and also after is becoming a really important element. People who don’t normally do a lot of sports and then suddenly do a week of sports can really feel the effects in their body and that is where protein can really help with recovery.”Click to Enlarge

Bosch also noted that there are quite a few sports nutrition brands who are already tapping into these trends, and specifically start to market these products for winter sports as well, so it doesn’t only appeal to the elite athlete, its moving much more to the mainstream segments.

Dairy is crucial to this trend, according to Bosch. “There are different types of proteins but the nutrition that you get from dairy proteins is a superior type of protein specifically when it comes to muscle recovery. Proteins derived from whey proteins play an important part due to its high leucine content which is crucial for muscle recovery and maintenance,” he notes. “Casein proteins, on the other hand, are digested more slowly than whey protein and are typically marketed for overnight recovery applications.” “I think the overnight recovery trend is there to stay, but it's not used at the same scale as the whey protein side in the active nutrition space.”

So what are Fonterra doing do address these trends? “We have developed a new type of protein which is a functional milk protein concentrate which contains both the whey and casein protein in one and is more readily absorbed into the bloodstream. It is a unique type of protein which can be used in UHT and sports-related beverages, for direct absorption of protein in the body after exercise,” Bosch reveals. 

According to Bosch, whey protein demand is still on the rise. “The demand for whey protein is driven by two main categories, one is the infant formula category, the other is sports nutrition, in which whey plays a vital role and for these categories, the demand is actually growing at a healthy rate.”

“It’s a very good industry to be in, especially when you look at markets like Europe, the US and Japan where there is already a significant consumer base for these products and the growth rate for active nutrition is expected to remain at 8 to 10 percent per year.”

The main market for protein in sports nutrition is the ready-to-mix application, the powders/tub or sachets that can be used at home, they continue to be a really big part of the sports nutrition industry because it’s the most cost-effective way of consuming protein. “Protein powders will remain the biggest application area. However, most of the new innovation will be taking place in beverages, bars and new formats which are launched on the market. Making snacking food healthier is a big role that dairy and protein specifically can play in. Products which are low in sugar and high in protein while still having a good taste will be at the heart of many innovations. If you take a traditional protein bar they can be quite hard and difficult to digest, so what Fonterra is doing is providing a solution to make snacking healthy and with a good taste and texture of a product,” he notes.

In sports, hydration is still essential, consuming the right energy and fuel is very important, says Bosch. “Extreme cold is very similar to extreme heat so you do need to fuel your body to combat that, and you may need more fuel to fill the engine. This is where the consumption of protein but also carbohydrates come in.”

Bosch also noted the importance of balance in the diet but stresses that dairy does play the most important role. “When you do winter sports trips it's important to have products that are healthy and convenient so that you can consume effectively, which will keep you going for longer. The use of dairy proteins in various types of formats, therefore, makes a lot of sense to the active consumer.”

FoodIngredientsFirst also spoke to Sarah O’Neill, Marketing Manager at Carbery Group who discussed the changing attitudes to protein in this sector. “Whether skiing, snowboarding or playing ice hockey winter Olympic athletes expend more energy than the average person and their bodies need additional nutrients to recover from intense physical activity.”

Competitive athletes are constantly monitoring their energy intake and expenditure in order to maximize their performance and athletic potential through nutrition.

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Sarah O’Neill, Marketing Manager at Carbery Group

“For many of these athletes, protein and micronutrient supplementation via powders and other convenient formats have been a standard and widely used approach for meeting their daily protein requirements,” notes O’Neill.

Protein is a powerful nutrient, and today its importance is much more widely understood by the general public or mass market. Subsequently, this is driving growth across multiple food and beverage categories, and high protein claims are now prevalent in categories such as ice-cream, bread, are snacks, where in many cases they are delivering a protein boost alongside other macronutrients.

“The growth in performance nutrition products shows no signs of abating just yet,” O’Neill continues, “Demand continues to increase across the core product ranges of ready to drinks (RTDs), bars and powders.” 

“The line between sports nutrition and mass market products is becoming increasingly blurred, as witnessed in the bar and RTD categories,” she says.

“Convenience remains a significant global mega-trend and consumers are seeking nutritionally balanced, natural sources of food that can be consumed on the go to sustain hectic modern-day lifestyles.” 

O’Neill maintains that dairy is important when it comes to active nutrition. She says: “Dairy represents a natural, convenient and cost-effective way to not only ensure that individuals are consuming adequate amounts of protein daily but also that protein intake is evenly distributed between your main meals and snacks throughout the day. The two main milk proteins, whey and casein are naturally found in all dairy products, while dairy also provides other key macro and micro-nutrients such as carbohydrate and fat and vitamin D, calcium, vitamin B12 and potassium.”

Milk proteins have long been recognized as proteins of high nutritional quality.  Whey protein is the supplement of choice within performance nutrition due to its essential amino acid profile (EAA) profile in conjunction with its favorable digestion and absorption kinetics relative to other protein sources.

“An extensive body of scientific literature demonstrates the nutritional, biological and functional benefits of dairy proteins on health and human performance.”

For those individuals who are more performance focused, the fundamentals (e.g. structured, goal-oriented training, quality recovery and sleep and a good quality diet) need to be in place before the benefits of any additional supplementation can be realized. “The consumption of a high-quality dairy protein supplement such as whey at the end of a training session can promote recovery, repair and adaptation,” O’Neill states.

“We expect to see continued innovation in the ready to drink (RTD) and ready to eat (RTE) markets. New flavor combinations and novel protein ingredients will drive this growth in consumption across both these categories while specific to bars we expect to see improvements in texture and the utilization of multiple layers,” she explains. “We have recently developed Optipep 4Bars, a new whey protein ingredient that aids in maintaining softness and improving texture throughout shelf life.”

Format appeal varies widely by demographic; a 65-year-old consumer in China may increase their protein intake through powdered supplements, this format may not appeal to a similarly aged consumer living in France with a preference for protein supplementation through dairy products or RTDs.

Click to EnlargeThis presents an exciting opportunity for manufacturers to address, according to O’Neill. 

Historically, RTD manufacturers had to rely on casein-based ingredients and/or compromise on the amount of protein contained in the end product to avoid taste issues. “Our recent innovation, Optipep RTD, can help overcome these challenges. It is a great tasting 100 percent whey protein ingredient that can withstand pasteurization, and UHT treatment over a 12-month shelf life,” she adds.

Protein intake is a crucial part of a nutrition strategy aimed at maximizing the result of a training effort.

Many companies are adapting and responding to the needs of the active consumer. The sports nutrition category is likely to experience further growth in the coming years as the innovation develops even further. Elite athletes are dedicated to improving their performance and results. Nutrition has played a role the past, predominantly focused on carbohydrates for energy supply, but awareness of its importance is relatively young, or at least still varies.

FrieslandCampina DMV goes beyond delivering protein alone but offering new applications that are high in protein for performance nutrition. One of the trends of today is that consumers are demanding a wider variety of nutrition, in the form of various proteins.

Last September, FrieslandCampina DMV discussed during a webinar, the insights based on timing protein intake and the relationship with muscle recovery.

FrieslandCampina DMV highlighted that research on elite athletes and that the importance of overnight recovery is underestimated. Test research insights on protein timing suggest that there is a window of opportunity for muscle recovery throughout the night. Protein for muscle protein synthesis, directly after exercise and before bedtime is an area of opportunity which FrieslandCampina is discussing with customers, in order to bring this research forward. When training, this causes muscles to break down recovery is determined by how the athlete rests. There is now a growing amount of attention to these needs. You can read the full article here and listen to the webinar here.

By Elizabeth Green

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