Supplements for sports nutrition and, specifically, muscle health are in demand. According to BCC Research, the global market for whey protein alone is projected to reach US$13.5 billion by 2020, fueled by casual exercisers and fitness devotees alike who are willing to invest in their health.
But muscle health isn’t limited to optimizing gym workouts and recovery. According to the Canadian Sarcopenia Foundation, age-related muscle loss is one of the most prevalent health issues among the elderly, who generally experience a loss of 1 percent of muscle mass each year, which results in a diminished quality of life. The term sarcopenia (from the Greek word “sarx,” or flesh, plus “penia,” or loss) was coined by Irwin Rosenberg in in 1989 to describe this age-related decrease of muscle mass. Studies estimate 5 to 13 percent of people ages 60 through 70 are affected, causing an increased risk of falls and other quality of life issues for seniors.1 And while sarcopenia may be primarily associated with the elderly, this muscle loss can start as early as age 30, particularly in those with sedentary lifestyles and poor diet.
The good news is sports nutrition is already an immensely popular category. The Council for Responsible Nutrition’s (CRN) 2017 Annual Survey on Dietary Supplements revealed that of the 170 million U.S. adults who take supplements, 22 percent shop the sports nutrition aisle and 19 percent seek out protein powders, drinks and bars. Protein is even taken by one-quarter of all male supplement users. But is sarcopenia on these consumers’ minds?
Not yet. Although there’s a clear opportunity for growth, the sarcopenia nutraceuticals market is still in its infancy—in both the number of brands offering such products as well as sales of these products—reaching just US$7 million in market value. One way to grow this market is, of course, by targeting older consumers who are already experiencing muscle lose due to sarcopenia.
According to a study published in the Journal of Cachexia, Sarcopenia and Muscle, it doesn’t take rigorous exercise training to mitigate sarcopenia.1 Researchers found progressive resistance training about two or three times per week can improve gait speed, timed get-up-and-go, climbing stairs, and overall muscle strength among older people. Nutritional interventions can also play a role in this population. Researchers said about 40 percent of people over age 70 don’t get enough protein to support muscle health, so supplementation is important for this group. Supplementing with amino acids also has a positive effect, with handgrip strength and walking distance drastically improved after three months of use. Leucine, for example, has been shown to preserve lean body mass.2
But researchers also said that the first step in minimizing sarcopenia is to create more awareness among younger people—especially since early stage sarcopenia, beginning in middle age, often goes undetected. As sarcopenia is difficult to reverse, prevention is key. And this prevention starts with educating younger consumers (including some 71 million millennials) on some simple things they can do to preserve their muscle mass.
Delaying sarcopenia is truly about whole body health. In fact, one study showed vitamin D deficiency is associated with sarcopenia in older populations, and researchers said current data provides evidence for the beneficial effects of the vitamin on muscle strength, physical performance and the prevention of falls.3 According to Naeem Shaikh, Ph.D., vice president of research and innovation at National Enzyme Company (NEC), additional nutrients beneficial for muscle health include, but are not limited to, vitamins E and C, minerals like calcium, magnesium, phosphorous and chromium, and polyunsaturated fatty acids, which “have been shown to augment exercise induced effects such as hypertrophy and hyperplasia,” he said.
That said, protein is still top of mind for most consumers interested in muscle health, and for good reason. Research from McMaster University showed whey protein, when taken on a regular basis, can greatly improve the physical strength of not just gym buffs, but also senior citizens, who are most at risk for rapid muscle loss.4 This particular study blended whey protein with creatinine, vitamin D, calcium and fish oil for a comprehensive muscle-building boost.
However, when consumers—young and old—turn to protein supplements, they often experience unpleasant side effects like occasional constipation, bloating, and gas, all because protein is a complex molecule that’s difficult for the body to break down. Plus, without proper digestion, the body can’t utilize protein supplements to their maximum potential. Enter enzymes.
Proteases work alongside protein to not only digest it for optimal absorption, but help to minimize some of the unpleasant side effects that can contribute to discontinuing use. The result is better bioavailability, minimized side effects, and a more well-rounded muscle-preserving plan.
Educating younger consumers about sarcopenia, even if they are already hitting the gym and investing in their muscle health, can be a challenge. But Shaikh offered a recommendation for marketers. “Encourage consumers to think of muscles like a bank account—the larger the reserves you have, the longer they will last,” he said. “If you build up enough mass at a younger age, it will last longer. Losing a certain percentage of muscle mass with age is a part of life. But if you have more muscle to lose, you can delay the onset of sarcopenia.”
This article was submitted by National Enzyme Company and written by Melissa Kvidahl Reilly. Reilly is a freelance writer with 10 years of experience covering the natural products industry, from food and beverage to personal care, from research developments to market trends. Her work appears in a number of industry publications, including Natural Products INSIDER, Food Insider Journal, Natural Foods Merchandiser, Delicious Living and more. She lives and writes in New Jersey.
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