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Curcumin, testosterone boosters may aid sports endeavors

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Botanicals that support recovery, mental game, vitality or muscle can help differentiate dietary supplements in the sports nutrition space.

Sports nutrition is evolving to active nutrition as the emergent and active global middle class focuses more on healthy lifestyles and fitness. The sports nutrition boom—in which Euromonitor International noted global growth of 207% from 2010 to 2018—has recently been tempered by a slowdown in the predominant U.S. market, which was reflected in global growth of only 5% in 2019.

Enormous market potential

Consumers will spend in this category. The Global Wellness Institute (GWI) valued the broader global physical activity economy at $828 billion in 2018. Innovation and differentiation are important to reinvigorating possibly oversaturated segments.

An FMCG Gurus global active nutrition study in Q3 2019 indicated 61% of people are looking to improve health, with healthy aging as a priority. As sports nutrition brands broaden their offerings to appeal to average, health-conscious consumers, botanical extracts may help provide differentiation from food-based nutritionals.

Key considerations

Emergent users are looking beyond traditional ingredients and formats.

Innovation brings new ingredients from outside sports nutrition to tap into the need states of both original (core) and emergent users (active lifestyle). Botanical extracts require innovation beyond traditional dietary supplement use to develop new formats to expand use through convenience and improved efficacy of nutrients.

Targeting need states

Recovery is a primary need-state in sports nutrition, with both its quality and rate being vital considerations for elite athletes, as well as those pursuing an active lifestyle. Protein is traditionally the key ingredient consumed to stimulate recovery because of its positive impact on muscle protein synthesis (MPS), injury, soreness and subsequent performance.  However, because recovery is inherently linked to other need-states—including injury, pain reduction, inflammation and sleep—potential exists for other active ingredients to have an impact, whether consumed in isolation or in a variety of product formulations. Many botanical ingredients may assist with these need states, but their format, organoleptic and physical properties may limit their use or convenience.


Curcumin can provide many potential benefits; however, its hydrophobic (hates water) nature makes it difficult to deliver a therapeutic dose orally, or to combine into traditional sports nutrition formats. As a lipophilic active, curcumin has challenges from an absorption perspective.

Regular curcumin cannot be used in a ready-to-mix (RTM) powder—the most common dosage form for sports nutrition. But technologies such as LipiSperse aid in solid dispersion, for instance, keeping curcumin as a powder but allowing the particles to disperse in water (or the body).

A pharmacokinetic study supported increased bioavailability of curcumin with LipiSperse (as HydroCurc, from Pharmako Biotechnologies).1 The total amount of curcuminoids delivered into the blood was 807ng/ml—significantly higher plasma curcuminoid concentrations compared to raw curcumin tested in the study.

An exercise recovery study demonstrated HydroCurc—as compared to placebo—improved delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and inflammatory markers, which may allow for a quicker return to exercise training, or a return to training at higher thresholds.2

Recent research in England also supported the benefits of HydroCurc for cognitive function.3 Increasing brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) has huge potential in the growing gaming and esports segments. BDNF is key for the maintenance of normal neuronal function and energy homeostasis and has been suggested to improve cognitive function, including learning and memory.

Testosterone boosters

With COVID-19 disrupting gyms, supplement retailers and participation in sport, new need-states emerged to cater to a more home-based lifestyle. As consumers became more conscious of their health and well-being, the sports nutrition industry gained opportunities to grow with new categories receiving more attention, such as sleep, energy and maintaining muscle health.

Testosterone is a hormone essential for liveliness and well-known for performance enhancement in sports. Low levels typically lead to issues such as lethargy, loss of vitality, and a loss of muscle mass and strength. Some dietary supplement ingredients may aid in increasing levels within normally human physiological limits.

An eight-week study found that supplementing with 600 mg Testofen—Gencor’s unique Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) seed extract—improved testosterone levels, body composition and strength in men when compared to placebo.4 A similar study is also currently wrapping up that assesses the effect of Testofen on females—an often-neglected population when it comes to muscle health. The ingredient is conducive to various delivery formats, ranging powders, functional foods and beverages, softgels and dietary supplements.

Also from Gencor, Tesnor is another plant-derived brand associated with supporting testosterone levels in two unpublished studies. A proprietary blend of cocoa bean (Theobroma cacao) and pomegranate peel (Punica granatum), the ingredient demonstrated to aid in muscle strength and growth in young males, as well as improve age-related male symptoms in older men.

Testosterone levels are applicable to consumers across their life span, as the benefits are inherently linked and represent different age groups and/or outcome measures for the same physiological mechanism (i.e., muscle mass, strength and vitality). Ultimately, the benefits are important no matter who the target consumer or market is; communication and positioning should be carefully considered, though. For instance, during a lockdown, a healthy aging stance can be tied to maintaining muscle mass in response to periods of inactivity—as opposed to a traditional sports performance improvement angle.

Visit the “Energy ingredients with market buzz” digital magazine to read additional content about the sports nutrition vitality market.

Eric Meppem is the co-founder and commercial director of Pharmako Biotechnologies. With nearly two decades of experience in the nutraceuticals industry, he specializes in bringing to market innovation from both a product and material perspective. Meppem has senior sales and marketing expertise with a strong commercial background, and extensive business involvement with FMCG, wholesale, retail and B2B supply chain. 

With knowledge in the field of exercise and nutrition and further experience as a research fellow from the University of Oxford, Mariko Hill is responsible for new product and business development at Gencor. As an international athlete, she has particular interest in the impact of nutrition on performance and recovery.


1 Briskey D et al. “Increased bioavailability of curcumin using a novel dispersion technology system (LipiSperse).” Eur J Nutr. 2019;58:2087-2097.

2 Mallard AR et al. “Curcumin Improves Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness and Postexercise Lactate Accumulation.” J Diet Suppl. 2020:1796885.

3 Lorinczova HT et al. “Co-Administration of Iron and a Bioavailable Curcumin Supplement Increases Serum BDNF Levels in Healthy Adults.” Antioxidants (Basel). 2020;9(8):645.

4 Rao AJ et al. “Testofen (Fenugreek extract) increases strength and muscle mass compared to placebo in response to calisthenics. A randomized control trial.” Transl Sports Med. 2020;3:374-380.

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