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Versatile Capsules for Sports Nutrition

Dosage delivery forms are now a critical part of chemistry for creating inventive sports nutrition products forward-looking consumers will buy.

The sports nutrition market is generally the supplement industry’s first adopter and first mover of cutting-edge products. This history bodes especially well today for the entire industry.  Sports nutrition, once a smaller niche market of elite athletes and sports teams, is now the fastest growing and leading supplement market due to the entry of active mainstream consumers seeking healthy living and fitness trends driven by Millennials and Gen Xers as well as seniors bent on maintaining mobility and independence.

Now relabeled the “sports nutrition/active nutrition” market—with emphasis on the slash!—the category is embracing a wider array of supplement ingredients that benefit and lengthen physical strength, endurance and dexterity. Dosage delivery forms are now a critical part of chemistry for creating inventive products forward-looking consumers will buy. Innovative delivery forms can meet a unique subset of consumer requirements ranging from convenience to consumption pleasure to preservation and/or enhancement of ingredient effectiveness. 

Sports nutrition sales revenue rose from US$7.3 billion in 2011 to $13.6 billion in 2017, and is expected to continue growing at a fast rate (7.9 percent compound annual growth rate [CAGR] from 2016 to 2021), according to Euromonitor International. The United States has represented 60 percent of the value over the past decade.

The market’s new crowd wants supplements that will help them gain more energy and endurance, lose more weight, feel better, perform better, recover better and relieve muscle soreness. They look for products to support joints, bones and the cardiovascular system. They also want to build and maintain muscle. 

While sports powders, drinks and bars are the most popular delivery forms for protein—which comprise the bulk of sales in sports nutrition—other delivery forms for a wide range of supplements are continuing to fuel demand.

According to the National Marketing Institute’s (NMI) 2018 Supplements, Over-the-Counter, and RX Database (SORD) study (data collected in 2017), capsules are not only the top delivery form for the population (41 percent), but also for the sports nutrition supplement crowd—beating out tablets (second), softgels (third) and other novelty delivery systems. 

Versatility is the core appeal of the capsule as a delivery form. Not only can it meet clean label claims, but it can be neater (no messy packages from sport bars), more convenient (slides right into purses, bags and pockets) and easier to consume (no mixing and stirring of powders).  

A variety of innovative hard-capsule technologies also can meet delivery challenges of sports nutrition ingredients. These technologies can bolster stability, bioavailability, and targeted and/or timed release—all beneficial to promoting the effectiveness of a supplement ingredient.  Some can also mask odors and bitter tastes, which can support compliance of a supplement regimen. 

A hydroxypropyl methylcellulose (HPMC) capsule with unique acid-resistant properties inherent in the polymer are suitable for acid-sensitive ingredients such as creatine (for energy), enzymes (for digestion and inflammation), amino acids (for endurance and muscle recovery such as SAMe, l-glutathione, l-carnosine, etc.), and probiotics (for digestive health and overall well-being). This capsule does not dissolve for at least 30 minutes, and during in vivo testing showed an average of 52 minutes before opening. It resists the stomach’s pH of 1.2, fully opening at an intestinal pH of 6.8. Providing acid protection helps delivery of the full dose.

A hard capsule with technology to keep oxygen out is ideal for delivery of unstable liquids that can degrade if exposed to oxygen. These include resveratrol (for endurance and weight management), krill oil (for heart health), L-carnitine (for weight management, energy and heart health), L-arginine (for weight management) and HMB, a metabolite of leucine (for muscle recovery and muscle mass protection). These capsules can be made of gelatin, vegetarian or fish polymers. 

A capsule-in-a-capsule technology is a creative solution for combination products or extended release. The capsule delivers in one package the combination of powders, liquids and/or beadlets, and incompatible ingredients for release at different intervals. It also can deliver the same ingredient in different forms for release over a period of time at different intervals for a longer-lasting effect. Release intervals can address various needs before, during and after a workout. 

As examples, caffeine solubilized in vegetable oil is filled in the outer capsule that dissolves first for immediate energy. An inner capsule that dissolves later is filled with caffeine beads of different sizes that dissolve at intervals due to varied thickness of coatings. This type of extended-release technology can also be used to deliver melatonin to ensure a full night’s sleep necessary for exercise recovery and general good health.   

For delivery of a prebiotic-probiotic combination supplement (for digestive health), a liquid-based prebiotic formula in an outer capsule is released first to better prepare the environment for the probiotic in the inner capsule that is released later and closer to the intestinal tract where probiotics work best. 

The capsule-in-a-capsule technology is also highly effective for pairing ingredients that don’t mix well such as CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) oil and l-carnitine water-soluble powder, which, when combined, aid in fat loss and promote energy.   

Lipid multi-particulates (LMP) technology offers a variety of delivery applications (including capsules), modified release and taste-masking. As examples, a powder blend of zinc, magnesium and vitamin B6 for muscle building can be formed into LMP spheres that can be delivered in powder form inside capsules, suspended in beverages or included in shots. Delayed release of phosphatidic acid has been touted as valuable for building muscle and recovering from exercise. LMP has been combined in a bulk powder blend that can be mixed with water. The microspheres float in water but dissolve after ingestion so the active is released periodically when it is needed for a longer-enduring effect. As another example, the sustained, modified release feature of LMP for beverage application delivery of theacrine, often used synergistically with caffeine, contributes to taste-masking of the extremely bitter supplement at therapeutic levels because it stops dissolution of microspheres until after consumption, when the active is no longer in contact with the palate. 

The innovative delivery technologies discussed here are just the most recent to explode out of the lab. More are undoubtedly brewing; stay tuned for the next blast.  

Barri Sigvertsen is the marketing manager at Lonza Consumer Health & Nutrition.

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