Steve Myers, Senior Editor

June 4, 2012

15 Min Read

"Energy and persistence conquer everything," said Benjamin Franklin. Energy certainly permeates all facets of modern life, from work to play, and people increasingly focus on having enough energy to complete their task lists for days that seem to have less and less time. A well-rounded, healthy diet should provide the necessary fuel (energy) most people need for regular life; however, life has become less regular, and diets have become less healthy. Thus, people increasingly turn to products that offer a convenient increase in energy, including natural products such as various forms of dietary supplements.

Some popular supplement ingredients have central functions in the body's energy process. As stated in the Law of Conservation of Energy, energy can neither be created nor destroyed; it can change form, such as from chemical to kinetic energy. The trick then is not in "creating" energy, but in transferring it from good sources. The body does this with chemicals derived primarily from food intake.

For humans, the energy is in the bondsthis is about chemicals, although love can certainly produce energy. On a microbiological level, adenosine tri-phosphate (ATP) is the central energy transfer compound in cells. The bonds linking its three phosphate components, which are attached to ribose, hold significant energy that can be released or transferred to other molecules and serve as energy for various chemical reactions in the body. When the bond is broken, energy is released, and ATP becomes adenosine diphosphate (ADP).

As a required part of the ATP-energy cycle, D-ribose has been touted for helping the muscles store energy and improving recovery from energy expenditures, such as exercise. Research has suggested D-ribose, a naturally occurring pentose carbohydrate, can decrease fatigue. In an unpublished clinical study sponsored by Bioenergy Life Science, D-ribose reduced fatigue symptoms in an aging Baby Boomer population via 3-g two times/d doses. Significant improvements in quantitative measures of breathing efficiency and cellular energy management were observed, as well as improved functional capacity, aerobic exercise tolerance and mental health. Tom VonderBrink, president of Bioenergy Life Science, described ribose as "the rate-limiting compound in how quickly we can maintain and rebuild our energy stores during times of exertion."

As ATP is used for energy transfer, it becomes ADP. Glucose converted from digested food and oxygen taken in from breathing can work together to build ADP back into ATP to complete and restart the energy cycle. In a process called cellular respiration, glucose (from carbohydrates) and glycerol (from fats) are converted to pyruvatea reaction called glycolysiswhich is oxidized to carbon dioxide and coenzymesthis process is called the krebs cycle. The coenzymes are oxidized by the electron transport chain, which releases energy used to make ATPa process called oxidative phosphorylation.

A key component of aerobic cellular respiration is coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), a fat-soluble antioxidant found in the mitochondria of body cells. CoQ10 helps transport electrons and protons across the mitochondria to aid the process the of making ATP. In a nutshell, low CoQ10 means low ATP. CoQ10 is synthesized by the body, but also taken in via the diet. However, levels and production of CoQ10 in the body decrease over time, inhibiting energy production in older people. This has made supplementation an important tool for ensuring adequate CoQ10 and energy.

L-carnitine is also a key transporter in the mitochondria that influences energy production. In its case, carnitine shuttles long-chain fatty acids across the inner mitochondrial membrane. Inside the mitochondria, carnitine releases fatty acids, which are broken down through a process called beta-oxidation, resulting in the production of ATP. The body can produce carnitine in the liver from fellow amino acids lysine and methionine. Red meats are by far the richest dietary sources of carnitine, with dairy, fish and tempeh other decent sources. Vegetarians usually need a carnitine supplement, due to little dietary intake, but many other consumers have turned to carnitine supplements for improved energy and recovery from exercise.

"A recent study1 indicated that taking 1 gram of elemental L-carnitine (as Carnipure tartrate) daily promoted recovery after exercise, instead of the previously recommended 2 grams seen in most other L-carnitine studies ," said Kevin Owen, Ph.D., NAFTA head of technical marketing and scientific affairs for Lonza. "There is evidence for a beneficial effect of Carnipure supplementation in sports nutrition regarding improving recovery, optimization of performance and delaying the onset of fatigue after strenuous exercise both in bodybuilders, athletes and in untrained people."

Micronutrients can also affect energy processes, but in more of a supporting role than a direct role in energy creation. B vitamins are important for converting food into energy: vitamin B2 and biotin (vitamin B7) help metabolize amino acids, carbohydrates and fats. Vitamin B6 helps fat and protein absorption and promotes nutrient breakdown in the stomach via increased acid production. A deficiency of vitamin B12 may negatively affect normal glucose and glutamic acid metabolism by inhibiting the Krebs cycle.2 Research has suggested niacin (B3) may improve carbohydrate metabolism during exercise.3 A combination of B vitamins, zinc and magnesium also appears to support energy , by supporting healthy muscles and exercise.4 "Isotonic sport drinks and supplements that help replenish nutrients and provide endurance for both athletes and Baby Boomers alike are certainly important parts of the energy category," explained Paul Dijkstra, CEO of InterHealth Nutraceuticals.

Energy Consumers

Energy products, especially beverages or liquid based-supplements, are hot items, but just who is the target consumer in this market segment?

"Well, on one hand you have the original consumers of energy supplements bodybuilders and uber-athleteswho want less fatigue during a workout and better recovery afterwards," explained Bob Green, president of Nutratech. "And on the other, you have the newer, broader audience of general, active lifestyle enthusiasts who want to increase energy, improve general physical and mental performance and overall toning, build definition and stay in shape, as well as people who simply want an afternoon energy boost." He noted while many of these customers are younger 20-somethings, the audience is constantly widening to include people of all ages who need energy and stamina to get through a nine-to-five day, get the kids to soccer practice and still fit in a 30-minute walk.

Carl Sweat, CEO of FRS Healthy Performance, agreed on the shift , saying, "The category historically has skewed toward younger males and the proverbial 'adrenaline junkie,' but we see growth well beyond that group." He cited dramatic growth with health-conscious, slightly older (25 to 54 years old) consumers, with an even split between women and men. "Were expanding the category with consumers seeking healthy alternatives, who wouldnt consider a caffeine/taurine-based drink."

A consumer age shift may in process in some parts of the energy marketplace, but energy drinks are still the elixir of the younger consumers . Vonderbrink noted the typical (e.g., young, male) energy drink consumer is still dominant, but Bioenergy is noticing more Baby Boomers are drawn to ribose.

Chase Hagerman, business development and marketing manager for Chemi Nutra, agreed the leading energy drink consumers are still the 16- to 35-year-old male. However, he noted, "Energy shots seem to reel in a slightly older demographic since they are perceived less as a drink and more as a supplement. But it seems that traditional energy supplements like encapsulated products have the oldest demographic, as these products generally are not associated with the marketing hype that mainstream energy products carry along with it."

Dijkstra shared a similar view of the energy supplements market. "The younger generation is no longer driving the energy supplement market," he reported. "Consumers are also increasingly becoming interested in energy benefits beyond the instantaneous pick-me-up. They are starting to see a connection between improving health and increasing their energy levels."

The shift may have something to do with caffeine. America is currently in a love-hate relationship with caffeine, which may be the new high-fructose sugar, but with a more serious edge. State and federal officials have taken regulatory action against alcoholic beverage products containing significant amounts of caffeine, citing dangers to the young adults who typically consume them, often in large quantities. The situation escalated after a Maryland teen's death was linked to use of Four Loko, one of the dubbed "alcopops" targeted by FDA in 2010. In it warning letters to alcopop makers, FDA said it has not approved the use of caffeine in alcoholic beverages, making the products illegal under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA). It specifically noted caffeine is not GRAS (generally recognized as safe) for alcoholic beverage products.

In 2011, JAMA published a commentary from University of Maryland School of Public Health scientists Amelia M. Arria, Ph.D., and Mary Claire OBrien, M.D., who argued energy drinks, with or without alcohol, are a threat to individual and public health and safety, and more research is needed to help guide appropriate regulation.5 They said recent research suggests energy drink use might increase the risk for alcohol dependence and nonmedical prescription drug use. They said the underlying mechanisms for these associations are unclear, but they added caffeine's neuropharmacologic effects might play a role in the propensity for addiction.

Most recently, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) called on FDA to investigate the safety of energy drinks that contain caffeine in combination with herbal supplement ingredients such as kola nut, gaurana, ginseng and yerba mate. He specifically asked FDA to extend the .02-percent caffeine limit for soft drinks to energy beverages. One of Durbin's other major issues was the legal definition of a drink (conventional food) versus a dietary supplement. In his letter to FDA, he asked the agency to clarify the legal definitions, noting the recent agency guidance stating beverages and liquid supplements are differentiated by volume intended to be consumed, product or brand name, labeling, advertising and packing as a single or multiple use beverage. (For more on this issue, see "Sen. Durbin Asks FDA to Investigate Energy Drinks.")

Researchers argue the long-term effects of high caffeine consumption from energy drinks is unclear, but they have warned the stimulants can have dangerous effects on blood pressure, heart rate and brain function.6

"Most energy drinks are basically 'caffeine bombs,' using a stimulant which will spike your energy levels and then cause a crash," Sweat said, noting FRS products use the natural antioxidant quercetin to deliver healthy, sustained energy without the crash. " I think youll see start to see backlash on the part of consumers and regulators about products that are high in caffeine. FRS products use quercetin, which occurs naturally in apples and blueberries, and provides a healthy alternative to products that are high in caffeine. Quercetin has been tested in multiple clinical trials and proven to provide many health benefits, including sustained energy, endurance, mental focus, anti-inflammatory and immunity benefits, among others."

Caffeine-based products drive the market because consumers like to feel an energizing effect quickly. "Most consumers expect to feel a product working almost immediately, but this is difficult to achieve without caffeine," Hagerman said. "Caffeine is considered a staple energy ingredient because it provides an unmistakable buzz. Branding attracts buyers, but a perceived increase in energy is what gets repeat purchases."

Chemi Nutra markets its alpha-glyceryl phosphoryl choline (A-GPC) ingredient for a mental buzz, so to speak, increasing mental focus without the crash associated with stimulant ingredients. Describing the effect of A-GPC as "sustained mental clarity," Hagerman said studies have shown that it can dramatically boost reaction time and agility, basically acting as a caffeine like" effect for the bodys neurons.7,8

Green said certainly consumers are primarily concerned with end results, and many energy supplements on the market today deliver short-term effects that consumers can feel" by using stimulants and sugar. "Unfortunately, these ingredients can generate negative effects as well," he said, noting too many stimulants can cause jitters and, when they wear off, energy can take a nosedive. "And you also have to deal with the calories. Thats been part of the appeal of energy shots: people want more energy without all the additional calories." Green suggested non-stimulant energy ingredients like Citrus aurantium (bitter orange) that work at the cellular level and deliver long-term effects. "They may take a bit longer to work, and consumers wont feel them in the same way, but they are a more authentic means of producing energy," he offered.

Greene explained bitter orange extract, stimulates thermogenesis, which increases the resting metabolic rate and the rate at which fat is released from body stores and broken down (lipolysis) to help burn calories.9 "This enhances the body's utilization of carbohydrates by producing heati.e., energy in the form of ATP," he said. "In addition, the constituents in Advantra Z [Nutratech's branded bitter orange extract] bind to beta-3 adrenergic receptors,10 resulting in an increase in the body's ability to break down fats, which are further metabolized to produce energy."

The Future of Energy

While the energy drink segment has slowed from its incredible growth rates leading up to 2011, it is still experiencing double-digit growth, according to IBISWorld Market Research. It noted as the energy drink market reaches saturation and as regulators crack down on these products, new approaches will become more competitive, including energy pills and calmer methods for people to focus at work.

The energy/nutrition bar category has gotten a boost in potential from new flavor and ingredient introductions along with improvements in taste and mouthfeel, according to market research firm Packaged Facts. It noted manufacturers are altering the nutrition bar formula with ingredients such as CoQ10, L-carnitine, omega-3, resveratrol and vitamin K2.

"One key way to generate growth is for manufacturers to look beyond stimulant-based products," said Green, who reasoned the world is already wired. "Some manufacturers are starting to realize this, but many still need to adjust their mindsets. I dont know of any existing energy products that specifically address Baby Boomers and seniors." In fact, he said ingredients that do not cause negative cardiovascular and central nervous system side effects are essential for reaching one area of great growth potential: the over-40 market.

Count Dijkstra as another believer in the importance of non-stimulant formulations to the growth of the energy category. "We are now seeing multiple products for weight management or blood sugar control touting energy as a benefit or making the link between wellness and energy," he reported, adding growth will come from ingredients that address certain underlying causes of energy decline and can help provide ways to achieve sustainable, long-lasting energy, such as maintaining a healthy weight and blood sugar levels. "Additionally, maintaining muscle function and strength are also important in ensuring muscle enduranceproviding athletes and Baby Boomers the energy needed to maintain their active lives."

Echoing this sentiment, Hagerman also recommended manufacturers offer a caffeine-free energy product. "It seems like an anomaly, but there is a demand for energy products that are free of caffeine," he said. "Because even caffeine-sensitive consumers still want to feel energized." With energy a daily concern for most people, he reasoned consumers can afford to experiment with different products, forms and brands. "Ready-to-drink (RTD) energy drinks and shots are synonymous with the energy category, but a trend to watch will be in liquid concentrates," he noted. "Consumers are looking for ways to save; concentrates achieve that due to their smaller footprint (less weight means cheaper production and shipping costs). A recent example of this is Kraft Foods new MiO liquid water enhancer line."

From another angle, the growth of the category, especially energy drinks, has relied on slick marketing. To experts like Owen, the future of natural energy products, in this climate of regulatory scrutiny and public safety concern, is tied to science, credibility and responsibility. "It is increasingly important to find an energy ingredient backed with significant scientific studies, instead of just flashy marketing," he said.

There will always be a rush of products toward a hot market, such as in energy, especially beverages. This may spark some moments of innovation, especially in the area of delivery forms, but it will also ripen the segment for scrutiny, as is the case with energy drinks. Instead of trying to outdo the market leaders in caffeinated and stacked stimulant products, manufacturers might find a better niche in focusing on scientifically backed ingredients that affect true energy production and support the body's wellness and energy efficiency to not just energize the body, but go beyond the buzz to a state of healthy alertness and readiness to face the modern day.

References listed on the next page.


1. Spiering BA et al. "Responses of criterion variables to different supplemental doses of L-carnitine L-tartrate." J Strength Condition Res. 2007; 21:259-264.

2. Toyoshima S et al. Accumulation of methylmalonic acid caused by vitamin B12-deficiency disrupts normal cellular metabolism in rat liver" Br J Nutr. 1996;75(6):929-38

3.   Howlett KF et al. Carbohydrate metabolism during exercise in females: effect of reduced fat availability. Metabolism. 50(4):481-7, 2001

4. L.R. Brilla and Victor Conte. Effects of a Novel Zinc-Magnesium Formulation on Hormones and Strength" JEPonline 2000;3(4):26-36.

5. Arria AM and O'Brien MC. "The "High" Risks of Energy Drinks." JAMA. 2012; 305(6):600-601.

6. Ebuehi OA et al. "Effects of oral administration of energy drinks on blood chemistry, tissue histology and brain acetylcholine in rabbits." Nig Q J Hosp Med. 2011 Jan-Mar;21(1):29-34.

7. Hoffman, J., et al. The effects of acute and prolonged CRAM supplementation on reaction time and subjective measures of focus and alertness in healthy college students.  J International Soc Sport Nut 7:39, 2010.

8. Ziegenfuss, T et al. "Acute supplementation with alpha-glycerylphosphorylcholine augments growth hormone response to, and peak force production during, resistance exercise." J Int Soc Sports Nut 5(Suppl 1): P15, 2008.

9. Seifert JG et al. " Effect of Acute Administration of an Herbal Preparation on Blood Pressure and Heart Rate in Humans." Intl J Med Sci. 2011; 8(3):192-197.

10. Stohs SJ et al. " A Review of the Receptor-Binding Properties of p-Synephrine as Related to Its Pharmacological Effects." Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2011; 482973.

About the Author(s)

Steve Myers

Senior Editor

Steve Myers is a graduate of the English program at Arizona State University. He first entered the natural products industry and Virgo Publishing in 1997, right out of college, but escaped the searing Arizona heat by relocating to the East Coast. He left Informa Markets in 2022, after a formidable career focused on financial, regulatory and quality control issues, in addition to writing stories ranging research results to manufacturing. In his final years with the company, he spearheaded the editorial direction of Natural Products Insider.

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