5 ingredients to power sports nutrition formulations

The most effective formulations use ingredients at dosage levels backed by human clinical trials.

August 9, 2023

6 Min Read
5 ingredients to power sports nutrition formulations

At a Glance

  • Fenugreek is a botanical that is a major component of Indian cuisine.
  • Turmeric has enjoyed a long history of use in India.
  • Palmitoylethanolamide (PEA) is endogenous to the human body but also can be readily found in foods.

According to Nutrition Business Journal, primary considerations for a first-time purchase amongst regular sports nutrition users include flavor, trust and effectiveness. For product development scientists, much of that reassurance that their next formulation will be effective for the end user stems from the incorporation of ingredients backed by human clinical trials. Consider these five ingredients in your next formulation.

Fenugreek: strength and muscles

Fenugreek, or Trigonella foenum-graecum, is a botanical that is a major component of Indian cuisine but has also been reported to amongst the oldest plants cultivated for medicinal purposes in written history. Further research into a proprietary fenugreek seed extract has revealed benefits relevant to sports nutrition consumers.

In a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial, physically active men who were not previously undergoing resistance training were administered either 300 or 600 mg per day of a proprietary fenugreek extract or a matching placebo during an eight-week calisthenics program. Results indicated that groups taking both doses saw a significantly greater improvement in one repetition maximum (1RM) leg press (an indicator of lower body strength) compared to the placebo group. Furthermore, the 600 mg extract group also saw a significant increase in percent lean mass compared to both the placebo and the 300 mg extract group. An analysis of sex hormones revealed that only the 600 mg extract group saw a significant increase in testosterone.

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A new clinical trial on this extract was recently completed and is currently under peer review. The new study revealed that women taking 600 mg per day of the same extract significantly improved lower body strength, decreased body fat and increased lean mass.

Curcuminoids: joints and recovery

Turmeric, or Curcuma longa, is a botanical that has enjoyed a long history of use in India as a food ingredient but is also deeply rooted in a system of a traditional medicine in India known as ayurveda. Perhaps the most well-known component of turmeric is a class of compounds known as curcuminoids, which include curcumin, desmethoxycurcumin, and bisdemethoxycurcumin.

New research on an enhanced bioavailability, curcuminoid-rich extract revealed promising benefits for supporting joint health and improved recovery from physical activity. 

In a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial, men and women with joint discomfort were administered 440 mg of the bioavailability enhanced curcuminoid extract or a matching placebo for 2 weeks. Results indicated that there was a significantly greater reduction in joint discomfort compared to the placebo on days 11, 13, and 14.

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In a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial, men with prior resistance training experience were administered 500 mg of the same extract or a matching placebo 30 minutes prior to a lower body resistance training bout to exhaustion. Results indicated that there was significantly lower delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) at both 48 and 72 hours after the exercise bout in the extract group compared to the placebo group.

Furthermore, there was a significantly lower thigh circumference (TC) in the extract group compared to the placebo group at both 24 and 48 hours after the exercise bout, an indication of reduced swelling in response to exercise. The researchers concluded that these improvements in exercise-induced soreness and swelling may be explained by the significantly lower levels of capillary lactate after exercise and an altered inflammatory response.

PEA: joints and recovery

Palmitoylethanolamide (PEA) is a fatty acid amide that is endogenous to the human body, but can also be readily found in foods such as eggs, soy, peanuts and corn. PEA is released by cells in the body in response to harmful stimuli. 

Research suggests that PEA increases levels of two endocannabinoids within the body, anandamide (AEA) and 2‐arachidonoylglycerol (2‐AG), which in turn affects cannabinoid receptor type 1 (CB1), cannabinoid receptor type 2 (CB2) and transient receptor potential vanilloid type‐1 (TRPV1) channels. These pathways may help to explain how PEA has the potential to provide relief from occasional discomfort and support a balanced inflammatory response.

Trials on a proprietary, improved bioavailability form of PEA demonstrated support for providing relief from occasional joint discomfort, and another study showed support for reducing a marker of muscle damage after exercise

A new botanical blend for testosterone

A new, proprietary combination of botanicals including cacao (Theobroma cacao) seed and pomegranate (Punica granatum) peel extracts has revealed benefits for men’s health. Preclinical research demonstrated the combination of the extracts supported steroidogenesis (the synthesis of steroid hormones) while also demonstrating anti-aromatase activity (reducing the conversion of testosterone into estradiol). 

In a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial, young men (21 to 35 years old) were administered either 200 mg or 400 mg per day of the proprietary blend or a matching placebo for 8 weeks. Results indicated that both dosages of the blend had significantly higher free testosterone levels and handgrip strength compared to placebo, while only the 400 mg group had significantly greater total testosterone levels compared to the placebo.

A second study with a similar design evaluated the same dosages of the proprietary blend in aging men (36 to 55 years old) for 8 weeks. The study revealed that both the 200 and 400 mg groups had significantly higher free and total testosterone levels, handgrip strength and lower perceived stress compared to the placebo. Additionally, only the 400 mg group had a significantly higher testosterone to estradiol ratio in comparison to the placebo.

Gynostemma: weight management

Many sports nutrition brands have incorporated weight management formulations into their product lines. Weight management is a major area of interest for brands in the United States, considering that a 2020 report from the National Center for Health Statistics indicated that 31.1% of U.S. adults aged 20 and over are overweight. 

Gynostemma (Gynostemma pentaphyllum) is an herb with a history of both culinary (e.g., as a tea) and traditional medicine applications in Asia. While the botanical has a long history of use, a new, proprietary extract of gynostemma has been developed with clinical research to support its promising weight management benefits.

Preclinical research demonstrated that the new extract has the potential to activate a major regulator of metabolic activity, 5′-adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase (AMPK), in both skeletal muscle and adipose tissue, which may help explain the benefits seen in a subsequent human clinical trial.

A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial demonstrated that those taking 450 mg/day of the proprietary gynostemma extract for 16 weeks had significantly lower body weight, body mass index (BMI), and fat mass compared to the placebo group.

With effectiveness being a major driver of first-time purchases by regular sports nutrition consumers, the strength of clinical trial substantiation should be a major consideration by formulators and the brands they help to develop and grow. 

Christopher Bailey, Ph.D., is Director of Scientific Affairs at Gencor

For a deep dive into the world of active nutrition including sports performance product development, download the free Natural Products Insider digital magazine here. 

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