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Protecting performance, promoting recovery

Athletes are human, too, and vulnerable to chronic inflammation. Repetitive strain injury, post-exercise pain and stiffness, lowered resilience and mood—all which involve inflammatory stress—can affect performance during and out of season. A severe problem will take an athlete out of competition, and even the milder inflammation in delayed muscle soreness (DOMS) will take them out of contention by reducing performance such as running economy by up to 3%.1

A physiological inflammatory response to training is essential to the development of muscle tone, fitness and growth, but the 21st century food universe has become excessively pro-inflammatory, and unless countered, is inimical to performance on the field or track. The reasons for this are well-known, including the progressive removal from modern processed and ultra-processed foods of such key anti-inflammatory nutrients like omega-3 highly unsaturated fatty acids (HUFAs), polyphenols and beta glucans, and prebiotic fibers. This negative configuration is aggravated by the presence in modern foods of high levels of pro-inflammatory factors such as advanced glycation and lipoxidation products (AGEs and ALEs), and an excessive glycemic index.

The overall impact of this inflammatory stress and dysbiosis is responsible at the public health level for the increased frequency and decreased latency of the so-called ‘diseases of civilization.’ Among the sports and athletics communities, this inflammatory nightmare can downgrade stamina, performance and recovery. And after an athlete’s active career is over, the inflammatory cascade can accelerate their decline into illness.

Comprehensive dietary change is indicated, but can be difficult or distasteful; instead, there is a growing interest in nutritional anti-inflammatory ingredients.

The polyphenols in curcumin (Curcuma longa) and the fatty acid amide palmitoylethanolamide (PEA) are generating promising data against inflammation. Given their wide therapeutic indices and different mechanisms of action, these two nutrients make up a very attractive combination in sports and athletics.

Until recently, curcumin’s diverse pharmacology has failed to transfer to clinical results due to its poor bioavailability.2 However, a new curcumin-rich turmeric extract (HydroCurc®, from Gencor Pacific), developed with patented technology (LipiSperse, from Gencor), has been shown to provide the highest bioavailability of curcuminoids into blood plasma (807nm/ml) to date from a single dose, well within the therapeutic range where curcuminoids exert multiple anti-inflammatory effects.

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Standardization of the ‘blessing seed’

Over the past several decades the healing benefits of black seed (Nigella sativa) have become a significant focus in the world of medicine; more specifically, the oil of these seeds has become the primary focus. To sort through the murky environment of black seed oil (BSO), we need to take a closer look at the current research into what makes this BSO effective and what to look for when purchasing a BSO ingredient.

For analogy purposes, the game show “To Tell the Truth” comes to mind. A person of some notoriety and two impostors try to fool celebrity panelists into choosing one of the impostors instead of the real person. Each celebrity has some time to question the three contestants; while the fakes can lie, the real person has “to tell the truth” about themselves. After every celebrity has had time to question them, they guess who the real person is, and each wrong guess earns the trio cash to split among themselves.

The reference of “To Tell the Truth” is used due to the number of BSO ingredients available in the marketplace that do not have the clinical research “to tell the truth” leaving many people guessing what a valid source of BSO is.

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Recent research on brain-boosting nutrients

Everyone wants the best brain they can have. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defined a healthy brain as “one that can perform all the mental processes that are collectively known as cognition, including the ability to learn new things, intuition, judgment, language and remembering.” Several dietary ingredients have recently shown promise for safely improving human cognition.

In these studies, “significantly improved” indicates superior benefit, with a probability (“P value”) of at least 95 percent that the finding is real. Animal studies are not covered because they do not consistently predict human benefit.

The brain makes and consumes huge amounts of energy, for which it needs supplies of nutrients out of proportion to its small size (Frontiers Mol Neurosci 2018 Jun 22;11:216. DOI: 10.3389/fnmol.2018.00216.) But the current food supply falls far short of being sufficient for brain (or body) health. Based on ongoing findings from large CDC surveys, the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans listed magnesium; vitamins C, D and E; and choline among “underconsumed nutrients.” All are vital to cognitive performance.

This gives consumers a good reason to take a good multivitamin. Analyses of the national U.S. population survey data established taking a daily multi vitamin-mineral helps offset the nutrient gap in the U.S. food supply (Nutrients. 2017 Dec 22;10(1). pii: E4. DOI: 10.3390/nu10010004 and Nutrients. 2017 Aug 9;9(8). pii: E849. DOI: 10.3390/nu9080849).

Taking a multivitamin formulated with the most proven ingredients provides a steady supply of the nutrient “nuts and bolts” needed by the enzymes that make cognition possible.

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Astaxanthin and healthy aging

The aging process is accompanied by numerous health challenges, which will vary from individual to individual due to several factors, including genetics, lifestyle choices, environmental factors and life events. Premature aging is also closely linked to oxidative stress.1

Reactive oxygen species (ROS), otherwise known as pro-oxidants, are formed as by-products of normal metabolism in our body when food is converted into energy. Immune cells fighting bacterial infections also release ROS. High levels of ROS can initiate harmful alterations in key biomolecules, such as lipids, proteins and DNA in a condition called oxidative stress.2

Aging is typically accompanied by a reduction in cellular energy production and increased free radical production. This leads to an overloading of defense systems and oxidative damage. From a biological point of view, aging involves the accumulation of oxidative damage in cells and tissues. Younger people are naturally better protected from free radicals and other ROS through balanced activity of the mitochondria, efficient antioxidant and DNA repair systems, and active protein degradation machinery. Aging, on the other hand, is generally accompanied by mitochondrial dysfunction leading to increased free radical production that, in turn, leads to an overloading of the defense systems and oxidative damage of cellular components.1

The study of oxygen-free radicals has been going on for many years, but within the last two decades, the research into their effects on human health has really taken off. The evidence shows that oxidative stress plays a significant role in the aging process, as well as the development of chronic and degenerative illness. This, in turn, has spurred tremendous interest in finding out more about the effects of antioxidants in neutralizing free radicals, and the health support benefits they provide in the human body.

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Brain health supplements market drivers

Cognition is top of mind for consumers. Tom Druke, director of VitaCholine brand development, Balchem Human Nutrition and Pharma, pointed to data from Natural Marketing Institute’s (NMI) 2015 Healthy Aging Study showing loss of cognitive function is the top age-related apprehension reported by respondents.

Their concerns aren’t without merit. “As we age, changes in brain structure and function lead to declines in several cognitive abilities,” explained Gary Small, M.D., aging and longevity expert, Brain Health Network member. “Brain cells do not communicate as effectively, and abnormal protein deposits—known as amyloid and tau—accumulate in brain areas that control memory and thinking. Most people notice memory decline by the time they reach middle age.”

Add to that a growing senior population, and the need for solutions to combat the cognitive challenges associated with aging become undeniably urgent. U.S. Census Bureau’s 2017 National Population Projections reported that, by 2030, all Baby Boomers will be older than age 65, while the United Nations World Population Ageing report stated the global population ages 60 and above doubled from 1980 to 2017. That number is expected to double again by 2050 to reach nearly 2.1 billion.

Though medical interventions for cognitive decline remain “elusive,” as Sally Aaron, senior vice president, health ingredients and marketing, Evolva, put it, consumers have options to manage or prevent issues related to cognitive decline.

Small concurred: “Considerable research on the impact of healthy lifestyle (physical exercise, diet, social engagement, mental stimulation, etc.) has shown that people do have some control over their cognitive health as they age, and many are searching for novel and effective ingestible products for bolstering brain health.”

According to Global Data’s Q3 2016 global consumer survey, 93 percent of U.S. seniors (ages 65 and up) have used a supplement within the last 12 months, compared to 85 percent for all groups.According to FMCG Gurus, nearly 60 percent of individuals surveyed are interested in cognitive health products, even when not suffering from specific health problems. FMCG also reported over 20 percent of those surveyed are taking supplements, visited a doctor or made changes to their diet to improve cognitive health.

“These trends indicate that healthy adults are looking for ways to slow down cognitive decline and boost brain performance, even before noticeable changes occur,” Aaron said.

Further supporting consumer interest in cognitive health is a growing market; according to data from Nutrition Business Journal (NBJ), the market for brain health supplements achieved an estimated US$912 million in 2018 with growth of 4.6 percent compared to the previous year. The market is projected to reach $1.04 billion by 2021.

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Astaxanthin for muscle endurance and recovery

Post-workout recovery supplements replenish energy stores, promote muscle repair and reduce muscle breakdown after a demanding workout. Intense physical exercise is energy-dependent. When the muscles burn calories by oxidation, free radicals and other reactive oxygen species (ROS) are formed as a byproduct.1 Free radicals can damage muscle fibers and reduce their ability to contract.2

Moderate exercise has health-promoting effects, while strenuous exercise, especially in unfit individuals, may have the opposite effect. Physical activity enhances metabolism that leads to increased production of free radicals and other ROS.

Astaxanthin sourced from the microalgae Haematococcus pluvialis is a powerful natural antioxidant. Comparison studies have shown astaxanthin is 6,000 times more powerful than vitamin C, 100 times more powerful than vitamin E, and five times more powerful than beta-carotene in trapping energy from singlet oxygen, one of the most common ROS in biological systems.3 Astaxanthin can trap several types of ROS/free radicals. In addition, the way astaxanthin neutralizes harmful ROS/free radicals is gentle to the body’s cells. Other antioxidants can be harmful, since they may turn into highly reactive molecules.4

As a bioavailable antioxidant, astaxanthin is transported throughout the body to organs and muscle tissues, combating excessive free radical production. Natural astaxanthin improves muscle endurance and strength by helping to reduce oxidative stress. Clinical studies have found natural astaxanthin neutralizes exercise-induced free radicals, protects the activity of antioxidant enzymes, reduces muscle fatigue and inhibits the formation of lactic acid.5-9

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Higher intake of linoleic acid may reduce type 2 diabetes risk

Linoleic acid, a polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acid (PUFA) found in nuts, seeds and most plant oils including soybean, canola and flaxseed, is one of two essential fatty acids (EFAs) humans must obtain through diet. The findings suggest swapping saturated fats, trans fats or carbohydrates for linoleic acid is inversely associated with risk of type 2 diabetes.

For the study, researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in China used data from 83,648 women participating in the Nurses’ Health Study (NHS; 1980-2012), 88,610 women from NHSII (1991-2013), and 41,771 men from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study (1986-2012) to examine the association between intakes of n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) and type 2 diabetes risk. There were 18,442 type 2 diabetes cases during 4.93 million person-years of follow-up.

The researchers found dietary n-6 PUFAs accounted for an average of 4.4 to 6.8% of total energy and consisted primarily of linoleic acid (at least 98%). When extreme n-6 PUFA quintiles (highest versus lowest) were compared in multivariate-adjusted models, the hazard ratio for type 2 diabetes risk was 0.91 for total n-6 PUFAs and 0.92 for linoleic acid. In a model allowing for isocaloric substitution, type 2 diabetes risk was 14% lower when linoleic acid isocalorically replaced saturated fats (5% of energy), 17% lower when substituting for trans fats (2% energy), and 9% lower when substituting for carbohydrates (5% energy). There was no impact on diabetes risk when n-3 PUFAs or monounsaturated fats were replaced with linoleic acid.

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Herbs for muscle building

The sports nutrition marketplace is on the climb, and it’s not just for the trained athletes anymore. In 2018, trends toward high-calorie-burning exercise among Americans had 4.8 million more people participating when compared to five years prior, according to the Physical Activity Council. People in this category reported doing high-calorie burning activities at least three times a week for a minimum of 20 minutes. And although this still doesn’t meet the recommended rate of daily activity, people are more active than before.

In addition to more exercise, consumers are taking preventative and holistic measures for their health care. The 2018 Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) Consumer Survey on Dietary Supplements showed 75 percent of U.S. adults now take supplements, up 10 percent from the year before. And they’re spending more money; Americans spent US$43.2 billion on supplements in 2017,  increasing by $8 billion from 2012.

Consumers purchasing supplements also have healthier habits than those of non-supplement users. Adults taking supplements are more likely to exercise, visit a doctor regularly, try to eat a balanced diet, get a good night’s sleep and maintain a healthy weight, and are less likely to use tobacco.

However, with all this growth within the industry and the increase in physically active consumers, the sports nutrition sector grew just 4.4 percent in 2017, a significant drop from 2016, when growth was marked at 5.9 percent, according to Nutrition Business Journal. This could be due to a lack of innovation within the category.

Getting an edge on the competition

Protein products have flooded the muscle-building marketplace for years. In fact, they accounted for more than 80 percent of global sports nutrition sales in 2017, according to Euromonitor International. Despite this, the market for nonprotein options is still relatively small ($2.5 billion in 2017), leaving room for major growth.

Consumers incorporating natural supplementation into their everyday healthcare routines opens a door of possibilities for finished product brands. Specifically, brands may need to promote advancements within the nonprotein sports marketplace.

Take, for example, curcumin. This ingredient is well-known to the consumer for its ability to help manage oxidative stress and inflammation,1 and several studies showed branded curcumin (as Meriva®, from Indena2 and as Theracurmin, from Theravalues Corp.3,4) and commodity curcumin5,6 had the potential to prevent delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). DOMS occurs after unaccustomed exercise in both novice and experienced athletes. It is associated with muscle pain, decreased range of motion (ROM), muscle fiber disruption, altered joint kinematics, decreased strength and acute tissue damage, each of which contributes to an impairment in future athletic performance and/or predisposes individuals to injury.

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Bridging the fiber gap with better-for-you ingredients

The role of proper nutrition on overall health and well-being is well documented, leading more consumers to seek functional food and beverage products made with recognizable, functional ingredients that address specific dietary needs. Data from the International Food Information Council’s (IFIC) 2018 Food & Health Survey found at least 80 percent of consumers rank vitamin D, fiber and whole grains as the top healthiest nutrients they look for when shopping for food.1

However, good intentions often fall by the wayside. Case in point: fiber. Americans consistently fall far below the recommended daily intake of 25 g of fiber, which is why the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs) labeled it as a shortfall nutrient that poses a public health risk (along with vitamin D, calcium, potassium and iron for premenopausal women). 2

In the United States, the recommended dietary fiber intake is 14 g/1,000 kcal. For an average adult, this means a daily intake of 25 g for women or 38 g for men; however, most Americans only consume about half of the recommended intake (13.5 g and 18 g, respectively), according to the Calorie Control Council.

This “fiber gap” also was addressed in May 2016 when FDA released its updated Nutrition Facts label for packaged food and beverages sold in the United States to reflect new scientific information, including the link between diet and chronic diseases such as obesity and heart disease. The sweeping overhaul was the first in 20 years, and included FDA’s first evidence-based definition of “dietary fiber” and an increase of its daily reference value (DRV) from 25 g to 28 g. Food manufacturers must comply with the new labeling rules no later than Jan. 1, 2022.

Defining (and Redefining) Dietary Fiber

Prior to 2016, food and beverage manufacturers could declare synthetic or isolated fibers as dietary fiber on the label, even if they did not have a physiological effect beneficial to human health. The 2016 evidence-based definition allows naturally occurring fibers in fruit, vegetables and whole grains to be considered fiber, as well as seven other isolated (i.e., extracted from plant sources) or synthetic non-digestible carbohydrates (NDCs) or synthetic fibers—beta-glucan soluble fiber, psyllium husk, cellulose, guar gum, pectin, locust bean gum and hydroxypropylmethylcellulose—that are well-recognized by the scientific community for their physiological benefits.

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Nootropics and sports nutrition for the weekend warrior

Nootropics are compounds that improve cognitive function, and in some cases, brain health. They have been gaining buzz lately, which is not surprising since we are all striving to work harder and achieve more, and sustained focus is required to maintain that high watermark. One group that exemplifies the “work hard, play hard” lifestyle is “weekend warriors.” These individuals—who are tough competitors both at work and at play—are familiar with sports nutrition to optimize their bodies, but now it is time to “focus” on their brains.

When considering how sports nutrition can affect the brain, it is important to start with the basics of hydration and fueling, which can affect a wide range of cognitive domains. These topics have been addressed in research1,2,3 while two other important cognitive areas stand out for weekend warriors: focus and reaction time.

For people who compete in all aspects of their life, laser-like focus is paramount. For example, many weekend warriors engage in CrossFit or other types of high-intensity interval training, which demand pushing past physical and mental limits. Not only do they want to finish those workouts, they want to achieve new PRs (personal records) and feel the rush from knowing they just crushed that workout. In those situations, fatigue can dramatically reduce focus, and branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are one nutrition solution. It has been suggested BCAAs may delay fatigue by reducing transport of tryptophan, a precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin that contributes to feeling tired.4 In a study of cyclists, the rate of perceived exertion and mental fatigue while cycling was significantly lower when they drank BCAAs vs. placebo.5 In soccer players, psychomotor performance was improved with BCAA consumption during intense interval training.6

Delaying exercise-induced fatigue is awesome, but weekend warriors do more than just exercise. They need optimal focus while at work and at play, which is where botanicals can play a role. Consumers who want to “hit a PR” at work, at home, at the gym or on the field (whatever “field” they choose to play on) must stay locked-in and on task wherever they are. Researchers demonstrate this by testing “sustained attention,” a cognitive domain we are all familiar with: sit down and do your work (or play with your kids) and don’t get distracted by your phone, calendar, Facebook or getting another cup of coffee. Studies have shown sustained attention can be improved by ingesting certain botanicals,7 allowing focus to be improved and maintained throughout a hectic day.

Another cognitive area to consider for weekend warriors is reaction time, or quick reflexes. Reaction time becomes important in a variety of popular, athletic contexts, such as mountain biking (to avoid major spills), HIIT (high-intensity interval) training or obstacle course racing (such as American Ninja Warrior)—just to name a few. Reaction time testing is generally done on a computer, which means full-body reflexes are not being captured, but only the contribution of the brain (and maybe a finger or two for keyboard tapping). Active choice reaction performance (ACRP) is more applicable to sports since it involves reaction time while moving the whole body. Certain botanicals have been shown to improve ACRP by testing people’s reflexes while moving their whole body.

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