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Sugar reduction in sports nutrition applications

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The sports nutrition market continues to see steady growth. Athletes and mainstream users, including exercisers and those leading active lifestyles, are looking for products that support their recreational and lifestyle-driven performance. Both men and women seek sports nutrition products to help improve their nutritional intake, general health, well-being, performance, and muscle growth and recovery from exercise. The success of sports nutrition products requires meeting consumer demand with formulations they can trust and rely on, while also delivering on taste. Whether protein powders or bars, gummies, chews, ready-to-drink (RTD) beverages, pre-workout enhancers or post-workout enhancers, flavor and sweetness must meet consumer expectations.

Clean label and free-from claims

Many active consumers are looking for clean label products, including those with no artificial colors, flavors or sweeteners, and other “free-from” claims. There is a clear shift toward plant-based, natural, sugar-free and less-added-sugar products. Sugar reduction innovation is at an all-time high, and there is tremendous demand for sweeteners that allow for 100 percent sugar replacement—and are also natural and taste good. However, consumer preference for sweetness is still strong, too. Sports nutrition product manufacturers are actively seeking ways to successfully achieve low sugar content while delivering on good taste, texture and overall appeal.

Natural, plant-based sweeteners

The demand for sugar reduction and product purity has brought much attention to natural and plant-based sweeteners such as stevia and monk fruit. Stevia has led the natural high-intensity sweetener market, and demand has grown exponentially since its approval and introduction. Monk fruit, also known as luo han guo, is quickly rising in popularity. Many sports nutrition brands are recognizing the benefits of incorporating monk fruit into products and formulations, and it is garnering attention as a sugar alternative. The sweetness of monk fruit comes from components called mogrosides found in the flesh of the fruit. Monk fruit is a no-calorie, natural sweetener with a glycemic index of zero that provides a well-rounded, fruity taste profile, and allows for an added “fruit-based” claim.

Finding the sweet spot

Formulating sports nutrition products that meet these needs may require manufacturers to address significant technical challenges. Reducing sugar content can impact not only sweetness, but also texture, color and the overall taste experience. While athletes and other sports nutrition consumers are looking for healthier alternatives and less sugar, they are also not willing to give up taste. Mintel reported taste is the most important product attribute to consumers. For this reason, reducing sugar in sports nutrition products cannot be done at the expense of flavor and familiarity.

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