Immune health is an increasingly large part of the thin edge of the wedge that is sports nutrition, one of the hottest categories in the dietary supplement sphere.
Athletes as a challenged population have furnished subjects for studies designed to get around the disease-end point conundrum. So it makes sense that companies are starting to look at selling them the ingredients that have been used in these studies.
Sports nutrition as a category has been branching out in recent years. The products have gone beyond the walls of the gym and morphed into integrated lines. Sure, the ‘extreme’ workout products are still there, but more and more product formulators are finding success by positioning product lines as wellness offerings, supporting not only a weekend warrior’s specific needs but also his or her general health.
Big need for immune support
It’s in this latter development that supporting immune health fits in. It has long been known that heavy training has a potentially depressing effect on the immune system. Addressing that need is a potential big win for sports nutrition marketers, said Sue Kleiner, PhD, principal in the consultancy High Performance Nutrition LLC.
“From my experience one of the keys to successful performance is training consistency. If you get sick, you can't train, or you can't train as well or as hard,” Kleiner told NutraIngredients-USA.
But what ingredients to choose? Sports nutrition products are often already freighted with a container-full of ingredients. Will an additional ingredient just get lost in the mix? Kleiner believes an integrated approach is possible.
“Manufacturers could make the case that many ingredients that they already use support immune function. Protein is a perfect example, although the data doesn't support a need to supplement to get adequate protein. But protein nutriture is essential to optimal immune function. So is carbohydrate,” she said.
Probiotics as first choice
As the information about probiotics accumulated, sports nutrition formulators were quick to add the ingredient to their product lines, both as a digestive aid and an immune system support.
“Probiotics have real data to support gut health for sure, and gut immunity, so it's an evidence-based ingredient, as long as the right cultures are included. But vitamin D, Vitamin C, zinc, and others, could easily be called out for immune support,” Kleiner said.
Beta glucan for immune support
One ingredient that has reams of data supporting its immune-supporting effects and method of action is Wellmune WGP, a beta 1,3/1,6 glucan manufactured by Biothera that is derived from a proprietary strain of baker’s yeast. Biothera has had a history of studying the ingredient’s effects using endurance athletes like marathoners or cyclists as a challenged population, and showing how subjects suffer fewer respiratory infections. The ingredient was recently chosen as the active ingredient in is the active ingredient in the new Immune Fit bulk powder from MRI, a sports nutrition product manufacturer.
“With a couple of our marathon studies that have been published we have looked at upper respiratory tract infection symptoms. Running a marathon is a very harsh thing to do an athletes often get colds post race,” said Don Cox, senior vice president of research & development at Biothera. “Our reasons for doing these studies is really to look at objective measures that an athlete can relate to.”
“There is an ‘open window effect’ which shows scientifically where there is a period of time when the immune system goes down dramatically and then goes back up. What we have been able to show clinically is that that down time is dramatically reduced,” said Biothera CEO Richard Meuller.
Biothera’s research has shown that Wellmune is digested into fragments which then bind to the CR3 receptor sites on neutrophils, the most abunbdant component of the immune system, priming these cells for activity without stimulating the immune system per se. It’s on this method of action that Biothera builds its claim that the ingredient can be used on a regular basis, as opposed to known immune system stimulators like Echinacea which are best used on an intermittent basis. This makes the ingredient a good fit for sports nutrition products, whose users tend to consume the products on a regular basis.