Hort Research, a fruit breeding research organization, said that it has identified properties of fruit that may counter the effects of overtraining by promoting immune function, preventing inflammation, and reducing risk of infection. The findings could form the basis for the development of a new category of functional beverages for sports recovery, said the organization. "While fruit has already successfully entered the health, wellness and functional food markets, fruit is underexploited in the sports performance and recovery nutrition market segment," it said. "Given accelerating food megatrends around tasty, sustainable and exotic, there is tremendous opportunity for natural fruit products within the rapidly growing sports and nutrition market." Fruits for sport Sports and performance is one of the three major fruit research areas that Hort Research focuses on - the others being: gut health, immunity & inflammation; and mental state & performance. Although the organization has been looking into fruit for sports performance for several years, the researchers are only now getting to the stage where they are starting to understand the mechanism behind how fruit can influence sports recovery, said Hort Research's Karl Crawford. The main fruits that the researchers have been testing are those grown in New Zealand, including kiwi fruit, apples and berries (blueberries, blackcurrants and boysenberries). Science The group has already conducted in vitro and ex vivo studies to understand the benefits of fruit for promoting immunity and muscle recovery. Human clinical trials are also planned. "Scientific evidence already suggests that complex carbohydrates, antioxidants and vitamins are of significant benefit during intense exercise," said Hort Research's Dr Kieran Elborough, speaking to attendees at Expo West earlier this month. "Fruit and fruit-based ingredients can deliver these performance factors in their most natural forms. We are conducting clinical trials of fruit extracts in elite athletes, measuring markers of oxidative stress, and have so far identified three strong hits as we continue to screen for more." Crawford explained to NutraIngredients-USA.com that there is no one particular component in fruit that is responsible for the sports recovery benefits Hort Research is examining. "Antioxidants are part of it but we can't single out one thing that brings the benefits - everything is connected and interlinked," he said. From fruit to ingredients Hort Research said the potential ingredients it envisages would not involve isolating a particular component of fruit, but would be more in the form of fruit concentrate or puree. "All active compounds in fruit work synergistically for maximum benefit, so delivering them all in a puree or extract would be the best approach," said Crawford. In terms of levels, Hort Research said it is basing it tests on "realistic portions". "We're generally trying to work with what you'd get from a normal portion of fruit." However, because all science conducted by the organization relates to its own breeds or fruit cultivars, the benefits examined may not necessarily be transferable to other varieties of the same fruit. Hort Research said it is "actively seeking" industry partners for the development of functional ingredients and sports recovery products. Market Leatherhead International valued the total global market value for performance foods and drinks at US$19.37 billion last year, representing 50 percent growth in the past five years. According to Hort Research, "there really is a market out there for more natural fruit-based sports nutrition products".