Personalised sports nutrition is tapping into a new era of consumer experience as it plays a vital role in offering a broad approach for holistic solutions. Food & supplement companies heavily invest in startups and funding research in DNA sequencing and other science-related evidence with the aim to drive personalised nutrition. The ultimate goal is to better understand individual requirements and offer products, which help to address specific, personalised nutrition needs. While an individual’s metabolism may vary and depend on personal diet and nutrition habits, the basic principle beyond applies to everyone: cells need fuel to generate energy and, thus, energy management plays a vital role in personalised sports nutrition. With more consumers embracing smart wearables to be included into their daily routines, rocket science is not needed to deliver on that quickly emerging trend. Instead of re-inventing the wheel, start with what is known about energy management and combine it with smart devices and apps for maximum consumer experience.
Athletes know carbohydrates are turned into energy more effectively than fat. Carbs again are broken down into glucose, measured as blood sugar, which can be used immediately to provide the energy needed or stored in liver and muscles for later use. Hard training and ambitious workout routines should pay off during events and competition; success should not be reduced to flipping a coin. Athletes want to understand the impact and correlation between the cycle of training, diet, nutrient uptake, energy management and recovery in their effort to achieve best ratios of all parameters for maximum endurance and performance.
The most exciting trend for personalised performance and the closest we can get to personalised sports nutrition is energy management through real-time blood glucose measurement. Smart sensors are evolving into a next-generation category of wearables, facilitating continuous glucose monitoring. Combined with an app, these sensors allow real-time analysis and thus optimization of energy levels by fueling the body at the right time. By combining these sensors with supplements that can help to improve glucose uptake, athletes can actively monitor their glucose levels and try to optimize glucose intake, avoiding underfueling but also excessive intake of glucose.
Combining supplements with clinically studied ingredients with smart wearables and applications in a platform could help athletes to optimize glucose levels, feel better, optimize performance, train longer and recover quicker for next day workout.
To further appreciate the opportunity, multiple experts in the field shared their perspectives in a roundtable dialogue. Participating were Susan Kleiner, PhD, founder and owner of High Performance Nutrition LLC and an internationally recognized expert on nutrition for peak performance; Nick Morgan, founder, owner and managing director of Nutrition Integrated and Sports Integrated Ltd.; and Martin Felkner, key account manager at Finzelberg, a leading manufacturer of botanical solutions.
Vitafoods Insights: What are the typical challenges associated with glucose management in daily training routines?
Susan: There are so many issues around fueling that wreaks havoc with serious athletes.
First, underfueling is the most prominent problem, typically caused by either fear of gastric upset, fat gain, or poor understanding of what is needed to perform. Underfueling leads to poor performance and lack of full recovery. Unfortunately, athletes often misinterpret underfueling consequences for not being ‘perfect enough’ with their diets and restrict further, leading down a spiral to overtraining syndrome, which is caused by underfueling and not overtraining, which can lead to injury, illness, performance collapses and often early retirement from the sport.
Second is poor choices for what works best for both comfort and performance to fuel prior to and during training. Too much, or too much of a poor choice, will usually lead to gastric upset, disturbing race pace and performance, and sometimes a “did not finish” due to such gastric upset leading to dehydration and a real health risk.
Third are changing training goals and protocols and knowing how to fuel appropriately for each paradigm. As physical activity and the goals of that activity, change, dialing in the right fueling and timing of fueling can be somewhat evidence based but also somewhat hit and miss. Last of the big ones are injury, recovery, and travel, all of which impact metabolism and goals. Having real data on glucose management would be another helpful factor for keeping an athlete on track.
Vitafoods Insights: Do you think real time glucose management will be adopted by athletes as a next level of tracking and monitoring performance levels?
Nick: I think elite athletes already accept it. Further, they are always looking at ways to improve performance and find marginal gains. However, like any technology and data, it will only gain traction if there is a concerted effort to educate the athlete on how to use it, how to interpret the data, and what it means. That is as important as the technology itself and should not be forgotten.
Vitafoods Insights: How does glucose management resonate with personalised sports nutrition and improving performance across different athletes and their individual metabolisms?
Susan: There is a real individualisation to stomach comfort, stomach emptying and adaptation to glucose kinetics, meaning that while rate of absorption may be similar, response to blood glucose levels can be quite different. We are always running trials to see what works best for each individual athlete; one system is not necessarily the right one from one athlete to the next. Then once you get dialed in with what works, keeping it constant can be difficult when foodstuffs/supplements might be changed based on availability. Knowing what foods and supplements get blood glucose to a certain level, what level needs to be maintained, and what keeps it there throughout training/race, would be very helpful for everyone. It is exactly what we do with Type I diabetic athletes. Why not with everyone?
Vitafoods Insights: How could botanical ingredients support personalize sports performance and nutrition?
Martin: Finzelberg is currently developing a "nutri-smart" platform, which is based on our innovative, proprietary, patented, clinically studied natural extract, retrieved from cladodes and fruit skins of 'Opuntia ficus-indica', on the market as Recovera®. Developed for recovery from exercise and workouts, our branded ingredient RECOVERA® boosts insulin production post-training and facilitates nutrient uptake, making muscle recovery more efficient and replenishes glycogen stores after exercise. A pre-requisite to facilitate more frequent trainings and improve performance. One clinical study shows ingestion stimulates peripheral disposal of oral glucose BEFORE and AFTER exercise. A second clinical trial shows details on repeated application (2x), which underpins its effects DURING exercise. The huge advantage of these trials is that the effect on blood glucose has been shown in healthy athletes, not in a sick population. With the trend for natural products constantly emerging, botanical supplements can deliver on the growing demand for glycogen replenishment, recovery and intelligent glucose management.
Vitafoods Insights: Can you elaborate a bit more on the nutri-smart platform?
Martin: Think of a sugar gel in combination with an ingredient like RECOVERA® which improves glucose uptake by the cell and a device for smart blood glucose monitoring linked to a dedicated app for full connectivity with a wearable device a medical device. This will be allowing real time blood glucose control and the nutri-smart platform will serve as holistic gateway for brands offering a ready-to use technology. Athletes monitoring their glucose levels can boost performance by supplementing their diet with just the right dose and at the right moment, while reducing the risk of “overfueling” and associated downsides like diarrhea. This platform is addressing the need for solutions to an emerging trend in sports nutrition.
Vitafoods Insights: Nick, what is your opinion regarding the potential of CGM in combination with an application?
Nick: In simple terms, I think there is a lot to be interested in regarding CGM. It is a simple measure, yet it is quite foundational in terms of what an individual can learn about their glucose response throughout the day and in response to food and exercise. The relationship to exercise is an obvious one (performance), but I believe there is as much, if not more opportunity, in active nutrition given the education impact it can have on improving overall nutrition habits.
Vitafoods Insights: Susan, would you agree?
Susan: I think this would be a game changer, especially for athletes that don’t have access to professionals like myself. For me, working with a client, it’s another really helpful tool in the toolbox, where they can communicate their status with me from anywhere at any time, and we can work together to keep them dialed in. The supplement-insulin strategy is interesting. I have not felt the need to improve on movement of glucose into the cell either through insulin or glut4. The major problem is really at the gut absorption level and the carb that is rapidly emptied from the stomach and quickly absorbed, avoiding gastric upset. I say: fully fuel training but feel empty enough to train. I’d have to see performance improvement data.
Extending consumer and product reach
Health-minded consumers constantly monitor their performance through wearables tracking steps, sleep, calories, pulse, temperature etc. Athletic-minded consumers are tracking even more details including VO2max levels during exercise and recovery and are engaged in adapting their nutrient intake accordingly. Professional athletes seek to recover faster, train more efficiently, increase their glucose uptake and drive VO2max for continuous performance improvement.
In general consumers want innovative, science-backed solutions, which is why the popularity of clinically studied ingredients is growing. They also want to know where ingredients come from, if they had been sustainably grown, are healthy and natural.
Offering additional context on this issue is Ross Austen, founder of Hanora Health, Business Development Manager Nutrition Integrated and Nutrition & Research Lead at MOJU.
Vitafoods Insights: Why do athletes prefer natural ingredients over chemical-synthetical solutions?
Ross: Society, by and large, is starting to understand a whole food diet is much better for you than processed products.
Vitafoods Insights: To optimize energy management and improve performance, would athletes/weekend-warriors go for supplements and shots that help to improve and/or control glucose absorption and glycogen replenishment?
Ross: It depends on the context of the sport and the goals of those individuals taking part. Energy management is key to performance and enjoyment. If they are out on a ride and are underfuelled, it would not necessarily be fun, but if they are purposefully underfuelling to improve metabolism, then that is comes with the territory. With regards to the replenishment, it is down to when they next need to perform and again if they want to do it in a low carbohydrate status. This concept is known as train low and compete high.
Vitafoods Insights: Based on your expertise in sports and exercise science, why could a platform for personalised sports nutrition, combining real-time glucose data analysis with supplements that increase glucose uptake to maintain glucose levels and avoid over-fueling/under-fueling, be interesting for athletes?
Ross: Fuel for the work required. It is the panacea of performance. If we take cycling as example, there are multiple factors you must contend with. Environmental ones like temperature, wind, competitors, the route, etc. If that route goes into the mountains and you are carrying too much fuel, you will be heavier and therefore lose valuable time. If you don't have enough fuel on board, it could be the end of the race for you as you are unable to complete the stage. It is a delicate balance to get right.
Vitafoods Insights: What are the top three criteria leading to a successful launch of a supplement/food product?
Ross: The most important aspect of a product is taste, the second is its function and the third consumer education.
Julia Wiebe, PhD, is the managing director of red otc.