Those who exercise regularly, especially athletes, have specific nutritional needs. This is because performance and recovery may be influenced by the nutritional composition of the daily diet.

“Consuming adequate amounts of protein is critical for supporting health and performance,” said Eric Ciappio, strategic development manager, nutrition science, Balchem.

People must consume enough protein to maximize its impact, said Aaron Martin, director of nutrition innovation, Agropur.

“It’s important to achieve a high enough protein target for sports recovery, either multiple servings of lower amounts of protein (10 grams) or a single serving of a higher level of protein (20 to 30 grams),” he added.

Numerous studies show that high-quality protein, most notably from whey, better stimulate muscle protein synthesis at rest and following resistance exercise. This is because whey is quickly digested and helps immediate protein synthesis by stimulating muscle growth and recovery. Casein protein provides similar effects in terms of muscle growth but is more slowly digested, providing longer-lasting protein synthesis.

According to Donald Layman, professor emeritus of nutrition at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, data indicates all humans need about the same amount of dietary protein every day for basic lean muscle repair and remodeling. To reap other benefits one must consider the quality and quantity of the protein at every meal, in particular, breakfast.

Research suggests that every meal should include 30 grams of high-quality protein, including protein that is high in the branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) leucine. This is the amount needed for the body to function at its best. Of all the ingredients available to food and beverage manufacturers, whey protein isolate contains the most leucine: 11%. Milk protein concentrate comes in second at 9.5%, followed by egg at 8.8%.

“Whey proteins are always one of the top ingredients to consider when talking about sports nutrition, for the purpose of muscle building and post-exercise recovery,” said Joanie Zhang, technical services manager, Asia, Agropur.  “It is high-quality complete protein, rich in BCAAs that are extremely important for sports nutrition. In addition, consumers are recognizing that proteins from milk and whey have superior digestibility and amino acid composition, compared to alternative proteins. They are consuming proteins from milk not only for their nutrition but also to improve the body’s immune functions.”

These ingredients also offer a complementary, versatile flavor for bakery applications.

“There are specialty heat-stable whey proteins that allow for more protein to be added without drying and chewiness coming through,” said Sophie Lauer, key account manager, NZMP, Ingredients by Fronterra.

One complete dairy protein is NZMP Milk Phospholipids 70. Clinical studies show that phospholipids improve stress management and resilience in adults.

“Our high phospholipid whey protein concentrate has the protein behavior of regular whey protein, including some heat-set characteristics that are similar to egg protein, which is often helpful if replacing egg in a formulation,” Ms. Lauer said.

Protein remains a huge draw in the sports nutrition space as consumers associate the nutrient with many positives, including muscle-building, weight management, satiety and recovery speed, said McKenna Mills, senior technical services specialist, bakery, Cargill. While soy and whey proteins remain widely popular in formulations, alternative plant-based proteins are gaining ground.

“Pea protein, in particular, is well-suited for sports nutrition applications,” Ms. Mills continued. “It offers very good protein content and is high in leucine. While pea protein contains all the essential amino acids, it is not a complete protein because two of the amino acids, methionine and cysteine, are present in relatively low amounts. To compensate, formulators can blend pea protein with a complementary protein source to make complete protein claims. Another option is to add extra pea protein to hit the target protein claim.”

Proteins may impact texture, volume, shelf life and more. Careful selection is important to manage water absorption issues.

“Using protein blends is often the key, countering high-absorbing (binding) proteins with low-absorption (plasticizing) proteins,” Ms. Mills said.

“As protein is the building, recovery and structural nutrient, carbohydrates are the energy solution,” Mr. Martin said. “Anyone with high activity needs adequate levels of carbohydrates to sustain activity. Our brain alone uses 20% of our daily calorie consumption in the form of carbohydrates. Carbs are also the energy form of choice for active muscles.”

Not all carbohydrates are created equal. Isomaltulose, for example, is a low-glycemic carbohydrate sourced from sugar beet that provides full carbohydrate energy in a more balanced way. It works well in baked goods.

“It supports energy and mood due to its slow release of glucose, which avoids the typical sugar spike and crash,” said Kyle Krause, regional product manager, functional fibers and carbohydrates, North America, Beneo. “Isomaltulose can be easily used instead of sugar, gram for gram, in many snacks like baked goods and other grain-based products. It provides a slow release of energy, leading to a more balanced energy supply for the body without giving up the technical or sensory effects of sugar in the baked good.”

Isomaltulose has been shown to provide other benefits, such as increased fat burning and support of weight management. It has also been observed that the carbohydrate energy provided by isomaltulose can support memory and enhance mental well-being.

“It provides a natural sweetness approximately half that of sucrose, along with similar texture benefits as sucrose,” Mr. Krause said. “With a very low hygroscopicity, isomaltulose also helps to prolong shelf life, particularly for sweet goods’ glazes/icings, and thus also for the sweet goods themselves.”

Protein and carbohydrates may loom large for those interested in rebuilding muscle and having sustained, stable energy, but other nutrients are important too.

“Iron is an essential mineral that supports healthy red blood cells and physical performance,” Mr. Ciappio said.

Studies show that athletes experience greater iron loss on a daily basis compared to the general population, and the Institute of Medicine states that those who exercise regularly require 70% more of it.

“Iron deficiency, particularly among women, is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies in the country, impacting nearly one in 10 American women aged 20 to 49 years,” Mr. Ciappio said. “This is why ensuring adequate intakes of iron is critical for athletes, particularly female athletes.”

Maintaining bone health is important to prevent injuries in physically active people. Fortification with tricalcium phosphates provides calcium and phosphorus, nutrients that promote tissue and bone health.

“Tricalcium phosphate fortification can be part of a larger blend of mineral ingredients or by itself,” said Amr Shaheed, technical service manager, food applications, Innophos Inc.

This article is an excerpt from the July 2022 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Sports Nutrition, click here.