As consumers focus on nutrition increases, the beverage market is booming with functional beverages that address sports recovery, and bone and joint health. Additionally, as manufacturers release innovative ingredients optimized for product efficacy and absorption that cater to this consumer demand, market research firms project more growth is on the way. 

Hyderabad, India-based Mordor Intelligence’s report titled “United States Recovery Drinks Market Trends and Forecasts (2020 - 2025)” states that the global recovery drinks market is expected to register a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.2 percent between 2018 and 2023.

Joshua Stewart, global product manager of bioactives for Chicago-based Glanbia Nutritionals, suggests that more than 30 percent of U.S. consumers who are active three or more hours a week use a recovery product, findings based on the company’s May 2019 Active Lifestyle Consumer Survey.

“One in four are working out in the morning, meaning they may replace or supplement breakfast with recovery drinks,” Stewart says.

Pam Stauffer, global marketing programs manager at Minnesota-based Cargill, notes that sports drinks are among the fastest-growing categories in the beverage market.

“We‘ve witnessed the mainstreaming of the market as more consumers embrace healthier diets and more active lifestyles,” Stauffer says.

Although sports recovery drinks traditionally have been positioned for elite athletes, Stauffer notes they are now enjoyed by a wide range of consumers, from recreational athletes to those competing professionally.

“Consumers are more educated about when to fuel the body with the right nutrients both before and after activity,” she explains. “Sports recovery products are also more accessible than ever, reaching everyone from high school student athletes to senior recreationalists desiring a balanced source of protein and nutrition.”

Pick your protein

As more consumers understand the benefits of muscle recovery, ingredient suppliers are expanding portfolios to meet the needs of today’s consumers. Protein solutions like whey, pea and soy are among the go-to ingredients for consumers seeking muscle recovery, experts note.

Jessica Arnaly, market segment manager at Paramus, N.J.-based FrieslandCampina Ingredients, says that casein protein prior to sleep is beneficial to muscle protein synthesis, and unlike whey protein, takes longer to break down in the body.

“This is how Micelate Prestige was born, which is a micellar casein isolate derived from high-quality milk with a 95 percent casein to 5 percent whey protein ratio,” Arnaly says. “It’s cold-processed and native, meaning its structure is comparable to that of fresh milk.”

Cargill’s Stauffer notes that consumers seeking vegan options can opt for pea protein, which is more soluble than most botanical proteins because it more easily remains in suspension. 

“[Pea protein] also has a mild flavor profile, ‘a must,’ given the mainstream appeal of today’s sports nutrition beverages,” she says. “It meets the demanding label requirements of discerning consumers drawn to non-GMO, organic, soy-free and vegan products.”

Potein is being consumed in powders and ready-to-drink (RTD) sports beverages, meal replacements and more.

“If you look at protein as a category — ready-to-drink, powder, etc. — it’s approaching $4 billion,” says Anuj Bhasin, vice president and general manager of Gatorade Protein & Fitness Brands. “The brand that figures out how to bring unique propositions that go beyond protein as a recovery agent is the one who will win.”

FrieslandCampina Ingredients’ Arnaly says if you look at the 1,000-plus new products launched in the United States the past two years with a recovery claim, sports powders are gaining momentum.

“You also see new formats emerging, such as sports protein bars and bites, sachets or RTDs, answering consumers’ demand for on-the-go, ready-to-use options to fit busy lifestyles,” she adds.

Better for bones

The beverage market also is seeing increased interest in bone and joint beverage products, particularly from baby boomers trying to prevent bone loss.

Katie Ferren, vice president of sales and marketing at Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.-based Blue California, notes that there are more than 3 million Americans impacted with bone loss and osteoporosis in the United States each year. One ingredient gaining traction for bone health support is vitamin K2, as it regulates calcium deposition and the calcification of bones.

“Vitamin K2 may be absorbed better by the body, and stay in the blood longer than vitamin K1,” Ferren says. “Although the majority of new products with vitamin K2 are in the dietary supplement category, we see baby formulas, beverage mixes, flavored milk and soy-based drinks adopting this ingredient in innovative bone and joint health drinks.”

Samantha Ford, director of business development for City of Industry, Calif.-based AIDP Inc., says consumers have an increased understanding of the synergies of magnesium, vitamin D3, vitamin K2 and collagen as they relate to bone health.

“A large trend has been the emergence of bone broths and functional foods with added collagen, the main collagen source being from animals, such as bovine, fish and avian collagen,” Ford says. “While each has its own advantages, sourcing, taste and processing often separate primary differences.”

Ford notes that collagens Type I and III are most relevant to bone health, while collagen Type I is most relevant to skin structure and function. Collagen Type II from avian sources targets joint and cartilage health,
Ford says.

“Some collagens have a strong aftertaste, while others are not soluble. Finding the right collagen for the desired end product is largely dependent on application and targeted benefit,” she says. “AIDP has expanded its ingredient portfolio to include collagen from a wide variety of sources with many formulation benefits across the full spectrum, from types I to X; from marine, avian and bovine sources that can suit a variety of formulation needs in supplement and food and beverage applications.”

Among ingredients gaining traction with consumers are vitamin D3, specifically AIDP’s VegD3, which Ford states is an organic plant-based vitamin D3 that can be used as a one-to-one replacement for the animal-sourced D3.

“As it comes from a sustainable algal source, [VegD3] offers superior purity and quality to lanolin D3. The fully traceable supply chain is pesticide-, protein- and heavy metal-compliant,” Ford says. “It also is Vegan Society-approved, and available in organic grade without supply limitations.”

Other ingredients strengthening the bone health beverage market include plant-based chicory root, Cargill’s Stauffer says.

“While consumers have long associated milk with healthy bones, chicory root fiber is a prebiotic fiber that has earned a reputation for digestive health benefits and enhancing calcium absorption to improve bone mineral density,” Stauffer explains.

healthy movement

When it comes to joint health, the target consumer can vary from the bone health group. AIDP’s Ford says that joint health products target a younger, more active demographic, which favors unique delivery forms; yet, glucosamine still is the industry standard for joint health. However, Glanbia’s Stewart says vegan options are growing.

“Chondroitin and glucosamine are receiving negative attention due to their animal-based nature as well as extraction methods, so more consumers are looking for plant-based options,” Stewart says.

As a result, new joint-focused products are increasingly incorporating natural, plant-based and whole-food options.

“[AIDP] has more recently been promoting Turmacin as an innovative, clinically researched and patented ingredient that brings the joint and cartilage health benefits of turmeric to dietary supplements, featuring water-soluble turmerosaccharides, which are water-soluble bioactive polysaccharides in turmeric responsible for its joint health supporting properties,” Ford says.

Glanbia’s Stewart says the company also is seeing the addition of [cannabidiol] (CBD) to joint and bone health drinks, along with botanicals such as curcumin, ginger and boswellia, which offer plant-derived, anti-inflammation support.

“CBD provides not only physical recovery, but also mental recovery and relaxation, which is becoming something more consumers are seeking, even outside of sports,” Stewart says.

Mariko Hill, product development executive at Gencor Pacific, discussed Gencor's ingredient called palmitoylethanolamide (PEA) or Levagen, which studies have shown can reduce joint stiffness, providing comfort, and remedy sports-related inflammation.

“In addition, PEA can be used as a CBD alternative,” Hill says.

Formulation challenges

Experts note that one of the biggest challenges in formulating nutritional beverages with proteins, vitamins and minerals, antioxidants and botanicals is taste.

“To compensate, beverage developers historically have relied on caloric sweeteners, but with consumers more intense scrutiny of sugar content, that approach has fallen out of favor,” says Vince Cavallini, beverage application manager for Cargill’s dairy and convenience foods.

To keep sugar levels in check, zero-calorie stevia sweeteners, often used in combination with erythritol, can improve taste and mouthfeel. Cavallini says stevia is well-accepted by consumers, such as Cargill’s ViaTech stevia leaf extract, both of which have formulation versatility.

“Cargill’s Zerose erythritol pairs well with stevia,” Cavallini explains. “This calorie-free sweetener rounds out stevia’s sweetness profile, and its flavor-masking properties minimize off-notes that accompany some of the functional ingredients found in these beverages.”

FrieslandCampina’s Arnaly says another challenge impacting these functional products has been limited options on the market that meet consumers’ demand for less-processed, label-friendly fitness recovery solutions, which many manufacturers are addressing with their ingredient profiles.

“Consumers want to know they are choosing a product that has good practices, is ethically sourced, and is honest in order to be part of that change that puts our planet first,” Arnaly says. “Corporate social responsibility is part of that movement. Consumers believe the products they buy reflect what they support and stand for.”

Looking ahead to how ingredient trends will influence formulation of sports recovery and bone/joint health beverage market, AIDP’s Ford notes that as excess packaging concerns grow, many of their customers are considering powder formats as a more sustainable alternative. In addition, with collagen products in high demand, acidulants and citrus flavors can help mask the flavor that’s associated with collagen products. Growing demand for clean-label products also should be a consideration for beverage brands, along with maintaining low- or no-sugar options to cater to health-conscious consumers.

“Today’s consumers expect more from the products they buy,” Cargill’s Stauffer says. “To be successful, product developers will need beverages that deliver on the trifecta of consumer expectations: proven functional benefits, limited sugar and great taste.”