Are you wondering whether you should continue to make room on your shelves for the growing numbers of fitness and energy supplements that are flooding the industry?

The answer is a resounding yes. Long gone are the days when such supplements were used only by hardcore bodybuilders, Olympic athletes, and Ironman Triathlon competitors. Instead, today’s consumers looking to maximize their workouts could just as likely be heading to a spin class at their neighborhood gym, or a yoga retreat in Costa Rica. And research shows they’re apt to continue to add fitness and energy supplements to their exercise to-do list, in the hopes of increasing their energy levels, muscle power and endurance, maintaining their weight, and preventing those inevitable sore muscles afterwards.

And this $122 billion market is experiencing a renaissance of sorts — it continues to grow among all populations, including the highly desirable millennial demographic. According to the Washington DC-based Council for Responsible Nutrition’s (CRN) 2016 Consumer Survey on dietary supplements, 71% of U.S. adults­ — more than 170 million  — take dietary supplements every year (1). That’s a jump of nearly 50% from 2015, when just 25% of Americans documented regularly took supplements and an increase of more than half — 56% — from 2014, when just 19% of Americans regularly purchased fitness and energy supplements.

The Evolving Supplements CustomerWhat do researchers attribute to this increase? Part of the boost in overall usage is due to general population growth. Older adults aged 55 years and up continue to account for the highest percentage of supplement use. This year’s survey results showed that a whopping 74% of them regularly use supplements.

But, unlike previous years, the 2016 survey showed similarly high consumption use among middle aged adults between the ages of 35 and 54. Seventy percent of those surveyed said they regularly relied on supplements — ­up from 68% from the year before. Plus 70% percent of millennials —  those between 18 and 34 years old­ — continued to defy stereotypes and spend their money on fitness and energy supplements, an increase of five percent from 2016.

The Millennials’ Touch  And millennials are a vital demographic to any growing industry. According to a recent EcoFocus study, millennials hold huge buying power in today’s market, and are expected to spend more than $200 billion in 2017 alone (2). In order to successfully reach this group, it’s important for brands to understand what influences their purchasing. According to Forbes contributor Micah Solomon, the majority of millennials (50%) are looking for products from companies that support the causes they care about, and they’re twice as likely to care about whether or not their food is organic than any other generation (3).

To find success in this multibillion-dollar sports nutrition industry, manufacturers and retailers alike have to begin to  understand their target audience. As stated earlier, for many years, hard-core athletes were the focus of sports nutrition, a category that prescribed a fairly narrow set of parameters defining most products. But as the market expands to accommodate casual active consumers pursuing overall wellness, they have to readjust their considerations. Plant and animal protein sources, fruit and vegetable benefits, formulation, delivery method and labeling have all taken on new importance — in an attempt to clearly define the target consumer.

And it doesn’t look like these new consumers are going to stop spending their fairly large disposable income on supplements any time soon. “It is exciting to see the growth in supplement usage among younger adults especially after our 2015 survey indicated that increased usage should be anticipated among those aged 18 to 34 over the next five years,” says Judy Blatman, senior vice president, communications, CRN. “Every industry is talking about the millennials and the impact this generation will have. Our data shows the impact is already being made on the dietary supplement industry as young adults are increasingly incorporating dietary supplements into their health regimens.”

Blatman continues to say that the increase in supplement usage among younger adults can also potentially be correlated with the shift seen in the most common reasons users take dietary supplements. Historically, the top two reasons for taking supplements among supplement users were for “overall health/wellness benefits” and “to fill nutrient gaps in my diet.” This year, however, energy (30%) rose to become the number two reason for taking supplements among supplement users, behind only “for overall health and wellness benefits” (42%), which remains at the top of the list. “To fill nutrient gaps in my diet” now ranks third when it comes to reasons why supplement users take supplements, at 28%. The top five dietary supplements consumers are buying are: the multivitamin, vitamin D, vitamin C, calcium and vitamin B/B complex.  The top 12 supplements include Vitamin E, Fiber, Magnesium, Protein, Probiotics and Green Tea.

Weight Management ProductsSo, how are manufacturers catering to this widening consumer base, and what do you — retailers — need to know to inform your customers, who could range from 18 to 88? Weight management continues to be a major dietary supplement category across all ages. For the active person, finding a weight loss product that can coincide with and improve their fitness regimen is an important consideration. Novel Ingredients Services, of East Hanover, NJ, for example, offers three branded ingredients that include Advantra Z, which was established 20 years ago, an enhanced version of the classic ingredient called Kinetiq, and Physicor, introduced in October, 2016.

According to the company’s president, Rick Antonoff, “Advantra Z, Novel’s proprietary bitter orange extract, works by increasing thermogenesis — a proven method of supporting weight management and toning. Thermogenesis, or the production of heat in the body, increases the resting metabolic rate and the rate at which fat is released from body stores and broken down (lipolysis) to help burn calories and fat.”

The bitter orange extract, says Antonoff “safely ignites metabolism to jumpstart weight-loss efforts and help increase lean muscle, a necessity for long-term weight management. It has been shown to intensify exercise tolerance as much as 83%.  Moreover, Advantra Z contains only natural p-synephrine — a stable synephrine isomer, which has a long half-life to deliver longer, more sustained energy.”

Kinetiq, the patented next generation of Advantra Z, says Antonoff, adds “standardized levels of narigin and hesperidin, two citrus bioflavonoids that occur naturally in the bitter orange fruit. This new, patented blend has a powerful and synergistic thermogenic effect that has been shown to significantly boost resting metabolic rate and further increase resistance exercise performance.” What’s significant about the ingredient is that it does not act as a stimulant to cause an increase in heart rate and blood pressure at regular doses like other ingredients might.

According to the company, more than 30 research studies support the safety and efficacy of bitter orange (Citrus aurantium) and its dominant amine, p-synephrine. The majority of these clinical studies, have used Advantra Z rather than generic bitter orange extracts because of its consistent quality.  The naturally occurring p-synephrine in Advantra Z will exhibit approximately twice the physiological activity compared to an equal weight of synthetic p-synephrine.

In terms of efficacy, the company reports that a recent human clinical trial conducted at the College of New Jersey in 2015 found that males ages 18-22 following an intense weight training protocol while taking the bitter orange supplement experienced an increase in mean power, velocity, max number of repetitions and volume load (4).

Unfortunately, the safety of synephrine has been questioned and bitter orange remains a banned substance with the NCAA because it’s perceived to be a stimulant. However, research has validated its safety, particularly that of the Advantra Z. For example, a 2013 double-blind, placebo-controlled study published in Food and Chemical Toxicology, gave 67 healthy individuals, aged 27-76 years, either synephrine or placebo for 60 days. Results showed that, after measuring blood chemistry measurements, blood pressure and heart rate at baseline and after the 60 days, that resting heart rate, cardiovascular effects and blood chemistry did not change significantly between groups (5).

Physicor, introduced in October 2016, is a patented fenugreek extract standardized to a proprietary 70% oligosaccharide content. “This proprietary compound not only breaks down fat — thereby inhibiting fat storage — but also amplifies IGF, an insulin-like growth factor that signals the body to produce lean muscle and strengthen bones,” Antonoff says.

Fitness Recovery ProductsOther products, like Bellevue, WA-based Astavita, Inc.’s SPORTS Endurance & Recovery Dietary Supplement, provide fitness recovery relief, targeting both lifestyle and competitive athletes looking to boost their fitness performance “with nature’s most powerful antioxidant,” says Kristin McCabe, marketing/e-commerce specialist of Astavita, Inc.  The product also targets the aging population looking to stay active and maintain muscle performance. McCabe says, “An increase in metabolic activity of skeletal muscles during exercise causes an increase in oxygen consumption and formation of reactive oxygen species byproducts that can damage muscle. Damaged muscle triggers the immune response which can lead to delayed onset of muscle soreness. Astaxanthin supports muscle resilience by helping to neutralize reactive oxygen species that can accumulate and cause damage during exercise.”

Recent research into astaxanthin appears to show that not only might it be a far more powerful antioxidant than other sources, but it may be able to offset some of the issues with other sources for certain people, depending upon the form in which it is taken. The main issue with traditional antioxidants comes in the form of allergic reactions to some food sources. It is not uncommon for people to be allergic to tree nuts or shellfish, which can rule out both pecans and shrimp as antioxidant food sources. Although less common, some patients can be allergic to vitamins A, E, or ascorbic acid (the active chemical ingredient in vitamin C). If consumers keep to a vegetarian or vegan diet, this will also limit their options for sources of antioxidants, particularly if they are also allergic to tree nuts or any vitamin sources.

Its biggest overall advantage, as compared to other antioxidants, is that it has significantly higher antioxidant capacity than other vitamin or food sources. One 2007 study found that it contained 6,000 times the antioxidant power of vitamin C (6).

Ginseng also helps with fitness recovery. In general, ginseng is a nutraceutical herb that has been used for thousands of years in Asian culture for its perceived adaptogenic properties. Ilhwa’s patented Enzyme Fermented Ginseng (GS15-4) is a product that helps the body cope with the physiological stress of exercise or work environments.

“It’s a smart herb,” says Louise Dickson, vice president of business development for the firm. “It reads your body, and determines where your body needs support.”  It does this by balancing the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system, so “if people are anxious, or experiencing ‘fight or flight’ symptoms, it calms them down. And if your body needs energy and stamina, it will provide that.  But it’s not a stimulant, and doesn’t give you the crash that an ingredient like caffeine will. If the body needs to sleep, you can take it and get a very restful sleep,” continues Dickinson.

Dr. William J. Kraemer, Ph.D., a full professor at The Ohio State University in the Department of Human Sciences, heading up the Neuroscience/Neuromuscular Laboratory for the study of human performance since September 2014, has done many studies on the ingredient. “With such intense work, oxidative and inflammatory stressors damage cells and tissues,” explains Kraemer. “If that stress response cannot be coped with by the individual, then the recovery process in cells and tissues takes longer. Ilhwa GS15-4 can be one of the interventions that helps the body cope with the stress of intense work or exercise. Ilhwa GS15-4 has been designed to be readily absorbed and can therefore help combat the magnitude of such stress responses at the cellular level. Ilhwa GS15-4 in its design would reduce the magnitude of exercise-induced oxidative damage and inflammation in conjunction with increased enzymatic antioxidant activity. We believe that Ilhwa GS15-4 would promote the generation of nitric oxide and this would increase endogenous antioxidant expression via Nrf2 activation of antioxidant response elements in the cells.”

What distinguishes this product from other ginseng?  It can be absorbed 15 times faster than other products, says Dickson.  This is because the fermentation process breaks it down into smaller molecules that can be absorbed directly into the bloodstream. “Which is why athletes love it,” she says, as well as “weekend warriors.”

Because of its wide ranging benefits, the product is also designed for boomers, or anyone over 40 who is experiencing energy deficiency, adrenal stress, exhaustion, mental fog, blood sugar or blood pressure management issues, immune challenges and/or problems with digestion. Other groups that may benefit from the ginseng are the elderly, because of its energy and vitality, mental acuity and anti-aging properties, and teens and adults who are suffering from attention and cognitive deficits, specifically distractibility, multi-focus and/or concentration issues.

Fitness Energy ProductsWhen working out, there are few things more valuable than energy. Salt Lake City, Utah-based Black Market Labs’ customized line of goal-focused, pre-workout formulas, recently launched its latest innovation, FIT, intended to noticeably increase athletes’ endurance, power, strength and stamina.

They use a combination of superior ingredients at clinically tested dosages, designed to increase oxygen uptake and efficiency, decrease lactate, as well as raise and improve antioxidant capacity.

“Black Market products are concentrated, pure and effective,” says Harley Babcock, CEO of the firm. “Each of our formulas are designed to accelerate progress toward a specific fitness goal or enhance a distinct training regimen. Not everyone works out the same or wants the same result, which is why no Black Market product tries to be everything to everyone.”

The product uses a combination of very specific ingredients to maximize full potential in endurance, power, strength and stamina. One ingredient, PeakO2, a patent-pending blend of six adaptogens, improves the body’s ability to uptake and use oxygen and boost physical endurance, power output and strength. According to the ingredient’s manufacturer, the ingredient is clinically proven to increase power 17.6% in seven days and VO2 max — the maximum volume of oxygen an athlete can use measured in mL per kg per minute — by 65 seconds in 21 days (7).

Adaptogenic compounds help mitigate the stress response by working to bring the hormones of your adrenal system back into balance and overcome adrenal fatigue. Adaptogens like Rhodiola Rosea and Schisandra, for example, are shown in studies to reduce the presence and effect of stress hormones thereby helping endurance during physical stress like exercise and returning the body to normal when faced with chronic stress (8). One could think of adaptogens as thermostats that keep the body’s stress response at a desirable level.

“In the beginning, FIT was intended for the CrossFit audience to help them outperform, outlast and surpass their competition in multiple measurable parameters,” says Babcock. “After testing FIT, its potential and benefits far surpassed our initial intentions and it became clear it was a product that would benefit any athlete who needed to sustain higher levels of intense activity for longer periods of time, whether that’s an avid gym goer, someone just starting out with a workout program or a competitive athlete with high physical performance demands.”

Another important ingredient to keep an eye out for is a French oak wood extract (Robuvit) from Horphag Research USA, based in Hoboken, NJ. According to Frank Schonlau, director of scientific communication for the firm, the extract — rich in roburins and other flavonoids unique to oak wood — is able to enhance energy during exercise because “the roburin flavonoids are processed by gut micro-biota to metabolites called urolithins. These metabolites stimulate renewal of the body cell’s powerhouses (mitochondria) to more efficiently generate energy from foodstuffs.”

One study, for example, measured the performance of 54 men and women during a triathlon after taking the extract for two weeks or placebo. Results showed that the experimental group taking the French oak wood extract had a significantly faster time during the 5 km run and overall significantly improved triathlon performance (9).  Schonlau also points to the extract’s efficacy for reducing symptoms of fatigue in general. “Another 2015 study published in Phytotherapy Research...found that daily supplementation reduced the symptoms of general fatigue like exhaustion, headaches and loss of memory after just four weeks,” he explains. “This builds on a 2013 study published in Panminerva Medica which showed the benefits of Robuvit for individuals suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). It’s a natural and caffeine-free option for many fatigue sufferers looking for a way to feel better.”

Consumer TrustThere’s another reason for the increased usage of supplements. And that’s trust. CRN added a new question to its annual survey this year, aimed at measuring consumer trust in the dietary supplement industry (10). When asked “To what extent do you perceive the dietary supplement industry as being trustworthy,” nearly three-quarters (73%) of Americans revealed that they did consider the industry trustworthy. Researchers say that question will serve as a benchmark for future surveys.

Survey respondents also revealed they had confidence in the industry. According to the 2016 survey, 85% of U.S. adults have overall confidence in the safety, quality and effectiveness of dietary supplements. Among supplement users it’s even higher, with 96% expressing their confidence. “We’re always pleased to see data showing Americans are confident in our industry’s products,” Blatman says. “We were all the more satisfied to see that not only do a majority of Americans have confidence in dietary supplements, but also that a majority of Americans have trust in our industry.”

This is particularly important given how heavily scrutinized the sports nutrition market is. Three areas in particular, according to Duffy MacKay, N.D., senior vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs at CRN, are under intense scrutiny by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) — pre-workout, bodybuilding and weight management. MacKay says that unscrupulous manufacturers like to take advantage of vulnerable consumers seeking results in these areas.

Add to this the rise of a younger clientele, and alarm bells are going off for many.  So how can retailers trust the quality of products they’re stocking their shelves with and selling to their shoppers?

Addressing Issues of Quality and SafetyFor retailers, it is just as important to provide customers with safe products as it is for customers to purchase safe products. More and more manufacturers are making a real effort to demonstrate their products safety through research, testing and third party seals that verify their products are clean. “AstaReal Astaxanthin is the industry standard and serves as the USP reference standard for all astaxanthin quality testing,” says McCabe. “AstaReal astaxanthin is the most studied brand of astaxanthin for both safety and efficacy.” She adds that the algal source is farmed in a clean indoor environment using filtered air and water and that the company’s products are Generally Recognized as Safe, non-GMO and vegan.

Novel Ingredients’ Rick Antonoff says of the company’s line: “These are scientifically supported ingredients that not only follow strict quality assurance/quality control guidelines, but also provide the quality value that is necessary for the long-term viability, confidence and stability of a consumer brand. All three offer excellent stability across a range of delivery forms:  tablets, capsules, powders, beverages, as well as functional foods. It’s also important to note that all three are thermogenic ingredients, which have consistently out-performed other types of weight loss ingredients:  fat blockers, satiety agents, hormone influencers, etc.”

Ilhwa’s ginseng is grown on contract farms where the organic-compliant soil quality is closely monitored. Dickson says every batch is subjected to extensive testing for bacteria and evidence of metal toxicity. The facility is GMP and ISO certified and all manufacturing is conducted with highest industry standards. They guarantee purity and potency in every batch and provide Certificate of Analysis documentation.

Trade groups are also helping their members become more transparent in an effort to solidify the trust of consumers after years of damaging articles and investigations by Attorneys General. The newest tool from CRN, The Supplement OWL (Online Wellness Library), is an industry-wide dietary supplement product registry intended to help create a more accurate and complete picture of the supplement marketplace for regulators, retailers, and industry (11). It went live in April, and is now widely accessible for examination. According to Steve Mister, president & CEO, for CRN, all companies can test-drive the product registry and retailers can begin to use it to evaluate products on their shelves. The trade group is confident that the number of companies participating in the Supplement OWL and the number of labels included will grow to the point where users will question why a company’s label is not available in the Supplement OWL. “Today is just the start, but broader engagement, that’s the end game,” said Mister. “If you have confidence in your product and in your label, why wouldn’t you want to house it in a free product registry that demonstrates you’re willing to help the industry be more transparent and more accountable to our regulators, to retailers, and ultimately to consumers. If daylight is indeed ‘the best disinfectant,’ then the Supplement OWL helps to clean up the industry by putting products on display.”

The FutureThe increasing use of supplements is not going away. And it’s not just growing here. Europe is seeing the industry grow by leaps and bounds. Euromonitor International predicts that the sports nutrition market will grow at an average of eight to 10% year over year by the end of 2021. In Europe, the market is currently worth $2.24 billion, up more than 12.3% from the previous year.

In an opinion piece published in FoodBev Media, Nick Morgan, director of Sports Integrated and joint chair of Bridge2Food’s 7th Sports & Active Nutrition Summit, which took  place in the Netherlands this past June, shared some of his insights (12). “Sports nutrition continues to demonstrate significant growth, and faster growth than many comparable consumer health and packaged goods industry,” he states. “Traditionally, the heartland of bodybuilders and aesthetically driven male consumers, much of the growth is attributed to the awareness and interest amongst more ‘active’ or mainstream consumers, where high protein products in convenient formats, available in wider retail outlets are becoming the norm.”

“However, as the consumer base broadens, so do the reasons for consuming products and the sports nutrition industry needs to better understand how to approach and target consumers that span performance and health-orientated goals, including those that want to gain muscle mass, improve endurance, or just eat healthier,” he continues. “The sport nutrition category is undergoing a shift — influenced by the changing landscape of sport, greater complexity in consumers’ diets and a diversity of products on the market from adjacent categories,” explains Dr. Adrian Hodgson, a nutrition innovation consultant, in the same piece. “We are seeing the collision of multiple trends from these adjacent categories influence the products consumers expect in a sporting context. The types of exercise and the demands on the body have also changed...Instead consumers have both mind and body needs and goals. The sport nutrition products of today must fit these evolving needs. The challenge is to understand consumers’ lifestyles, exercise and food behaviors to innovate fit-for-purpose products that are based on solid scientific evidence.”

With the changing consumer, the heightened steps to maintain quality and safety, the input and forward momentum of policy makers reaching far beyond our borders, the dietary supplement business is a good one to bank on. So, don’t hesitate to stock your shelves with the constantly evolving products — it will boost your bottom line, and make your customers happy. WF

UPDATED: 6/23/2017 11:41 am