Olympics may fuel innovation in European sports drinks

- Last updated on GMT

Leading sports drink manufacturers are hoping to increase market
shares this year with major marketing campaigns to coincide with
the Olympics. But the more specialist sector could also get a boost
if a new protein-containing drink proves its worth for Dutch
athletes.

Coca-Cola's UK division is spending £4 million on media advertising and a further £2 million on sponsorship deals this year to boost its isotonic Powerade brand, which it is hoping to position as the 'sports drink of 2004'. This included sponsorship of Euro 2004 and the Wimbledon Tennis Championships as well as the Olympic Games, where it is supplying every British athlete with the product.

GlaxoSmithKline also launched a £2m promotion for its Lucozade Sport brand, which still dominates the UK market, to coincide with the Euro 2004 Football Championships.

Both of these products are however largely distributed through mass market channels and both are isotonic drinks used by a wide range of consumers, not just sports professionals.

But the Games will also be an important testing ground for products targeting serious sportsmen and women.

Novel ingredients are rare in the sports nutrition industry but DSM, which has developed a protein ingredient available to the Dutch team in one of the company's first finished products, is hoping for good results from the drink's debut.

If the athletes' trial proves successful, the company is likely to seek a beverage maker to market the drink in Europe, where it would be one of very few on the market containing added protein.

There are numerous sports drinks with added protein available on the US market but in Europe the ingredient is still much more common in bars. This may be a result of a lack of evidence to support the benefits of protein in recovery drinks, recently underlined by a statement from the US National Athletic Trainers' Association.

"Scientific exploration of the benefits of protein intake before, during, and after exercise is in its early stages. Before advising athletes on the best course of action, more research must be done on this topic,"​ it said, in a response to a new study showing the benefits of the protein-containing drink Accelerade.

But Avril Twomey, marketing executive at dairy ingredients firm Glanbia​, believes the absence of proteins in sports drinks is more likely to be a result of the functionality of the ingredients.

"They are difficult to apply to drinks but I can guarantee that every protein ingredient maker will be working on technology that allows them to be added to beverages, one of the biggest sectors in the industry."

"I definitely think these will be the next generation of sports drinks. Athletes eat a lot of protein anyway and there is a lot of science out there to say that protein helps muscles recover."

One of the early innovators was Quest International which developed a peptide-containing drink called Hyprol, now marketed in 10 different countries by Extreme Drinks.

The drink developed by DSM Food Specialties​, PeptoPro Sports, has added casein that has like the proteins in Hyprol been fragmented to allow for faster absorption. The company also developed an enzyme that can 'almost completely neutralise' the bitter taste of the casein fragments, improving the taste profile of the drink.

"Our studies have shown that DSM's recovery drink gives significantly higher total insulin production and a faster decrease of glucose levels in the blood. We also found a 5 per cent better average performance level in athletes who had drunk the DSM recovery drink compared with those who had taken an ordinary, sugar-based sports drink,"​ said Dr Hans Keizer at NUTRIM, the Food and Toxicology Research Institute of the University of Maastricht, Netherlands, after tests last year.

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