Ashwagandha appeals to extreme athletes and casual exercisers alike, with a range of benefits for body and mind.
The sports nutrition market is the most explosive growth category in the consumer health industry. The segment has experienced a 12 percent compound annual growth rate from 2012 through 2017, more than doubling the rate of other categories in nutritional supplements. Looking ahead, sports nutrition is expected to continue grow as diverse consumers embrace health goals. With ashwagandha valued for its adaptogenic properties, it can boost performance and combat stress. it’s an ingredient that is poised to enhance sports formulations.
Ashwagandha can support testosterone levels, strength, muscle size, sexual function and endurance – promoting mental clarity, boosting energy and performance. This latest Ashwagandha Advantage case study report examines how innovative brands are incorporating ashwagandha into performance-based sports formulations for both elite and everyday athletes, providing balanced solutions that offer clinically backed benefits.
If there’s one word to describe the sports nutrition market, it’s growth. As the most explosive category in the consumer health industry, sports nutrition has experienced a 12 percent compound annual growth rate from 2012 through 2017, doubling the rate of the second fastest-growing category, says Euromonitor International. Looking ahead, sports nutrition is expected to continue growing at a 7 percent CAGR through 2022. Why? Sports nutrition, once a category that appealed exclusively to bodybuilders and extreme athletes, has broadened its consumer base significantly. Now, you’ll find anyone among the category’s devotees, from casual athletes and weekend warriors to lifestyle users (those who are simply willing to invest in sports nutrition products as a part of an overall healthy living plan). Since each of these different consumers brings with them different health goals — muscle growth, recovery, energy, and more — there’s room for more ingredients than ever in the sports nutrition market. If you ask Kenton Engel, chief marketing officer at Virginia-based Core Nutritionals, trends in sports nutrition are moving away from “idealized, hyper-masculine or hyper-feminine bodies, to a more realistic portrait of what people look, act, and feel like.” To that end, supplements that take a more holistic outlook when it comes to sports nutrition fare well.
Ashwagandha, valued for its adaptogenic properties, is known to battle stress and fatigue, promote mental clarity and alertness, and also boost energy and performance. So it makes sense that more and more sports nutrition brands are looking to ashwagandha to enhance their formulations. “Ashwagandha fits this burgeoning niche quite well,” says Engel of the holistic wellness approach transforming the sports nutrition aisle, “based on its general health benefits and broad use cases.”
According to Greg Tetzlaff, director of global product education and training at Nutrabolt Life Sciences, ashwagandha makes sense in sports nutrition products because “the health benefits of ashwagandha have been widely recognized for many years, which make it a fantastic ingredient with regards to its positive social currency.” Tetzlaff says it appeals to athletes, specifically, because it can support testosterone levels, strength, muscle size, sexual function and endurance, and these are the benefits the brand highlights in its applications.
Nutrabolt Life Sciences chose KSM-66 over other ashwagandha ingredients on the market because, in addition to its well known benefits, the KSM-66 team grants the brand access to the manufacturing, farms and plantations in India to learn the story behind the ingredient. Plus, they’re provided the “clinical substantiation for the support that we look to offer our customers,” Tetzlaff says. “When it comes to our ingredients, quality and clinical substantiation is paramount, and our partnership with KSM-66 provides us with access to both of those critical parameters.” KSM-66 is used in every major sports nutrition product in America, including those offered by Optimum Nutrition, MuscleTech, MusclePharm, Cellucor, Performix, GNC, Weider, Beast Sports, MyProtein, Kaged Muscle, bodybuilding.com, Force Factor and more — all thanks to its robust clinical substantiation.
Indeed, research supports the use of ashwagandha in athletes. One study, for example, examined the effects of ashwagandha in 40 elite Indian cyclists. What researchers found was that the cyclists who took the ingredient for eight weeks demonstrated a significant improvement in both maximum volume of oxygen (increased by 13 percent) as well as duration until exhaustion on a treadmill test(1).
An additional study examined healthy male subjects receiving 300 mg ashwagandha twice per day for eight weeks. The result? Serum testosterone levels increased by more than 15 percent, arm muscle size grew over 17 percent, and average body fat fell an average of 16 percent (2).
But benefits for athletes aren’t limited to increased performance; ashwagandha also demonstrates value for post-exercise formulations. One eight-week, randomized, placebo-controlled study enlisted 57 men to take either ashwagandha or placebo twice daily. During this time, they underwent resistance training. Not only did the ashwagandha group have significantly greater increases in muscle strength, muscle size, and testosterone levels, but they also had significantly greater decreases in exercise-induced muscle damage, as evidenced by measurements in serum muscle creatine kinase levels(3).
That said, the beauty of ashwagandha is that it offers more than just athlete-specific benefits. As such, it can appeal to the growing number of lifestyle users that use sports supplements to simply achieve better health and wellness overall. This appealed to Kris Gethin, CEO at California-based Kaged Muscle, who chose ashwagandha because of its range of benefits, including “immense benefits for people’s wellbeing, strength, focus, vitality, happiness, and testosterone.” As a result, the brand features KSM-66 branded ashwagandha in its Ferodrox Testosterone Support Matrix.
At Nutrabolt Life Sciences, KSM-66 is utilized as a foundational ingredient to support testosterone, strength and muscle size, and is featured in its P6 and C4 Ultimate Power products. “Highlighting these benefits is a very powerful message for our 18-plus-year-old healthy male customers,” says Tetzlaff. Plus, he notes a string emerging demand to also support cognitive function and, as a result, the brand also taps into KSM-66 for these benefits in its pre-workout powder offerings, including C4 Ultimate Powder.
Research is the key reason why KSM-66 is featured in Super Test from Florida-based Beast Sports Nutrition, says president Anthony Altieri. Specifically, the brand values the fact that KSM-66 has “solid clinical studies to substantiate its ability to increase endogenous testosterone,” he says, citing a 2014 clinical trial that showed the ingredient to increase testosterone levels by 17 percent(4). Previously, the brand used a generic ashwagandha that provided 2.5 percent withanolides, the components of the herb that provide testosterone-boosting properties. “KSM-66, however, has doubled this amount to 5 percent withanolides, which is a very substantial difference,” Altieri says. Another main reason KSM-66 fit the bill for Beast Sports Nutrition is the fact that it has obtained a “supports healthy testosterone” claim from Health Canada. “This is huge,” he adds. “Having a government agency endorsing an ingredient is good enough for me.”
But Beast Sports Nutrition also knows that the broadening consumer base for sports supplements will demand products with broader implications for better overall health. That’s why brand leadership is investigating KSM-66 for its ability to enhance mental cognition. “More and more research is surfacing regarding this facet of the ashwagandha herb,” Altieri says, adding that nootropics have become a hot trend in sports nutrition as consumers look for more than just physiological benefits. “I see KSM-66 fitting well in any formula aimed at enhancing mental cognition,” he adds, since the ingredient has “the sound research to back the efficacy of the ingredient.” Indeed, research on KSM-66 has shown that the ingredient may be effective in enhancing immediate and general memory, and may even improve executive function, attention, and information processing speed (5).
An important component of maintaining a dietary supplement regimen is finding a delivery system that works within an individual’s lifestyle. Unlike other categories, dominated by capsules and tablets, sports nutrition is marked by its unique approach to delivery that relies heavily on functional foods for on-the-go consumers and gym goers. According to Tetzlaff, powders (for smoothies or drinks) as well as capsules, tablets and ready-to- drink formats are still alive and well in the sports nutrition arena. Going forward, he sees a drive towards gummies, functional foods and other chewable formats. The fact that KSM-66 works in both ready-to-drink options as well as powders and other applications only serves to help formulators appeal to this trend. One thing to keep in mind, says Altieri, is that flavor and solubility are both paramount here: “use of flavoring, masking agents, and sweeteners are imperative with powdered delivery to make the products flavorful, or at least palatable.”
But beverages aren’t the only game in town. While gels are appearing to decrease in popularity, stick packs and single serving powders come into play for added convenience and grab-and-go appeal. Drops, bars, and chews are on the radar at Kaged Muscle, as are slower release delivery systems that can bypass the harsh acidic environment of the stomach.
Convenient delivery systems are one way to attract consumers to ashwagandha sports supplements, but the other is through education and marketing. This is especially important in this market, since brands need to be able to communicate ashwagandha’s range of benefits to consumers who are used to the straightforward nature of ingredients like protein.
For Kaged Muscle, it starts with educating supplement store staff. Gethin recently hosted a one-day marathon of seminars, reaching all of The Vitamin Shoppe’s nearly 850 store managers. During his seminars, he explained the benefits of KSM-66 over general ashwagandha. The idea is that those managers can then train their teams who will later interface with customers themselves. Additionally, Gethin publishes various video trainings, social media posts, advertising copy, magazine columns, and books about KSM-66’s positive attributes to get the word out.
Going straight to the consumer is also part of the marketing plan at Nutrabolt Life Sciences, where social media and video content help explain the benefits of ashwagandha. “Scaling into 2019, we will continue to message the benefits through animations, infographics and in-depth content on the story behind the ingredient,” adds Tetzlaff.
Beast Sports Nutrition takes a similar tactic, publishing social media posts and blogs about the ingredients consumers will find in its products, including KSM-66. Altieri says the onus is on dietary supplement manufacturers to not only provide high quality supplements, but to also provide education, and he does not cut corners in either area. “The consumers today are savvy and seek out information prior to making any purchase,” he says. “Using an ingredient like KSM-66 in our products assures consumers that Beast Sports only uses the finest ingredients in our products that also have scientific research supporting their benefits.”