With the global sports nutrition market worth something in the vicinity of €15 billion and personalized nutrition around €2-3bn, according to market analysts – the cross-over of personalized sports nutrition in 2021 is relatively niche.
Philipp Merk, co-founder and managing director at German personalized nutrition firm Loewi, says sports nutrition accounts for the biggest slice of his firm’s business – about 40% (immunity being the next biggest chunk).
Loewi was founded in early 2019 as a spin-off from a Technical University of Munich, Olympic athlete-focused personalized nutrition project. Its model feeds blood sample biomarker data and questionnaire responses through algorithms to make its mostly food supplement (but also food recommendations) that typically cost users about €75 a month.
“We have basically combined this super-laborious method with my background in data science and artificial intelligence to make it scalable,” Merk says. “So we have a blood test you do at home independent of a doctor and a database of over 15,000 medical studies.”
“We have thousands of interactions between nutrients, diseases, medications, allergies – really everything that is known – and this is also how we can make sure we are never harming any of our customers.”
Merk says Loewi’s ever-growing data set was driving evermore refined recommendations.
“We have algorithms calculating the individual dose for each nutrient and with each blood test that we conduct we use machine learning to build a mathematical model of their metabolism. We basically have a curve where we know which dosage we need to achieve which blood value. The cool thing is with each customer that comes through the system our model gets better and better. It’s like self-improving machinery.”
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Sports nutrition firms and researchers are continually tweaking formulations to solve the perennial paradox of endurance sports: the fact the human gut can struggle to process the sugar load required to fuel efforts over multiple hours.
Gastro distresses bound across the endurance sports spectrum for this reason.
The likes of alginate hydrogels and shifts from the somewhat standardised 2:1 glucose to fructose ‘dual fuel’ ratio attempt to address the issue.
The CBD sports nutrition sector had its game significantly boosted in 2018 when the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) removed the hemp-derived cannabinoid from its list of banned performance-enhancing substances – the market duly took off.
But the complex molecular profile of many CBD products means steadfast anti-doping guarantees remain difficult to achieve for a category seeking a legitimate seat at the table of clean sports performance.
“The sports nutrition category was slow to adopt CBD, but it’s now appearing in various products including pre-workout formulas, recovery drinks, and post-workout products,” said Rick Collins, partner at Collins, Gann, McCloskey & Barry in New York. “But drug-tested athletes use CBD products at their own risk.”
The US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) puts it this way: “Many products which claim to be pure CBD extract or oil from the cannabis plant have traces of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) or other cannabinoids. Thus, a consumer who buys a CBD oil, extract, or other CBD product should be aware that there is a high likelihood it is a mixture of CBD and other prohibited cannabinoids, such as THC.”
USADA special advisor Amy Eichner told us anti-doping labs “can test for and detect other cannabinoids” of which there are more than 100 in common industrial hemp extracts – and all of which are banned by WADA in-competition except CBD (cannabidiol) along with THC below a certain threshold.
“Our recommendation to athletes is to not use any cannabinoid product, such as a CBD preparation, during or close to a competition,” Eichner said.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has refuted a beta-glucan-based health claim from Nestlé – the Swiss food giant’s first EU health claim submission since 2010. Nestlé’s dossier linked oat and barley beta-glucan-fortified breakfast cereals with blood glucose management – but it was left to cry over spilt cereal milk after EFSA’s 16-strong health claims panel (plus four advisors) baulked over dosage and format.
A Nestlé spokesperson tells NutritionInsight “we’re disappointed” but highlighted “the positive feedback whereby EFSA confirmed the validity of the findings of one of our clinical studies”.