Probiotics: The sleeping giant of sports nutrition?

By Nikki Cutler

- Last updated on GMT

istock | itakdalee
istock | itakdalee
Probiotics hold a wealth of ‘pent-up NPD potential' for the Sports Nutrition (SN) industry as they hold the key to untapped and highly desired health benefits, according to new research from Lumina Intelligence.

The in-depth analysis of online Sports Nutrition (SN) products across 20 countries shows that probiotics are present in less than 2% of all sports nutrition products captured by the global food and drink market insight service Lumina Intelligence​.

Emer Mackle, market analyst for Lumina Intelligence, told Nutraingredients this report ‘​highlights major product development and brand optimisation opportunities’.

She says: “What is evident from our research is that the diversity of probiotic ingredients currently used in the SN market is still very limited, in terms of genus, species and also strains. This implies that plenty of pent-up NPD potential remains.”

Serving as a sign of their popularity, the data shows that probiotic containing SN products receive over twice as many reviews online and score higher than their non-probiotic counterparts.

The data shows that powders are the most likely format to include probiotics and a sizeable 25 of the 67 probiotic protein powders are plant-based.

Analysing the reason for this strong presence within plant proteins, Mackle points out that probiotics are often added for their digestion-boosting properties. She surmises that products made with plant protein are more likely to be made with probiotics to boost digestibility, as opposed to enzymes, as enzymes are not in-keeping with the ‘natural’ and ‘clean’ claims that many plant protein consumers desire.

Whilst probiotics were first introduced to SN products to address the issue of digestibility, Lumina's data shows that ‘wellbeing’ is the most popular claim attributed to the probiotic presence in SN products.

But Mackle points out that there is a growing body of research backing the use of probiotics for many other health benefits which marry well with the SN consumers' needs, such as immunity and post-exercise recovery.

 “Immunity is the most well-researched area investigating athletes and probiotics,"​ Mackle says.

"Commercially, immune system benefits are of growing importance in the SN space, potentially helping athletes in not missing training and competition days. Right now, this benefit remains underexploited in SN.”

“Muscle recovery is a key interest for elite athletes and active individuals. Muscle recovery aided by probiotics is an up-and-coming area of SN research.”


Several studies​ have shown the potential of probiotics to help boost immunity and fight URTI’s.

Swedish company Probi AB has shown its combination of Lactobacillus plantarum​ HEAL9 and Lactobacillus paracasei​ 8700:2, can significantly reduce recurrent common colds.

The double-blinded, placebo-controlled randomised controlled trial (RCT) involving 900 subjects was conducted over three winter seasons.

The probiotic demonstrated an activation of the immune system after just two weeks in participants who were not experiencing a common cold. This finding reinforces the results of two previous trials, which had indicated immune-enhancing effects of the two-strain mixture.


Wiley Barton, from the Teagasc Food Research Centre in Ireland, published work​ in 2017 that shed new light on how physical fitness boosts our gut bacteria - and showed that that the microbiome of elite international rugby players is primed to aid tissue repair, to harness energy from diet, and aids the 'high cell-turnover' evident in elite sport.

Barton told NutraIngredients in March 2018: "Intriguingly, it appears that there are difference in the microbiome of really rigorous people, who have been pushing the limits of physical fitness for decades, and your average, more tame, fitness individual."

"I think there are a lot of challenges in figuring out the beneficial microbiota, versus some that may that actually may not be contributing to health within these groups."

Barton says there is 'immense potential' for the two worlds to come together and create something very special.

Muscle-building bugs

Taiwanese probiotics firm Synbio Tech is entering the US sports nutrition market with a probiotic strain for building muscle mass​.

Speaking to NutraIngredients Asia in December last year, Lisa Chen, assistant marketing manager for Synbio Tech, said: “We find that the sports nutrition market is growing and we think that sports probiotics will be the trend of the (future) probiotics industry.” 

The strain Lactobacillus plantarum ​TWK10 (L. plantarum ​TWK10) is isolated from the Taiwan pickled vegetables and is able to enhance muscle building and exercise endurance.








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