Bringing health back to the soft drinks market

Volac offers a milk complex of natural sugars, minerals and peptides

As sports nutrition earns its fifth EU-approved health claim related to carbohydrate and recovery from exercise, Suzane Leser, Volac’s Head of Nutrition, says the long-awaited Commission decision is in harmony with current market trends.

Leser says: 'The new claim brings some clarity to the sugar debate within the sports nutrition industry, as energy replacement is a crucial consumer need. The EFSA opinions have explained the definitions and, for example, the claim can be used for sugars that are found naturally in a host of different foods, such as lactose in milk and fructose in coconut water, which are gaining popularity as consumers demand natural.'

The new claim ‘carbohydrates contribute to the recovery of normal muscle function (contraction) after highly intensive and/or long-lasting physical exercise leading to muscle fatigue and the depletion of glycogen stores in skeletal muscle’ has been authorised in EC Regulation 2015/7, following positive EFSA opinion recognising the role of glycaemic carbohydrates on the replenishment of muscle energy stores.

On the flip side, Regulation EC 2015/8 rejected five health claims for glucose, including sports related claims, on the grounds that they would convey a conflicting message to consumers by encouraging sugar intake, despite a positive EFSA opinion.

Leser reveals that such outcomes open a completely new market for whey permeate, a natural complex of milk sugar, minerals and peptides, obtained after whey protein is extracted: 'Milk today is recognised in sports for its potential to provide all of the nutrients needed for recovery, and lactose is the natural sugar in milk that replaces muscle energy stores. Whey permeate, rich in lactose, becomes one attractive alternative to sugar, mainly in water-based sports drinks.'

Despite increased marketing of lactose-free dairy products, Volac indicates that the movement is driven by self-diagnosed cases of lactose intolerance and it may downtrend as reports show that over 95% of people digest lactose normally.

Leser tones up the market shift: 'As the good versus bad sugars debate evolves, lactose increasingly stands out for its glycaemic index is low, as well as its levels of sweetness. Also, dental health is one major concern around the use of sugars in sports drinks, and lactose is the least cariogenic carbohydrate available.'

'A typical sports drink made with whey permeate would also replace electrolytes, for it would be a natural source of phosphorous, potassium and chloride, as well as sodium, the main electrolyte lost through sweat. And permeate is not entirely free of protein. It contains a small amount of whey peptides, which could carry additional health benefits,' adds Leser.

Whey permeate is already used across Europe in beverages with a natural appeal, in similar ways to coconut water. For example, Latella, which is a fruity whey beverage has been on the Austrian market for more than 30 years. Another example is Rivella, which is made with whey and a blend of herb and fruit essences, sold in Switzerland since the 1950s.

'What is quite unique is that the use of whey waters dates as far back as the 17th century, for there are historical records of the widespread use of whey for its health properties. Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, is thought to have praised the benefits of drinking and bathing in whey in those ancient times, comments Leser.

Louise Mahrra, Volac’s Marketing Manager suggests that whey permeate is one solution that could help recover the downtrend recently seen in the soft drinks market: 'The most affected category by the war on sugar appears to be health drinks. In fact, recent Mintel research showed the growth of the traditional sports drinks market had slowed down in recent years because consumers are opting for other sources of replenishment when undertaking sports.'

'We have clearly seen in the past year a rise in the use of coconut waters, beetroot juice and milk drinks as the new favourite natural alternative for energy recovery following exercise,' adds Mahrra.

'It is already out there with sports nutrition,' says Michael Hiron, Volac’s Head of Dairy & Lifestyle Ingredients. 'The first example of innovation in the European market is Iso-Charge isotonic drink from The Protein Works, launched last summer. It is made with a dual carbohydrate blend of whey permeate and coconut water.'

Nick Smith, founder of The Protein Works, comments on the Iso-Charge performance, the first to use Volactose Whey Permeate: 'We have had a fantastic response to the new product and sales are growing above expectations.'

Under the rules of the Nutrition and Health Claims Regulations, the approved claim on carbohydrate and exercise recovery is restricted for use only by ‘foods intended for adults who have performed highly intensive and/or long-lasting physical exercise,’ that is, sports nutrition products.

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