Overcoming bitterness in BCAA-based nutrition products

Masking the bitterness of BCAAs is a constant challenge faced by the sports nutrition industry

The UK sports nutrition industry is increasingly becoming a hotbed of innovation and growing at an impressive rate, with UK sales forecast to reach £618.4 million by 2020.1

This growth is being driven by an increasing awareness of the importance of an active lifestyle, better education and growing knowledge of the key role played by suitable nutritional choices. Research from Mintel reports that in 2015, as many as one in four (24%) British consumers have consumed a sports nutrition product in the past 3 months, with 42% of men aged 16–24 having done so.2

Much of the industry’s growth is fuelled by the new product development process. This is often driven by tailoring products to certain nutritional needs — such as muscle recovery — with specific beneficial ingredients such as branched chain amino acids (BCAA).

Consumer awareness of the beneficial role of BCAAs in enhancing recovery and reducing soreness during periods of sustained, intensive exercise is increasing, with 59% more Google searches for “branched chain amino acids” worldwide in 2016 compared with 2011, illustrating the sharp rise in consumer interest.

Although interest in BCAA products is increasing, taste and flavour remain important differentiators for consumers of active nutrition products, many of whom want a pleasant taste experience and are not prepared to compromise.

The bitter taste profile of BCAA blends can hinder their ability to appeal to a mainstream consumer base. As a result, success requires manufacturers to strike a balance between performance and taste by reducing bitterness perception in BCAA-based products to succeed.

Targeting muscle protection and recovery

Recent nutritional investigations have demonstrated that BCAA supplementation before and following exercise reduces the effects of muscle damage and accelerates muscle recovery during periods of sustained high intensity exercise.2 Leucine, in particular, is a BCAA that initiates muscle protein synthesis and recovery, as well as inhibiting muscle protein breakdown after strenuous endurance exercise.

As everyday consumers learn more about how nutrition can support their increasingly active lifestyles, they look for products that assist them at different stages of their daily routine. BCAA-containing products can be targeted at those looking to decrease their instances of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) — especially when resistance training is a key part of their plan.

Overcoming the bitterness challenge

BCAAs typically possess an extremely bitter taste profile. Leucine, which is considered to be the most effective of the three BCAAs at promoting muscle protein synthesis, is also the most bitter.3 As a result, the higher the leucine concentration, the more bitter and unpalatable the product becomes.

Masking the bitterness of BCAAs is a constant challenge faced by the sports nutrition industry. Masking agents are often used to lower the perceived intensity of BCAA’s overall unpleasant taste. As such, the bitter aftertaste of BCAAs can be offset without impacting the other flavours in the product.

The most commonly used method to reduce bitterness in BCAA-based nutritional beverages is the addition of a combination of sweeteners and acids, such as sucralose, stevia and citric acid at high levels.

However, using such ingredients to suppress bitterness often results in an artificial- and unbalanced-tasting product. BCAA products formulated with citric acid, for example, demonstrate a significant reduction in bitterness.

However, the use of acid can also result in an intense sourness. Flavours are crucial to mask the unpleasant burnt aroma of BCAA products, but intense sweetness and sourness can restrict the flavour choices available to formulators.

Manufacturers are therefore looking for next-generation solutions to prevent bitterness detection and develop products that cater to ever-growing consumer demand for refreshing and tasty BCAA products.

A tailored approach to bitterness

Finding a more selective, tailored approach to bitterness masking is one way to solve the flavour challenges associated with nutritional products containing BCAAs.

By applying knowledge gained in the field of bitter responsive receptors, Synergy Flavours is increasingly incorporating ingredients that are specifically tailored to balance bitterness.

Current research, for example, examines the addition of ingredients that interact with either the target bitter molecules or the bitterness receptors on the tongue to reduce perceived bitterness and achieve a more neutral taste profile, without the need for high levels of sweetener or acid.

This enables manufacturers to create a more pleasant experience for consumers and gives them an opportunity to differentiate their offering by delivering nutritional products with fresh, delicate and fruity flavours. Appealing profiles such as citrus, apple, raspberry, pineapple and watermelon, in addition to more sophisticated profiles such as pear, elderflower, blackcurrant, passion fruit and mango are therefore achievable.

Synergy’s advanced masking technology, developed in partnership with parent company and whey protein specialist, Carbery, can help developers to overcome the taste challenges associated with BCAA and other nutritional ingredients.

Based on 50 years of nutrition expertise and an in-depth understanding of flavour and taste, Synergy Flavours’ innovative bitterness masking solutions can effectively help manufacturers to reduce the levels of sweetener and acid commonly used in this type of product.

Extensive in-house testing by Synergy Flavours included tastings amongst a wide group of participants at the various stages of development to reach the optimum solution that masks the undesirable taste o the BCAA-based beverage.

At final development stage, as expected, results showed that the majority of respondents believed that the sample with no masker was the most bitter and also found a reduction in the bitterness of the masking solution. These results were vital as they demonstrated that the bitterness masker performs exactly as intended and allowed development work to continue with the bitterness masker and the flavour together.

The future of sports nutrition

As the sports nutrition market continues to evolve and grow, so too does the demand for BCAA products that deliver specific benefits but pose technical and sensory challenges for formulators.

More and more sports nutrition manufacturers are turning to experienced nutrition and flavour specialists, such as Synergy Flavours, to creatively overcome the taste challenges associated with nutritional ingredients such as BCAAs, and to deliver products that offer unrivalled consumer appeal.

References

1. Euromonitor International, Sports Nutrition in the United Kingdom (November 2015).

2. Mintel, Attitudes Towards Sports Nutrition – UK (June 2016).

3. Peter J. Garlick, The Role of Leucine in the Regulation of Protein Metabolism (2005).

Companies