Setting the pace in sports nutrition

In the world of endurance sports, many athletes are yet to appreciate the benefits of whey protein and its ability to help the body recover after intense exercise, says Lindsey Ormond, Business Development Manager, Arla Foods Ingredients

Arla Foods Ingredients collaborated with Århus University and Team Denmark to investigate the benefits of whey protein for endurance athletes. They demonstrated that Lacprodan HYDRO.365, a whey protein hydrolysate, leads to better performance and faster recovery following intense training compared with mainstream sports drinks.1

There has been a big increase in the number of people participating in endurance sports, both at grass roots and elite level, and this has led to growth in the demand for sports nutrition products that improve performance and accelerate recovery. According to Euromonitor International, the global endurance sports nutrition segment is currently worth $20 million and is projected to grow to $28 million by 2019, an increase of 36%.

A key element of any endurance athlete’s training schedule is recovery. Endurance training can place great demands on the body because it often takes place on consecutive days or even more than once a day. This can lead to reduced glycogen (carbohydrate) stores, potential muscle damage and the degradation of muscle proteins.2 As a result, optimising recovery between training sessions is essential to ensure good muscle health, prevent injuries and maximize performance.

Traditional sports beverages, such as isotonic, hypotonic and hypertonic drinks with carbohydrates and/or electrolytes as the primary ingredients, are generally regarded as the optimal supplements for recovery from endurance training. However, new evidence from a study conducted by Århus University challenges this thinking. It proves that a combination of ‘fast’ proteins and traditional sports drinks is, in fact, the optimal nutrition solution for endurance athletes aiming for quicker muscle recovery and better performance.

Faster recovery, better performance

It remains the case that many in the endurance sports sector are unaware of the benefits of using protein for muscle recovery, and the market remains dominated by sports drinks based on carbohydrates and/or electrolytes. However, athletes are always looking for the ‘next big thing’ to help them perform better. This means there is a tremendous opportunity for sports nutrition companies to bring to the market protein-rich products designed especially for endurance enthusiasts.

To challenge the widespread belief in the world of endurance sports that traditional sports drinks alone provide the optimal solution for recovery from endurance training, a study was done involving 18 elite level orienteers from Team DK, the Danish national team. The results demonstrated that the athletes who consumed Lacprodan HYDRO.365 alone and in combination with traditional sports drinks recovered more quickly and performed significantly better than those who consumed traditional sports drinks alone.

The 18 athletes took part in a one-week training camp. They trained twice a day, every day (apart from on one rest morning), equating to 13 training sessions during the course of the week. They were divided into two groups of nine. One group received a sports drink containing carbohydrates and electrolytes before and after each training session; the other group received pure HYDRO.365 before each session and a blend of HYDRO.365 and the sports drink afterwards.

The results demonstrated that the athletes who consumed HYDRO.365 before and after training performed better in a final 4km run-test (with 20 control points) than the sports drink-only group (Figure 1). The HYDRO.365 group demonstrated a mean improvement of 17 seconds for the 4km time trial, whereas the sports drink group saw no change during the week.

Figure 1: Performance in 4 km run-test, with 20 control points, at baseline and at day 7. Data are shown as mean ± SEM. * p<0.05: improvement in performance in PRO-CHO at day 7 compared with baseline. # p<0.05: interaction between time and treatment. PRO-CHO: protein (HYDRO.365)-carbohydrate group. CHO: carbohydrate only group

The run-test was undertaken initially before the camp and then again following the conclusion of all 13 of the training sessions held during the course of the week, making it possible to test the impact of the HYDRO.365 supplementation during the training camp. The HYDRO.365 group also experienced less muscle damage compared with the sports drink-only group (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Plasma creatine kinase (CK) levels from morning samples on days 1, 3, 5, 6 and 7, then 0 and 1 h after the last training session (creatine kinase is used as marker for muscle damage). Significant interaction between time and treatment was observed for CK (p<0.01)

Rapid absorption

HYDRO.365 has a particularly high degree of hydrolysis, which may help to explain the enhanced recovery that the elite athletes experienced in the study. It means HYDRO.365 is more easily absorbed than intact whey proteins because it has already been broken down, or ‘predigested,’ into amino acids and smaller short-chain peptides. Studies have shown that hydrolysates are more rapidly absorbed than the intact proteins normally found in food.3–5

Their predigested state means they are absorbed directly and quickly into the blood. The rapid absorption promotes much faster recovery after a workout in comparison with intact proteins, owing to the following factors:6,7

Faster absorption of peptides and amino acids: This is particularly important during endurance exercise because the body has a limited capacity to digest and absorb intact protein and long-chain peptides (those with more than four amino acids).8 As hydrolysates are predigested, they are more easily absorbed by the gut, which produces a more rapid spike in the levels of amino acids in blood plasma compared with other sources of protein.7

Furthermore, whey protein hydrolysates such as HYDRO.365 are rich in short-chain di- and tri-peptides, which are more rapidly absorbed into the body than long-chain peptides. This may increase the amount of amino acids available to the active skeletal muscle tissue, resulting in improved muscle recovery. In addition, protein loss is reduced after ingestion of di- and tri-peptides compared with long-chain peptides or intact proteins.9

Superior glycogen replenishment: Glycogen is the body’s carbohydrate store and is the primary fuel used during endurance exercise. Training and competition leads to reduced and depleted stores, so it is important that these stores are replenished for subsequent sessions.10

Advanced insulinotrophic effect: Whey protein hydrolysates are insulinotrophic. This means that consuming a dose of HYDRO.365 combined with easily absorbed carbohydrates straight after a training session will maximise recovery benefits by inducing a high concentration of insulin in an athlete’s blood plasma.11

Insulin is one of the body’s most powerful muscle-building hormones. Ingesting a combination of HYDRO.365 and carbohydrate after exercise induces a rise in plasma insulin concentration and therefore conditions the body’s environment for superior glycogen replenishment. As such, consuming a dose of HYDRO.365 combined with easily absorbed carbohydrates, in a traditional sports drink for example, before and straight after a training session will accelerate recovery.

A new Generation of proteins for sports nutrition

Protein is already widely used by many athletes, alongside other helpful nutrients to help build muscle and speed up recovery after a hard training session.12 However, significant numbers of endurance athletes are yet to discover the benefits of protein and this opportunity remains largely an untapped market.

The form in which proteins are delivered has evolved with time — from standard whey to isolates and, finally, to whey protein fractions. Each new generation of ingredient has made it possible to pack a more powerful protein punch into a convenient sports nutrition package, such as a beverage, gel or bar.

Now, whey protein hydrolysates are emerging as the next big innovation in proteins and are poised to join other forms of protein in the mainstream sports nutrition market. Whey is already the gold standard in proteins for sports nutrition, thanks to its ideal essential amino acid profile and high proportion of branched-chain amino acids. As a whey protein hydrolysate, HYDRO.365 builds on whey protein’s unrivalled reputation for performance by making the protein even easier to absorb, so recovery can begin sooner.

Formulating sports recovery products with HYDRO.365 for endurance athletes will enable manufacturers to offer superior products for improved recovery and performance after high load intensive exercise. With elite athletes on the lookout for anything that will help them to maintain their edge, a nutritional product that promises to help them train hard every day is a compelling offer.


1. M. Hansen, et al., 'Effect of Whey Protein Hydrolysate on Performance and Recovery of Top-Class Orienteering Runners,' Int. J. Sport Nutr. Exe. (In Press) and reprinted with permission (2014).

2. N.M. Cermak, et al., Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 96(6), 1454–64 (2012).

3. A.H. Manninen, Nutr. Metab. (Lond). 6, 38 (2009): DOI: 10.1186/1743-7075-6-38.

4. D.B. Silk, et al., Proc. Nutr. Soc. 44, 63–72 (1985).

5. M. Morifuji, et al., Nutrition 27, 833–837 (2010).

6. M. Morifuji, et al., J. Agric Food Chem. 58, 8788–8797 (2010).

7. J.A. Calbet and D.A. MacLean, J. Nutr. 132(8), 2174–2182 (2002).

8. G.K. Grimble, et al., Gastroenterology 92(1), 136–142 (1987).

9. P.J. Moughan, et al., Int. J. Sport Nutr. Exe. 17(Supp), S5–S22 (2007).

10. M. Morifuji, et al., Amino Acid 38, 1109–1115 (2010).

11. L.J. van Loon, et al., Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 72, 96 (2010).

12. J.L. Ivy, et al., Int. J. Sport Nutr. Exe. 13, 382–395 (2003).