Promoting Protein

By Ray Latif

The evolution of the sports nutrition category has been riddled with a range of so-called groundbreaking formulations and chemically manufactured ingredients that are often advertised as “developed for the highest athletic performance.” Yet with the recent exception of coconut water, the infusion of protein into sports drinks represents an added ingredient with the most definable appeal to consumers, and in particular, serious athletes. Protein has been hailed a key component for exercise and workout recovery, and for sport drink manufacturers, the message has become loud and clear: protein sells.

Protein’s impact on the development of the sports nutrition market has been clearly visible from the success of Gatorade’s G Series Recover line as well as Cytoport’s Muscle Milk, with both brands leading the category in sales of protein-enhanced sports drinks.  Sales of Muscle Milk products have surpassed $200 million in each of the past two years, while Gatorade Recover accounted for more than $27 million in sales for the 52 weeks ending on May 13, according to SymphonyIRI, only two years after its debut in 2010.

The numbers have attracted a range of new entries into the market with manufacturers introducing an array of new sports drinks jam packed with whey and milk-based proteins. And while Muscle Milk is infamously known in FDA circles for its lack of actual milk, one of the most notable and growing trends in the category has been the introduction of drinks which utilize milk as the chief ingredient, often in the form of meal replacement smoothies.

One noteworthy example of a milk-based sports drink is Shamrock Farms’ Rockin’ Refuel, a line of protein-fortified flavored milk. Shamrock, which is one of the largest family-owned and -operated dairy companies in the U.S., advertises Rockin’ Refuel as a natural recovery beverage for athletes after workouts. Shamrock produces three varieties of the drink including its recently debuted Rockin’ Refuel Muscle Builder. Shamrock worked with vitamin and supplement retailer GNC to develop Rockin’ Refuel Muscle Builder, which contains 30 grams of protein and formulated to be low-carb, low-sugar, and low-fat, and is sold in select GNC stores across the country.

“Muscle Builder removes the carbs but keeps the great taste of real milk,” said Sandy Kelly, the Director of Marketing for Shamrock Farms. “GNC wanted to provide a more natural protein option that milk brings, so we worked together to develop this new way to get that essential muscle-boost without a lot of carbs or sugar.”

Shamrock is not the only dairy manufacturer with a milk-based sports beverage. Fair Oaks Farms Brands recently launched Core Power, a high-protein, low-fat, lactose-free drink made with hormone-free milk and honey. Core Power is shelf-stable and formulated with premium whey and casein proteins and promoted as containing and “optimum protein to carb ratio.” Positioning the brand as a natural alternative to other sports drinks, Fair Oaks has enlisted a range of endurance athletes as endorsers, including triathletes, long distance runners, and cyclists.

The natural claims of milk-based sports nutrition drinks appear to be catching on as more consumers grow particularly weary of artificial ingredients. Yet, while manufacturers are able to promote as natural and well-known an ingredient as milk, a significant drawback for is milk’s high calorie count.

Enter the all-natural, high-protein, low-calorie sports drinks.

Last fall, Shadow Beverages relaunched Whey UP, a line of protein-infused sports drinks made with all-natural colors and flavors. As the name suggests, Whey UP contains 20 grams of whey protein, as well as a combination of 150 milligrams of caffeine and B-vitamins, enhancing the product as a dual function beverage. With 90 calories per 16 oz. bottle, Shadow is looking to reach a broader range of consumers with Whey UP, including stay-at-home moms, who, while not exercising in the commonly held sense of the word, are still leading active and athletic lives.

One of the more intriguing entries to hit the sports nutrition category is SPYru, a new line of high protein, low calorie beverages. The drink contains 20 grams of protein derived naturally from Spirulina, an antioxidant-rich blue-green fresh water algae that is composed of nearly 70 percent protein, and 45 calories per 8 oz. serving. Advertised as “The Uberwater,” SPYru is also infused with vitamins E, C, and B complex, as well as a number of minerals, phycocyanin and chlorophyll.

Though PRO ADE labels itself as water, the beverage is often sold and promoted alongside sports drink stalwarts like Gatorade and Powerade. The beverage contains the usual mix of electrolytes found in sports drinks including potassium, sodium, and calcium, with one significant difference: PRO ADE’s 20 grams of protein. The drink has no sugar or fat with 90 calories per 16.9 oz. bottle and calls out its low-calorie, high protein formulation as one having a dual functionality of both exercise recovery and weight control.