Be a good sport


For athletes to remain at the top of their game, training intensity has increased and the need to refuel correctly is more important than ever. As the focus on tailored nutritional programmes sharpens, nutritionists are seeking optimum ways to deliver the perfect dietary support.

Understanding how performance nutrition requirements support the precision training schedules of professional athletes is a critical step in new product development, as different training stages have distinct nutritional requirements. First, developing a base fitness level, then building up to peak fitness in the run up to competition, achieving intense performance in events and finally maintaining fitness through a good physical recovery post competition, are the key stages that have specific nutritional requirements.

One ingredient, lactoferrin, a highly bioactive iron binding protein fraction of whey, can deliver nutritional benefits at all stages – and is finding new application as the latest must have ingredient in sports nutrition products.

General wellness plays a significant role in people’s overall performance, so a healthy, functioning immune system is an essential partner to successful training for people of all abilities. Sports enthusiasts will only be able to improve and continue training with a strong immune system that is able to maintain good overall health and help maintain the body’s defences.

Lactoferrin is a natural, active ingredient predominantly found in human and cow’s milk. It is thought to play a role in the defence against invading pathogens [1] thanks to its iron binding capabilities, and has been shown to help enhance the immune system when used as a nutritional supplement [2]. Lactoferrin’s structure enables it to bind iron, which prevents pathogens from using it to thrive and grow. This reduces the opportunity for pathogenic bacterial growth, while allowing the beneficial gut bacteria to grow. The body is therefore able to fight infection and reduce the levels of bacteria in the stomach.

As a result, athletes who consume products that are fortified with lactoferrin are able to maintain good overall health, which enables them to continue training and build their fitness levels.


Peak performance

Effective delivery of oxygen to the muscles is a critical requirement for optimal physical activity and muscle performance. This optimised availability of oxygen not only helps to enhance fitness and stamina, benefitting those athletes focusing on muscle building, but it also contributes to sustained energy – essential for endurance athletes taking part in sports such as marathon running.

Iron is an important component of haemoglobin, the substance found in red blood cells that carries oxygen around the body. Oxygen transportation is the primary role of the essential mineral, helping to fight fatigue and enhance energy. Once consumed, iron rich foods mix with salts in the stomach, making it difficult for the body to isolate and absorb the iron. Lactoferrin plays a crucial role in optimising the absorption of iron. Its efficient binding properties and high bioavailability enable it to help with the absorption of iron from food into the cells of the stomach walls. This increased uptake of iron helps transport oxygen more effectively to the muscles, which convert it into energy to fuel activity and improve performance.

The influence of lactoferrin on iron utilisation is well researched, with studies having scientifically proven the positive role of the ingredient’s effects when exercising [3]. Oxygenated muscles also help to minimise the build up of lactic acid and associated burning pain caused by an oxygen debt that can often arise during intense exercise.

When training at peak physical levels, athletes must be able to guarantee optimum performance levels in order to achieve their goals. The iron activating properties, and resulting optimised oxygen levels, of lactoferrin make it an effective ingredient to meet these needs.


Playing a role in recovery

Physical recovery following an event or period of intense activity is just as critical for serious sportspeople as improving performance in the run-up. After bouts of intense exercise, typical healthy athletes tend to be physically depleted and dehydrated with elevated levels of inflammation. Rest is critical to allow the muscles to repair, rebuild and strengthen to enable them to better respond to increases in training volume and intensity.

By optimising the absorption of iron, which results in improved delivery of oxygen to muscles, lactoferrin can help muscles repair after strenuous exercise.

In addition, studies have demonstrated the positive effect of lactoferrin on inflammation. Thanks to its ability to reduce pro-inflammatory cytokine activity while also increasing activity levels of anti inflammatory cytokines, lactoferrin can support a healthy inflammatory response and reduce inflammation [4].

Nutrition is an equally significant factor in helping to restore the body’s energy supply to continue performing at peak levels. Effective nourishment and rest will also help athletes’ general wellbeing, enabling them to take up nutrients more effectively from food, continue working out at a high level and maintain good overall health.

Immunity and digestive comfort play an important role in maintaining and enhancing wellness, contributing to sufficient post workout recovery. Probiotics are particularly effective at helping to restore the natural balance of good bacteria in the digestive tract, as well as sustaining a healthy immune system.

By working together with probiotics to support their functionality, lactoferrin helps improve the balance of the body’s gut microflora for healthy digestion [5].This enables athletes to maximise the benefits of their nutrition, while protecting digestive organs – vitally important to continued wellness at all stages of training.


A powerful option

The numerous advantages of lactoferrin are evident across all exercise levels and phases. It is therefore unsurprising that sports nutrition manufacturers are seeking to include the ingredient in their product formulations.

The sports nutrition category continues to see substantial growth, with the global sports nutrition supplement market valued at $4,105.31 million in 2013 and expected to rise to $6,084.81 million by 2019 [6]. The demand for new product introductions and application development is a key market trend driving this growth. This is due to the increasing use of sports nutrition products by mainstream, health conscious consumers [7] as the category becomes less niche, as well as the continually expanding and diversifying user demographic, ranging from bodybuilders to iron man enthusiasts and marathon runners.

As a result, demand grows from athletes for nutrition that helps them train more effectively. Manufacturers and suppliers alike must therefore continue to innovate with ingredients to meet these needs. Lactoferrin’s rapid iron mobilisation capability, coupled with its benefits for immune health and digestive comfort, makes it a powerful ingredient for sports nutrition that supports training regimes at all stages.


References are available on request.

AUTHOR: Rene Meester, business development manager, Glanbia Nutritionals.



A new solution

Glanbia Nutritionals is the first ingredient supplier to explore the use of lactoferrin in sports products, building on its decades of expertise supplying the ingredient to the infant nutrition sector. Bioferrin 2000 lactoferrin is the company’s pure bovine lactoferrin ingredient which has been EU novel food approved, permitting its use in food supplements. This has paved the way for increased application possibilities of lactoferrin in Europe.

Structurally and functionally similar to human lactoferrin, Bioferrin is highly bioactive and binds four times the quantity of iron. This rapid iron mobilisation makes it a particularly potent ingredient for advanced sports nutrition applications. To optimise the functionality, bioavailability and quality of lactoferrin, Glanbia uses a patented manufacturing process. Supplied in powder format, it is suitable for the formulation of beverages, capsules and tablets.

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