Drink up! Why targeting the gut-muscle axis is the next big thing in protein shakes


Are you interested in looking after your gut microbiome? You’re not alone! Consumer interest in gut health is at an all-time high, with as many as two in three people now seeing gut health as very important.

Innova Market Insights, ‘Gut Glory’ Top Trends report, 2022

But why? Interest is being driven by growing research that links a healthy digestive system to numerous other holistic benefits. Whether it’s adding fermented foods and drinks like kimchi, kombucha and kefir to their diets, or consuming pro- and pre- and post-biotics, there’s a widespread understanding among consumers that a more diverse gut microbiome equates to better well-being.

Food and drink brands have responded to this rising interest with the launch of a variety of innovative gut-friendly products, creating what is fast becoming a very dynamic market. But what opportunities does the gut health trend present to manufacturers of protein shakes? And how can brands ensure they stand out online and on increasingly crowded retail shelves? Let’s dive into one of the key protein beverage trends – protein plus shakes that target the gut-muscle axis and gut-brain axis.

The quest for overall wellness: influencing mental wellbeing and muscle recovery

Today, a healthy gut has a whole new meaning. Going beyond simply aiming for digestive comfort, consumers see gut health as key to wellness in other areas. In fact, two thirds recognise good gut health as a factor in good overall well-being.

Innova Market Insights, ‘Gut Glory’ Top Trends report, 2022

  And the science agrees – for example, research is increasingly highlighting how the gut can also boost mental well-being

Johnstone, 2021

via a link known as the gut-brain axis.

In addition to this, emerging research also suggests that the gut may play a role in supporting muscle recovery.

Pugh JN, et al. Gastrointestinal symptoms in elite athletes: time to recognise the problem? Br J Sports Med. 2018 Apr;52(8):487-488.

  This is known as the gut-muscle axis – a link between good gut health and improved muscle mass, quality and function.

But it’s not just the gut that consumers are looking to in order to boost overall well-being. At the same time, people are turning to exercise to boost their overall wellness, including mental well-being.

Mintel, Exercise Trends: US, 2021.

  Protein supplements have long been used by sports enthusiasts and athletes alike, and are now a staple for budding fitness fans, too. Protein’s potential to support muscle health is almost taken for granted now, with countless studies demonstrating how consuming this nutrient pre- and post-workout can stimulate muscle recovery and growth, optimising performance.

Jager R., Kerksick C.M., Campbell B.I., Cribb P.J., Wells S.D., Skwiat T.M., Purpura M., Ziegenfuss T.N., Ferrando A.A., Arent S.M., et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: Protein and exercise. J. Int. Soc. Sports Nutr. 2017;14:20. doi: 10.1186/s12970-017-0177-8

  Further still, 74% of global consumers associate protein as a way to boost overall health and wellness.

FMCG Gurus, Consumer perspectives on protein consumption in 2022.

  There’s also emerging evidence that protein can positively impact certain aspects of mental well-being, too, such as aiding sleep.

Titos I., Juginovic A., Vaccaro A., Gorelik P., Mazor P., Rogulja D., A gut-secreted peptide suppresses arousability from sleep, 2023. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cell.2023.02.022

With consumers becoming increasingly familiar with the gut-brain axis (the link between good gut health and good brain health), food and drink products that target the gut-muscle axis are poised to be the next big thing. So, where does this new gut-friendly world leave the ever-popular protein shake?

Protein plus to target the gut-muscle axis

When it comes to high protein diets – does protein help gut health, or hinder it? Research shows that regular heavy exercise and some dietary factors, like high protein intake, can lead to gastrointestinal problems. A recent study revealed that a staggering 86% of athletes suffer from gut health issues, associated with stressors like training and competition.

Pugh JN, et al. Gastrointestinal symptoms in elite athletes: time to recognise the problem? Br J Sports Med. 2018 Apr;52(8):487-488.

  But the good news is, there is an opportunity to cater to the burgeoning gut-health trend while also supporting athletic performance with protein-rich creations. Multi-ingredient solutions are gaining traction across the nutrition industry – in fact, an impressive four out of five sports nutrition consumers want additional health benefits added to their performance nutrition products.

FMCG Gurus, Performance Nutrition survey, 2021.

Fermentation, for example, is a growing trend that brands can tap into to meet demands for gut-friendly solutions. The number of new launches that include ‘fermented’ or ‘fermentation’ in the product name, description or claim reached a CAGR of 12% between 2017 and 2021.

Innova, Trend report – The progression of fermentation, 2022

Fermentation can be a great way to deliver multi-functional benefits in one solution, for example with fermented protein, which can bring both digestive and muscle support benefits. It’s therefore never been a better time for brands to incorporate fermented ingredients into the next generation of protein shake creations. And to take it even further, protein innovators can look to add other gut-boosting ingredients – like prebiotics – to their formulations, so they can catch consumers’ eyes.

Tapping into the gut-muscle axis with Biotis®  Fermentis Uplift

Until now, gut health and nutrition for athletic performance have been targeted separately. But things often work better together, which is why we have created Biotis®  Fermentis Uplift – a concept that brings the power of fermentation to performance nutrition in a convenient format. Uplift features Biotis®  Fermentis – a proven solution for athletes and active consumers. Combining the benefits of whey protein, prebiotic galacto-oligosaccharides (Biotis®  GOS) and probiotic cultures by fermenting them together, Biotis®  Fermentis is a unique formulation that supports holistic health benefits to improve athletic performance. We even put the ingredient to the test, surveying 150 recreational athletes between 20-50 years of age. After three weeks of taking Biotis®  Fermentis daily, 80% of consumers self-reported improved satisfaction with their physical well-being, including energy levels, and 60% reported significantly reduced bloating compared to baseline levels.

FrieslandCampina Ingredients, internal consumer research in collaboration with MMR research

Biotis®  Fermentis Uplift is a ready-to-mix (RTM) powder that can easily be added to a daily routine in a convenient and light shake. Consumers can simply mix with water, juice or a morning smoothie to kick start the day. With a clean sensory profile and mild acidic taste, Biotis® Fermentis Uplift raises the bar on protein shakes to deliver a superior taste experience and added health benefits, every time.

Download the application sheet now to unleash the full potential of FrieslandCampina Ingredients’ high-protein shakes that target the gut-muscle axis.

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