By Peeyush Maheshwari, PhD, Food Science,Founder & Principal, Food 4 Though, LLC
Breaking News: “Performance Beer is the Newest Trend in Sports Beverages.” While that claim might seem counter-intuitive, non-alcoholic beer is, in fact, an emerging trend in athletic beverages – thanks, in large part, to one of its active ingredients: malt.
As health-conscious Americans thirst for functional, natural sports drinks, malt-based beverages can help enhance performance, energy and recovery for everyone from weekend warriors to elite athletes.
While non-alcoholic beers are gradually gaining traction in the United States as viable sports beverages, the burgeoning trend is already in full swing in other countries. Notably, it has become the beverage of choice for many Olympic athletes in Germany. Their switch is backed by science: a 2012 study revealed that runners who drank non-alcoholic beer before and after the Munich Marathon reported less inflammation and fewer incidences of upper respiratory tract infections post-race than runners who drank a placebo.
Now, popular brands like Heineken are jumping on the once-niche non-alcoholic market, with its “Heineken 0.0”, while smaller “functional” craft beer companies like Athletic Brewing Company – whose very name ties fermented beverages in directly with fitness/athleticism – are springing up right here in the U.S.
Historically, the taste appeal of non-alcoholic beer has been a challenge. When the alcohol is removed during the brewing process, so is the “beery” flavor, resulting in non-alcoholic beer earning a reputation for being weak, watery and bland. In the U.S., it is not uncommon to add unique flavors, both for extra sweetness and fruitier notes – this is where malt extract makes its mark.
Like beer, malt extract starts with sprouted barley (malt) and, using only hot water, the natural enzymes in the malt convert starches in the barley into the sugar maltose. Beer ferments these sugars into alcohol, whereas malt extract skips fermentation and evaporates the excess water – creating an aromatic, nutrient-dense, flavorful syrup. It has been used over the years in drinks like, Malta, Ovaltine, Milo, and, of course, malted milk shakes.
Malt Extract’s Natural Performance Benefits:
- Athletic Recovery: Malt extract is a naturally functional ingredient that packs a host of powerful intrinsic health benefits. Most beers already include malt as a key ingredient, but non-alcoholic beers eliminate the health risks of alcohol while retaining the advantages of malt and malt extract including high antioxidant content and substantial amounts of polyphenols, which are plant compounds with anti-inflammatory properties.
- Boosts Energy: Malt extract can provide a jolt without the jitters.Malt extract contains Hordenine,a plant-based, naturallyoccurring nootropic compound that has beenfound in scientific studies to boost focus, energy and motivation without the caffeine consequences. Hordenine is used in many dietary supplements for athletic performance and weight loss and malt extract intrinsically contains this stimulant, eliminating the need for added or artificial ingredients.
- Sweetener Type Matters: The type of sugar can make a significant nutritional difference, because malt extract is comprised of glucose and maltose, as opposed to fructose. While glucose is an “energy sugar” necessary for cell prosperity, fructose – which is found in HFCS and sucrose/table sugar – is basically a toxin processed by the liver.
- Antioxidants Galore: Malt extract packs more than 5 times the antioxidant power of fresh broccoli and nearly 50 percent more than blueberries. It is an abundant source of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, dietary silicon (supports bone health), B complex vitamins and micro minerals. Consuming foods rich in antioxidants has been shown to strengthen heart health, support anti-aging, and lower risk of infection and some forms of cancer.
- Supports Digestive Health: Malt extract can be good for yourgut. Malt extract is a source ofsoluble fiber, which helps improve digestion by optimizinggood bacteria and minimizing badbacteria. Studies show malt extract facilitates the growth of probiotic cultures that can enhance digestive health by supporting the good bacteria that lines the gut. This can help prevent illness and promote essential nutrient absorption, enhancing overall health.
Companies such as Malt Products Corporation provide all natural, non-GMO certified malt extracts that are used as a prominent ingredient in a variety of malt-based beverages, as well as leading bakery, confectionery, snack food, and cereal manufacturers nationwide.
With nearly one-third of consumers having increased their consumption of nutrition or performance beverages, according to a 2017 Mintel report, a significant number of malt-based beverages, including non-alcoholic beer, are on the fast track to being the next big sports drink trend.
Peeyush Maheshwari, PhD, Food Science
Founder & Principal, Food 4 Though, LLC
Peeyush Maheshwari, PhD, Food Science, is the Founder and Principal of Food 4 Thought, LLC, with more than 25 years of industry experience. He held senior positions at leading companies including General Mills, Pillsbury, and Proctor and Gamble, where he excelled in the areas of new product development, product improvement, multiple ingredient technologies, technical advancements, and strategic business development. Peeyush’s expertise lies in a variety of specialties such as functional ingredients, sweeteners/starches, baked goods, dairy, and meat, to mention a few.