A visit to the Danish manufacturing facilities of Maxim Sports Nutrition to get a closer look at how sports nutrition is done a little differently in Europe.
By Ashley Lauretta
If you drive 20 minutes west from the commuter cyclist-filled Copenhagen city center, you will arrive at a cluster of nondescript office complexes, one of which houses the Norwegian conglomerate Orkla. Once you push open the front door of one of these gray buildings, you are greeted at a reception desk filled with a wide array of products—vitamins, nutrition, personal care—all falling under Orkla’s umbrella. A trip up the stairs brings you to the main offices of the Maxim Sports Nutrition team, where they hone the company brand, work to export goods, and communicate with the team of scientists in Norway that helps them uphold the high quality standards of the brand, which has a 25-year track record of success in the European market.
It makes sense that a nutrition company would thrive in a region known for its healthy residents. And once you know the science behind the product, you get an even greater appreciation for the laws that regulate the substances we put into our bodies. When these laws apply to what is fueling you through hours-long endurance activities, they are extremely important.
Maxim Sports Nutrition was founded in 1991 by former cyclist Steve Jennings. During his time in the professional world he was always looking for the easiest way to consume the nutrition he needed for optimal performance, but he didn’t come across the solution to his problem until eight years after being sidelined by an injury.
Maxim was originally developed by Jennings and a team of scientists for British cyclist Chris Boardman, who went on to win a gold medal at the 1992 Olympic Games. Boardman used a crude version of one of Maxim’s most popular products— Carbo Loader—not too different from what the company now produces.
The reason the foundation of Maxim’s nutrition remains unchanged has to do with where they are based and produced. It can be argued that Europe is ahead of the United States when it comes to nutrition due to their endurance events such as the Tour de France and English Channel crossing that require a tremendous level of performance, but what is undeniable is the higher quality of nutrition produced from the region.
Due to regulatory constraints far exceeding those in the U.S., every single ingredient in Maxim products must be approved, including a check of all raw materials. From storage, to measuring—which often takes place in “clean room” environments to prevent contamination—and more, everything has a precise standard of quality. In addition to meeting standards of the European Union, Maxim products also comply with International Olympic Committee standards and research. Not only do the regulations from these multiple governing bodies affect the ingredients of Maxim products, but packaging and product marketing are also bound by legislation. The United States differs greatly in that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not regulate supplements. So while nutritional products may have the FDA label, there really aren’t any other regulatory standards they need to meet. As an athlete trying to stay in control on race day, using nutrition made of unregulated raw materials puts you at an extreme disadvantage. When it comes to product development then, it can be said that Maxim always sets out to offer the highest quality nutrition to athletes. Optimizing a product isn’t about just adding 10 new flavors to introduce to the market. It is about meeting new scientific and regulatory standards as well as improving the experience for athletes.
“It takes one and a half years when starting with a product to get it on the market,” explains Tonje Dominguez, a scientific advisor and product developer in Orkla’s Oslo office. “There is a lot of research involved, which culminates in testing by our experts and athletes.”
When improving upon a product, for example, they first turn to their panel of athletes to find out if there is a need for a new delivery system or other advancement. They have both an expert panel, consisting of professional athletes, nutritionists and coaches from different countries and sports, and a user panel made up of both professional and amateur athletes. Both of these groups provide a unique point of view, one using their high expertise to challenge the team and the other providing consumer insights and real-world results.
This testing not only helps the Maxim product team see the efficiency of a product, but also improves the ease of use of their packaging and the sensory experience for the athlete including the taste and how easy the product is to actually swallow. This must be tested in different sports, activities and ranges of intensity, as well as different climates. To make sure your nutrition only helps you instead of being a hindrance on your performance, they take into account the chewability or drinkability of the product as well as how easy it is to open the package and get what you need on the move.
To find out what athletes need more of, Maxim’s product developers stay up to date with scientific research. Dominguez notes this phase is specifically important because of new research that has been done in the last 10 years on carbohydrates and composition.
This all gets even trickier when it comes to adding ingredients to an existing product, as the process needs to be monitored for reactions between ingredients. Additionally, after making a sample size of a product, the overall composition can change as it is scaled up for production. This means that the company must do multiple ingredient analyses to watch for any change in the nutrition quality.
The team makes the products with different packaging options—all unbranded, to prevent bias—and the athletes take the products out and use them in training and competition. And though Maxim’s products truly benefit high-endurance athletes such as those in Ironman races, during the testing, athletes from many sports use the nutrition.
Danish rower Eskild Ebbesen, who has three Olympic gold medals and six world championship golds, is a frequent visitor to the offices, and recently he has transitioned into triathlon and cycling as a hobby. He calls himself an “absolute age-grouper” and won his age group at XTERRA Sweden last year. He found that cycling was an easy transition from rowing.
“Between the mind-set of pushing yourself to train hard and optimization factors—such as weight, wind resistance and position—it was so easy for me to take on,” he says. But during his time rowing, Ebbesen was studying physiology and became very aware of the importance of sports nutrition. That is where Maxim came in. “While recovery from triathlon isn’t that much different than it is in rowing, the problem is digesting sugar and running with it.” The bottom line, he found, is that taking in energy when running is complicated.
That is one reason Maxim watches what types of carbohydrates are in products, as they can be released with different speeds into the intestine and are absorbed differently as well. Each product has a detailed scientific rationale from the IOC standing behind it, which results in its raw materials and chemical makeup.
These factors explain why Maxim products are made in Europe by regulated and approved suppliers only. From there, they are transported to Denmark for further quality control and distribution, either to be transported to update stock in their core markets or relabeled for export. The relabeling must be done to meet various regional standards: as Dominguez notes, the EU especially regulates what claims about results you can put on packaging. Health claims often take up to three years to get approved, and evidence needs to always match an exact wording. Once relabeled by region, the export process begins.
This is how it comes to the US, where president Brendan Lundy and his team get the products to various markets. Out of the roughly 45 brands under the Orkla Health umbrella—of which Maxim is the fourth largest—Maxim’s products are distributed in 25 markets today, which is a wide reach for sports nutrition.
It wasn’t always that way before Orkla’s acquisition, however. Maxim wasn’t introduced into the Danish and Norwegian markets until 1995 and Swedish and Finnish markets until 1998, both through distributors. As a brand, Maxim was bought by Orkla in 2006 and is now sold through distributors in more than 18 countries outside of Scandinavia.
Besides their product development, scientific advisors and team located in Denmark, there are other departments that are vital to the success of Maxim. Their quality department, for example, is there to ensure that all products are safe, have consistent quality and meet all legal requirements from relevant governing bodies. That is why no products leave the stock without being inspected by this quality team. In addition, their regulatory affairs department has to stay informed of all legislative development, which is especially important as products are updated.
And though it may sound tedious, every ingredient is checked for compliance at each step of development—from raw materials to intermediate and finished products—to ensure that all legislation and health requirements are met.
Maxim was once owned by a Danish company, which is why their main offices are still there even though Orkla is headquartered in Norway. Their Copenhagen site specializes in the production and packaging of tablets, and their warehouse is reminiscent of an IKEA warehouse. There are rows and rows of bays lined with raw materials and ingredients that are taken into the sealed room for measuring and then moved to the actual production lines where they are made and packaged for distribution.
As Maxim continues to grow in the U.S., they continue to innovate and maintain their place as a leader in sports nutrition. They see more athletes becoming serious about sport and have witnessed the growth of sports nutrition into more mainstream use as consumers start using protein bars as meal supplements. The reality is that everyone— from age groupers to professionals—can benefit from advanced sports nutrition. It is an investment in your health and overall performance.
This first appeared in the February/March 2016 issue of LAVA. Get your issue here.
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