The following are essential for optimal sports performance: good eating and drinking practices, talent, training, conditioning, motivation, dedication, adequate sleep, and recovery. However, athletes are becoming distracted by the mind-boggling range of sports nutrition products out there in the hope of maximizing their sports performance. This is understandable when you consider how athletes are bombarded by marketing hype from the sports supplement industry, much of it not based on sound scientific research.
What is Sports Nutrition?
Sports nutrition involves the study and practice of fueling and hydrating the body for improved athletic performance. High-quality sports nutrition supplements offer a range of benefits, such as:
- Enhanced performance and endurance
- Reduced likelihood injury
- Improved recovery
- Delayed onset of fatigue
- Ability to focus
- Improved body composition
- Healthy immune system
A majority of consumers base their purchasing decisions for sports nutrition products on various sources such as social media, brand websites, recommendations from their peers, product labels, and reviews. Some consumers also pay close attention to and prefer specific ingredients.
Do Sports Nutrition Supplements Work?
Most nutritional supplements do not have sound evidence in the scientific literature to show that they can assist athletes to achieve peak performance. The few that do require the direction of a suitably qualified professional such as a Sports Dietitian.
Supplements included in this group are those associated with an unacceptable health risk and/or have been shown to provide little or no sporting benefit. Group D includes Androstenedione (A), Clenbuterol, Diuretics, Fenugreek, Human Growth Hormone and Creatine. The Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) uses a Sports Supplement Group Classification Scheme which has four categories – A, B, C and D. Group A supplements are supported for use in specific situations in sport and are provided to AIS athletes for evidence-based uses. This group includes sports drinks, sports bars, sports gels, whey protein, liquid meals, caffeine, creatine and bicarbonate among others. Group B are those deserving of further research and are considered for provision to AIS athletes under a research protocol. This group includes B-alanine, beetroot juice, carnitine, antioxidants C and E to name a few. Group C are thought to have no benefit and are not provided to AIS athletes. Examples include ribose, lactaway, glucosamine, inosine, co-enzyme Q10, and ginseng among a long list of others. Finally, Group D
Sports Nutrition Ingredients Brand Owners Need to Know About
Various types of proteins, especially organic ones, have become popular ingredients in sports nutrition.
Whey protein is popular among athletes because it provides all 9 essential amino acids. While there are few vegetarian foods that provide lean protein, whey protein is a preferred alternative.
Although casein protein is derived from cow’s milk, it is not as popular as whey protein in sports nutrition. Casein protein is particularly useful in recovering from tough workouts and building muscle mass.
Soy protein is a good choice for vegetarians and vegans because it does not come from dairy. It is also low in saturated fat and cholesterol. Soy protein is also one of the few sports proteins that contains all the essential amino acids.
As veganism becomes more common, plant-based proteins such as pea protein, hemp protein, and rice proteins are becoming more popular as sports supplement ingredients. These proteins are richer in protein than meat and are heart-friendly. Plant-based diets are also considered to be more conducive to recovery. Of all the plant-based protein sources, pea protein is the most popular thanks to its many benefits.
Pea protein is high in lysine, abundant in arginine, and contains a comparable amount of leucine to some animal proteins. Pea protein has a mild flavor profile and offers functional benefits, including vital muscle protein synthesis and muscular functions.
Hemp protein is becoming more popular as a complete protein source, and brown rice protein is known for being part of a mix of other plant-based sources for a balanced mixture.
Key Consumers of Sports Nutrition Products
The target market for sports and health nutritional products has traditionally been athletes and bodybuilders who use them to enhance muscle growth, performance, and overall health. Even today, the market consists of a wide range of supplements for professional athletes and bodybuilders. However, the market is now also targeting recreational and lifestyle users, who are increasingly using these products.
Sports Nutrition Market Overview
The global sports nutrition market was valued at $15.6 billion in 2019 and is anticipated to grow at a CAGR of 8.9% from 2020-2027. The rising demand for different types of dietary supplements, protein bars, and energy drinks among bodybuilders and athletes primarily contributes to growth in this sector.
Other factors that are helping the sports nutrition market grow are things like the rapid growth of cities, more people having extra money to spend, and more places to work out.
Animal protein supplements made up 67.9% of the revenue, but plant-based protein is expected to grow at a rate of 8.8% per year and reach $11.05 billion by 2027.
The demand for sports nutrition products has increased significantly and is influenced by the flavors of the supplements. According to Mintel, most customers purchase a product based on its flavor. Therefore, creating new and innovative flavors can help a product stand out in the market.
Additionally, upcoming areas such as personalized nutrition and microbiome research can shape the future of sports nutrition.
5 Sports Nutrition Supplement Trends to Watch
Here are 5 sports nutrition supplements trends that I highly suggest brand owners watch in the upcoming year:
- Consumer demand for plant protein is expected to increase because it’s viewed as a sustainable alternative to animal proteins. As most plant proteins lack the full amino acid profile, the right blend of plant protein sources can do the trick.
- As the number of sports nutrition supplement consumers increase, brand owners must cater to a diverse audience in the expanding and evolving sports nutrition industry. Some examples of these new market users include adventure seekers, crossfit athletes, and triathletes. Deciding and focusing on your target audience is imperative to creating high-quality products that cater to their specific needs and demands. Over time, this will help you earn their loyalty and will result in repeat sales.
- As previously mentioned, innovative supplement flavors are proving to be an essential driver in the consumer decision-making process. While standard flavors like chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry are still popular, brands that are able to offer uniquely flavored products (e.g. blue raspberry lemonade, salty peanut butter, banana split, etc.) will thrive in the future.
- Having a presence on social media is no longer optional; it’s mandatory for a sports nutrition brand. Need proof? Pre-workout supplements are gaining in popularity on social media with the #preworkout hashtag, gathering 4 million posts on Instagram alone.
- Brands will continue to make clean label statements on their product labels. Currently, 1 out of every 5 sports nutrition products contain at least one clean label claim. It includes the anti-doping linked ‘no banned substances’ besides ‘no artificial sweeteners’ and ‘No GMOs’. If you’re a brand owner reading this article, you should know that consumers are willing to spend 25% more on sports nutrition products that make clean label statements.
Risks Associated with Taking Sports Nutrition Supplements
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA)
- The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has developed a list of prohibited substances.
- This list is not definitive but rather defines classes of prohibited substances.
- The Irish Sports Council advises that screening of supplements against this list can’t guard against contamination by new unknown contaminants and is restricted by the limits of detection of the screening.
- If an athlete takes a supplement which contains a prohibited substance and this subsequently results in a positive drug test, it is not an adequate defense to state that the athlete was unaware of the presence of the prohibited substance in the supplement in question.
- Under WADA’s strict liability rule, athletes are responsible for any positive doping test, regardless of how it got there.
Regulation of Sports Nutrition Supplements
- The production, marketing and sale of these supplements is a very large multi-million euro international business which up until recently was largely unregulated.
- Despite the entry into force in 2002 of EU regulations controlling supplements as foods, there are still a large number of sports supplements and sports foods which are not controlled and feature unsubstantiated or exaggerated claims on their efficacy.
- Due to the newness of regulation, industrial hygiene standards associated with the production of many supplements vary considerably whilst the accuracy of labeling of the ingredients of many supplements can’t be guaranteed.
- There is also a reasonable theory that at least some manufacturers deliberately add ingredients to their products to enhance the effects and improve sales. A range of studies have provided evidence of this problem.
- One well-quoted study from a laboratory in Cologne analyzed 634 supplements from 215 suppliers in 13 countries, with products being sourced from retail outlets (91%), the internet (8%), and telephone sales. None of these supplements declared prohormones as ingredients. The supplements came from manufacturers who produced other supplements containing prohormones but also from companies who didn’t sell these products. 94 of the supplements (15% of the sample) were found to contain hormones or prohormones that were not stated on the product label and a further 10% of the samples provided technical difficulties in analysis such that the absence of hormones could not be guaranteed. The brand names of the positive products were not provided in the study but they included amino acid supplements, protein powders and products containing creatine, carnitine, ribose, guarana, zinc, pyruvate, vitamins, minerals, and herbal extracts among others.
- Vitamins and minerals produced by reputable pharmaceutical companies especially those with a marketing authorization number such as a product authorization (PA) number are less likely to be associated with health risks or inadvertent drug tests.
Does Informed Sport/Trusted by Sport Labeling Have a Role to Play?
- Many elite athletes, convinced by the scientific evidence, choose to supplement their diet with drinks, protein powders, energy, and protein bars. As already mentioned, there is no 100% guarantee of safety of any product. However, there are some strides being taken to reduce the risks for athletes as much as possible.
- In the UK, a company called HFL Sport Science tests sports supplements for banned substances. Their anti-doping laboratories analyze a huge range of supplements and those that are clean and contain what they say on the label are given a kitemark and are listed on the Informed Sport Web-site. HFL used to be a WADA-accredited laboratory but you can no longer hold this accreditation and test supplements for supplement companies so HFL gave up their WADA accreditation in 2007. They continue to run a quality assurance program for sports nutrition supplements.
The Irish Sports Council recommends that no junior athletes or players should take supplements that could affect their physical development.
- Don’t underestimate the importance of getting the basics right. You need a sound food and fluid plan for training and competition to optimize sports performance. Sports Nutrition supplements will never make up for poor dietary choices.
- Seek advice from a qualified professional such as a Sports Dietitian & Member of the Irish Nutrition & Dietetic Institute (MINDI) before taking any supplement.
- Make sure that the professional is familiar with the WADA prohibited list.
- Athletes who compete in sports under an anti-doping code must recognize that supplement use exposes them to a risk of a positive doping outcome.
- Be aware that supplements claiming to be muscle-building or fat-burning are more likely to be associated with health risks or inadvertent drug tests.
- If it sounds too good to be true, it most likely is!