The Mainstreaming of Global Sports Nutrition Products

From Australian miners toting 2-pound tubs of pre-workout powders into excavation sites to ready-to-drink protein supplements touting peak job performance to accountants and school teachers in the United Kingdom, sports nutrition products are attracting new fans worldwide.

Sold as powders, bars, ready-to-drink (RTD) beverages, gels and tablets, sports nutrition products are designed to improve physical endurance, increase muscle growth and body mass or speed recovery after exercise. Protein products are the most popular, while other formulas focus on non-protein ingredients, such as amino acids, carbohydrates, creatine, L-carnitine and nitric oxide boosters.

Around the globe, the traditional audience for sports nutrition products is young male athletes and gym enthusiasts, and this demographic will likely remain the core consumers for these products. But according to London-based market intelligence firm Euromonitor International, some producers are setting their sights on reinventing the category’s image to embody health, wellness and overall fitness — and they are targeting average Janes and Joes.

“There’s a lot of blurring of lines between protein products and standard foods as bars and RTDs incorporate trends from the premium health and wellness foods and confectionery categories, including organic, allergen-free and all-natural,” says Chris Schmidt, consumer health industry analyst with Euromonitor International. “A number of retailers — Target, CVS, Walgreens, Whole Foods — are also investing in private label protein powder which tends to have very neutral packaging [and is marketed as] more of a protein supplement than a true sports nutrition product.”

However, winning consumer trust has hurdles, including negative perceptions over questionable ingredients (think steroids and other banned substances). According to Australian Mining, some companies banned a popular bodybuilding powder used by miners during long shifts. Containing caffeine and the synthetic stimulant dimethylamylamine, a derivative of geranium oil that appears on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s prohibited list, abuse of the pre-workout powder can lead to risk of heart arrhythmia, sleep deprivation and other hazardous conditions.

An industry-wide focus to boost trust through manufacturing and labeling transparency and third-party verification programs is underway, according to Euromonitor International. “There has been a major push across both established and upstart brands to really focus on cleaner formulas,” says Schmidt of banned-substance-free initiatives.

Meanwhile, the concepts driving these product trends — performance, fitness and success — are incentives that health practitioners can harness when advocating health and lifestyle benefits, even if they don’t advocate use of the products themselves, according to Kelly Pritchett, PhD, RDN, CSSD, assistant professor of sports nutrition at the University of Georgia.

“It’s important for RDNs to be familiar with sports nutrition products, ingredients, labeling and uses,” says Pritchett, “and to understand the motivation behind these trends in order to knowledgeably respond to consumer questions.”

Liz Spittler
Liz Spittler is the executive editor of Food & Nutrition Magazine and creative media director at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.