Mainstream consumers have become more interested in sports nutrition, bringing better flavour and more diverse ingredients to the sports nutrition sector.
European consumers are living longer, many have become more interested in healthy lifestyles, and endurance sports like marathon running, cycling and triathlons have become increasingly common. The knock-on effect for the sports nutrition sector is a broader range of consumers, from amateur athletes looking to fuel their exercise or improve recovery, to more general consumers seeking a protein or energy boost.
Sports nutrition companies increasingly are breaking the market down into demographics, with products that focus on healthy aging, sporty teens or active women, for example. Boundaries have also blurred between specific sports nutrition products and those intended for general, everyday consumption, such as protein-fortified pancakes, smoothies and cereals that have escaped the supplements aisle to be found alongside mainstream packaged foods.
Beyond whey- and soy-based protein powders, a growing number of more palatable options like bars, shakes and drinks are based on plant proteins like pea, hemp or flaxseed.
While 80% of the sports nutrition category is still focused on protein, according to Euromonitor International, other ingredients are also coming to the fore as the sector has moved to the mainstream. Probiotics are among the ingredients making their way into protein products, a trend that Mintel highlighted in its Global Food & Drinks Trends report in 2016. Probiotics company Ganeden, for example, has said that more than half of all probiotic products launched with their partners in 2017 were protein-based.
Hardcore gym-goers and athletes have always been more results-driven than general consumers, who tend to focus on taste and cost ahead of nutritional benefits, according to the International Food Information Council. Therefore, one of the biggest effects of sports nutrition entering the mainstream has been improved flavour.
Ingredients companies have collaborated to ensure functional sports products taste as good as possible, thereby extending their appeal. At Hi Europe 2016, for instance, Carbery showcased beverages and snacks made with its latest hydrolysed whey protein ingredient, which also featured bitterness masking technology from flavours company Synergy.
One thing is certain: long gone are the days when sports nutrition – and protein in particular – was targeted at bodybuilders alone. Trends in the sports nutrition sector increasingly reflect broader food trends, such as increased demand for natural, plant-based, clean label or organic products – while also delivering on promises to improve performance.