man stretching before workout

The New Face of Sports Nutrition

The sports nutrition industry, once narrowly targeted towards elite athletes and bodybuilders, is expanding to reach new markets. As the baby boomer generation ages, active lifestyle trends grow, and more and more health-conscious consumers look for convenient products that suit their health needs and “new normal” schedules, the market for sports nutrition has broadened. 

Once an industry that used to speak almost entirely to serious male athletes aged 15 to 35 now courts older customers, female customers, casual athletes, and other consumers looking for products to boost their health. Today, the sports nutrition trends are not only being driven by competitive athletes, but people from all walks of life who are becoming increasingly active and health conscious. A 2020 survey by FMCG Gurus indicated that six in 10 global consumers looked to improve their overall health and had exercised more in the past 2 years. Consumers are increasingly focused on personal health and lifestyle issues, especially weight loss and maintenance through both diet and exercise. In North America, two in three consumers indicated they had reduced time being inactive.1

These healthy lifestyle trends have opened up opportunities for the sports nutrition industry, which is geared towards helping people use nutrition supplements to achieve peak performance potential. The business is now focused on improving nutritional intake for both athletes and casual exercisers to boost not only performance, endurance, and muscle growth, but also general health and well-being. As a result, consumer demand is growing for performance food and beverage products. Here are some valuable insights that can help food and beverage manufacturers capitalize on these trends.

How Is the Market Changing?

While the perception is that young, male athletes and bodybuilders make up the base market for sports nutrition products, the industry is evolving from one that serves niche athletes to one geared for a wider range of consumers.

One of the factors driving these changes in the market is the aging of the global baby boomer population. Born between 1946 and 1964, boomers are now between 57 and 72 years old and they’re reshaping the older population. Boomers — and there are a lot of them — are getting older and beginning to retire, but they still want to live active, long, and healthy lives. Unlike their predecessors, boomers are inclined to include fitness activities in their daily lives well past middle age. As a result, they’re looking for convenience products that can help boost their energy, maintain youthfulness, and prevent injuries. 

Bone, joint, immunity, and muscle health and maintenance are top concerns for this group. These concerns, in particular, are driving them to seek products that are high in protein and designed to boost bone and joint health and prevent muscle deterioration. 

woman doing push ups

The female market is another major growth area for the sports nutrition industry. More and more women are adopting new exercise programs geared towards building muscle and improving overall fitness as opposed to maintaining a slim figure. In the US, nearly half of all females surveyed indicated that that disagreed with the statement ‘sports performance/protein drinks were only good for athletes and not regular people.’ 2 As a result, women are looking for more targeted performance enhancing supplements, but they don’t want to settle for products made for men. They want products that take their special needs and wants into account — products that are convenient, healthy, and delicious while at the same time helping them to achieve their fitness goals. Personalized performance products containing custom nutrient premixes can help food and beverage manufacturers better meet the needs of this growing market segment.

As more and more consumers continue to embrace the healthy living trend, men and women of all ages who are looking to lose weight make up another market-driving consumer segment. This group seeks sports nutrition products that boost their energy, motivation, and metabolism while also curbing their appetites. 

What Do Consumers Want?

These growing market segments are driving the expansion of the sports nutrition industry, and they have a lot in common. Consumers, in general, are savvier than ever before. They have access to more information about what they're putting into their bodies, and they share a desire for healthy products containing tested ingredients, as well as products that are convenient to use and help to enhance their active lifestyles. 

According to a global supplement survey conducted by Glanbia Nutritionals, 47% of aging consumers indicated maintaining muscle health was among their top three health concerns.3 Preventing sarcopenia or age-related loss of muscle mass and strength, is one thing these consumers see as helping them maintain long and active lives. Products to address these concerns are high in protein, leucine, and omega-3 fatty acids. They are under-represented in the market, offering a significant growth opportunity for food and beverage manufacturers. As well, 30% of aging consumers (55-70) indicated that bone health was their number one concern. Making sure ingredients like calcium and trace minerals magnesium and zinc are in the lifestyle supplements they choose use can go a long way in maintaining bone health and strength. Ingredients that soothe or prevent joint pain, support immune health and boost energy may also appeal to this consumer segment.

woman smiling on workout machine

The growing market of younger female consumers wants products targeted towards women that support their active lifestyles with clean label ingredients, superior quality, and great flavor. Products that boost energy, help to lose or maintain weight, and boost muscle tone may be especially appealing to women.

Overweight consumers represent one of the most underserved areas of the market. Bioactives that boost metabolism or ingredients aid with satiety, in particular, products that are high in protein and fiber and low in sugar and other carbs, may appeal to this market. 

Today’s most popular performance & healthy lifestyle products include:

  • High-protein performance beverages, are the product of choice for consumers who need convenient, tasty high quality protein for their busy schedules. Fortification with key nutrients like calcium, magnesium and energy boosting vitamins can be an additional benefit to new consumers in the category as well. Premier Protein’s dairy-based beverages and Atkins Nutritionals Plus Protein Chocolate Shakes with 30 grams of high quality dairy protein.
  • Nutrient dense plant-derived ‘waters’, like coconut or watermelon water, are increasingly seen as natural alternatives to mainstream energy drinks. Made from young, fresh coconuts, coconut water is generally unsweetened and additive-free, delivers the isotonic benefits of a sports drink, and also provides calcium, magnesium, and potassium. Watermelon water contains high level of potassium as well as immune supporting vitamin C and antioxidants. 
  • Functional nutrition bars continue to drive innovation in the functional food market. Mainstream cereal bars now come with both physical and mental performance-enhancing ingredients,  while bars once marketed to the specialty sports market are dabbling in trendy new flavors and formats to position themselves in the general healthy food category and appeal to a wider audience.  
  • Protein-enhanced bars, which contain dairy or plant protein, are popular with consumers who want to boost their protein intake to help with weight management, muscle mass, and increased energy. Better-for-you indulgent alternatives like Lenny & Larry’s The Complete Cookie offers both plant and dairy-based proteins, giving healthy snacking a new option to take advantage of the best of both protein sources.

How to Stay Connected to Sports Nutrition Consumers

The sports nutrition sector continues to expand and diversify. There is no longer a narrowly defined “typical” sports nutrition consumer, but there are a few distinguishable categories: “Hardcore” endurance athletes and bodybuilders, casual athletes, and “lifestyle” consumers who are not necessarily interested in sports, but use sports nutrition to improve their general health and wellness. 

This expansion of the market represents a huge opportunity for growth, but also comes with the risk of alienating core users, price pressure, and potential channel conflict. These risks can be successfully navigated through creative solutions such as creating more personalized products for particular channels using different brand names, or focusing on a specialty market segment. 

Smart manufacturers are developing products to respond to the concerns of a wider range of consumers. Designing products geared towards women, older people looking to boost their energy or maintain bone and muscle health, people who are overweight, or those simply looking to manage their metabolism can help manufacturers tap into these growing market segments. 


In general, sports nutrition trends continue to develop and diversify, particularly in terms of target market. While the base market of elite athletes and body builders remains, continuing growth in other market segments — women, aging baby boomers, people who are overweight, casual athletes, and lifestyle fitness enthusiasts — represent major marketing opportunities for producers. Experts foresee the most growth in these areas of the market. Thanks to these and other market developments, the sports nutrition industry is booming. 

If you are interested in a deep dive to learn more about how COVID-19 has impacted sports nutrition and the rise of the home workout, check out our webinar on How Home Exercise Trends are Revolutionizing Sports Nutrition. 

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Glanbia Nutritionals is your ideal partner if you are interested in learning more about how you can capitalize on some of these recent trends with innovative formats and exciting ingredients. From customizing your products to meet the latest lifestyle nutrition trends to meeting needs of hardcore athletes, Glanbia Nutritionals is a global leader in tracking sports nutrition trends and a prominent custom premix supplier and protein supplier to the health & wellness category. Contact us to get started on your next product.


1. FMCG Gurus, Active Nutrition: How to Get it Right – Global, January 2020
2. NA: Mintel, Sports and Performance Drinks - US - March 2020; ASPAC: Mintel, The Fitness Consumer - China - September 2020;  Europe: Mintel, Attitudes towards Sports Nutrition: Inc Impact of COVID-19 - UK - August 2020
3. Glanbia Nutritionals Proprietary Research, Global Supplements Survey – UK, China, US, May 2019

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