Three people participating in a workout class

Sports Nutrition Goes Vegan

Consumer demand for plant-based options is impacting categories throughout the food industry—including sports nutrition. In 2020, 15% of global performance nutrition launches had a vegan/no animal ingredient claim, up from only 6% in 2016.1 Take a look at the latest developments in vegan sports nutrition, including functional ingredients, packaging innovations, and more!

Understanding the Plant-Based Athlete

The buzz around the adoption of plant-based diets by top athletes and movies such as The Game Changers, which explores optimum nutrition for athletes, is increasing consumer awareness of plant-based sports nutrition and its possible benefits. Consumers are looking to vegan sports nutrition products as a way to improve performance and have healthier, more sustainable lifestyles. In the UK, 62% of sports nutrition uses believe that sports nutrition products made with plant proteins are a healthier choice.2

Recent Developments in Vegan Sports Nutrition

In the sports nutrition category, claims of vegan, no animal ingredients, and plant-based have been rising, with many manufacturers launching plant-based versions of their sports protein powders, bars, and RTD beverages. There has also been a shift from soy to pea protein and plant protein blends as a way to sidestep the allergen and GMO issues associated with soy. 

Some companies such as Vega and Organic Sports Nutrition now boast highly developed vegan sports nutrition lines that include pre- and post-workout products, in addition to their core protein powder offerings. Innovations in high-protein bars include a wider variety of plant-based proteins, as well as flavors. For example, No Cow Protein Bars come in sixteen decadent flavors, including chocolate glazed doughnut, raspberry truffle, and blueberry cobbler.

Health Benefits

Dietary diversity is a key benefit of plant-based sports nutrition products. This is largely a result of manufacturers using blends of complementary plant proteins to achieve the balanced amino acid profile athletes need. For example, Orgain Sport Protein uses pea, brown rice, and chia proteins, while Vega Sport Protein uses pea, pumpkin seed, sunflower seed, and alfalfa proteins. Sacha inchi and algae proteins are also showing up in vegan sports nutrition products.

Cup of cherry juice

Besides the health benefits associated with a diverse diet, plant-based sports nutrition products are also nutrient powerhouses. High protein (around 30 grams for powders and 20 grams for bars) and high iron, along with low sugar is the new standard. In addition, many contain functional ingredients—particularly antioxidant or anti-inflammatory ingredients like tart cherry, turmeric, and black pepper extract that might support muscle recovery and digestion support ingredients like digestive enzymes, prebiotics, and probiotics. 

Packaging and Claims

While vegan sports nutrition products tend to use the same type of packaging as the rest of the sports nutrition category, some brands are appealing to plant-based consumers by improving the sustainability of their packaging. For example, while protein powders are often packed in HDPE tubs, Vega is the first in the category to switch from virgin HDPE to post-consumer recycled. Vivo Life is using 100% plant-based and compostable bags for its protein powders.

Claims showing up on product packaging include vegan, dairy-free, gluten-free, and soy-free. GMO-free and organic are also popular, while no added sugars is on the rise. As with all sports nutrition products, front-of-package protein claims are key. For vegan sports nutrition products, this may include 100% plant protein, complete amino acid profile, grams of protein, and grams of BCAAs. 


For consumers interested in buying and eating sustainably, plant-based sports nutrition products offer an opportunity to incorporate their lifestyle choice into their wellness routine.  Compared with dairy proteins, plant-based proteins may offer active consumers a more sustainable way to support their workout needs. According to a recent sustainability survey, FMCG Gurus found that about 37% of protein bar and drink consumers considered environmental claims to be important. That number jumps to around 40% in China and Germany.For 100% vegan brands, sustainability is often integral to their messaging, creating an important point of differentiation from other sports nutrition brands. 

Woman drinking a shake

Winning with Plant-Based Sports Nutrition

The future looks bright for the plant-based sports nutrition segment. Not only does it address consumers’ interests in sustainable foods, health, and performance nutrition, the segment's steady stream of innovations show it can meet evolving needs, as well.

At Glanbia Nutritionals, we offer ingredients that can meet the plant-based sports nutrition trends of today, including flavors and flavor maskers, bioactives, and plant-based solutions. From plant-based proteins to functional and nutritious flax, chia, quinoa and oat ingredients, our portfolio provides high-quality solutions that give your products outstanding nutrition, functionality, and flavor.

We work with your team to provide safe plant-based ingredients and ingredient systems that are easier to incorporate into a range of applications so that you can give your consumers nutritionally packed plant-based products they are sure to enjoy.

Contact us to learn more about how our nutritional solutions to help you create plant-based sports nutrition products your consumers are looking for.

Frequently Asked Questions

Many different nutrients support sports performance due to their roles in muscle building, endurance, or exercise recovery. High-quality protein is the most important nutrient for building, repairing, and maintaining muscle since it contains all the essential amino acids. One amino acid in particular, the branched-chain amino acid leucine, is known for activating the protein synthesis process.

Endurance athletes also need to consume adequate water and replenish their electrolytes, including potassium and magnesium, to prevent muscle cramps and fatigue. Like electrolytes, iron—which plays key roles in oxygen transport and energy metabolism—is also lost through perspiration. Iron requirements are often much higher for endurance athletes and those engaging in high-intensity exercise, making iron another important nutrient for optimal performance.

Athletes require all the essential macronutrients and micronutrients but often have higher demands for certain nutrients. These include high-quality protein for muscle building and recovery and any nutrients that are readily lost through perspiration, which include iron and electrolytes like potassium

B vitamins can also be very important due to their role in energy production in the body, while sufficient calcium and vitamin D are essential for athletes to maintain strong and healthy bones. Adequate hydration is also a must for athletes to support all of the body’s systems, making water another key nutrient.

Dairy is the main source of calcium in the American diet, making it the top food group for supporting healthy bones at all ages. Dairy is also a source of high-quality protein, with all the essential amino acids in the right proportions to meet the needs of the body—especially important for muscle building and maintenance for active, sports performance, and aging consumers. Dairy also contains several beneficial bioactive proteins such as lactoferrin, which supports healthy iron levels.

Dairy alternatives such as plant-based milks and plant-based yogurts are often fortified, making them a good calcium source for those with milk allergies or lactose intolerance. Some are also high in plant-based protein. In addition, both dairy and dairy alternatives are often fortified with vitamin D to improve calcium absorption. Dairy/plant-based milk blends are a trend that combine the high-quality protein of dairy with the phytonutrients and lower calories of plant-based milks.


1.    Mintel, Global New Product Database, January 2021.
2.    Mintel, A year of innovation in sports performance & nutrition – 2020, September 2020.
3.    FMCG Gurus, Sustainability Survey – US, China, Germany, Q4 2020. 

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