woman doing home workout

What's New in Sports Nutrition for 2021?

As the pandemic and lockdown continues to impact the way people eat and exercise, sports nutrition manufacturers are trying to understand the various ways this may affect the category. Check out our list of the sports nutrition trends for 2021 and what this means for manufacturers.

2021 Sports Nutrition Trends

Reduced access to gyms, fitness classes, and team sports has disrupted sports nutrition consumers everywhere. In response, many have purchased home gym equipment, joined online workout classes, or taken up jogging around their neighborhoods. While some have been more successful than others at staying on track with exercise, diet is yet another factor that has posed challenges—particularly due to stress eating and at-home snacking. Sports nutrition products play an important role in providing consumers with the healthy nutrition they need to support their fitness goals. 

Here’s a look at 2021 sports nutrition trends and how manufacturers can meet the needs of today’s sports nutrition consumers:

1. Plant Proteins

Demand for plant proteins is growing across categories, including the sports nutrition category. While consumer interest in a sustainable, healthy lifestyle is driving the broader trend in plant proteins for mainstream and active lifestyle consumers, the sports performance consumer also has an eye on performance benefits thanks to the buzz around celebrity plant-based athletes. Pea protein is the rising star in plant-based sports nutrition and is often combined with proteins such as sunflower seed, pumpkin seed, and chia seed proteins for optimal amino acid balance. 

2. Mental Health Support for Focus and Performance

With bouts of anxiety and depression so common during the lockdown, there’s been a public dialogue underway about the importance of mental wellness to overall health. Public health recommendations have included exercise, a healthy diet, and stress management techniques. In addition, some consumers are looking for supplements that can help them with energy and concentration. Sports nutritional supplements (particularly pre-workout products) that include these benefits offer the additional advantage of supporting a focused workout for optimal performance.

woman cycling

3. More Diversified Consumer Segments

Sports nutritional supplements are being used by an increasingly diverse consumer base. In addition to active lifestyle consumers gravitating toward sports nutrition products like grab-and-go protein bars and RTDs, core consumers themselves are becoming more segmented. Beyond weightlifters and long-distance runners, for example, we now have CrossFit athletes and triathletes, each with specialized needs. Sports nutrition supplement manufacturers need to be clear on who they’re targeting to ensure they’re offering the right products.

4. Social Media Engagement

As many consumers switched to e-commerce to buy their sports nutrition products during the lockdown, it became clearer than ever how important social media is to the category. Consumers are using social media to get more information about sports nutrition products and brands, as well as recommendations from influencers. Social media is also proving to be an effective way for direct-to-consumer sports nutrition brands to find and connect with their target consumers.

5. Sleep Support for Recovery and Wellness

The new focus on holistic wellness has also put attention on the importance of healthy sleep. Sleep support products have been gaining traction, particularly functional beverages that aim to help consumers wind down before bedtime. In sports nutrition, a product with added sleep support benefits appeals by also supporting exercise recovery through deep, restful sleep. Ingredients being used in sleep support products range from melatonin to L-theanine to chamomile.


Winning in Sports Nutrition

As the sports nutrition category continues to grow and evolve, it will become increasingly important for companies to focus on truly understanding the needs of their target consumers so they can offer the right type of products and ingredient benefits to meet those needs. 

We have extensive experience and knowledge in formulating nutritional sports nutrition foods, beverages and supplements. From our extensive portfolio of dairy and plant-based proteins, health beneficial bioactive ingredients, flavor masking capabilities and custom nutrient premix services, we are here to help you create winning sports nutrition products. Contact us to learn more. 

Frequently Asked Questions

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for an adult with minimum physical activity is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. This means that someone with a low activity level who weighs 150 lbs. should be sure to consume at least 55 grams of protein each day to prevent a protein deficiency. This can be calculated by dividing your weight in lbs by 2.2 (to convert to kg) and multiplying by 0.8 grams: 150/2.2 x 0.8 = 55 grams).

However, certain groups of people have higher protein needs. For example, starting in their 40s to 50s, people need to increase their protein to 1-1.2 grams per kilogram to prevent age-related muscle loss (sarcopenia). People with very high activity levels (especially those who regularly lift weights or engage in endurance sports) may require 1.1-1.7 grams per kilogram. The USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest that 10%-35% of our calories should come from protein.

Protein is an essential nutrient for workout recovery to repair and rebuild muscle after resistance or endurance exercise. The best type of protein for workout recovery is one that contains all of the essential amino acids in the proportion needed by the body. This ensures no amino acid is in short supply, which would hinder the protein synthesis process.

Protein quality is measured by its Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS), with a score of 1.00 indicating a complete protein. Whey protein’s PDCAAS of 1.00 makes it a top choice for workout recovery, which is why it’s so often used in sports nutrition products. Casein, egg white, and soy protein are also very high in quality. 

Even among whey protein ingredients, however, there are some differences that can impact exercise recovery. For example, whey protein isolate (WPI) has benefits over whey protein concentrate (WPC) that include more protein, higher branched chain amino acid (BCAA) content, and less fat and lactose.

Protein from any source can support weight loss and weight management by providing satiety. This occurs because protein triggers the release of appetite-suppressing hormones in the gut. The best type of protein for weight loss, however, is something researchers continue to investigate. Certain bioactive peptides in milk have shown benefits in increasing fat loss while maintaining lean muscle.

The best protein for muscle gain is a high-quality protein with a Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS) of 1.00. This shows it contains all the amino acids the body needs and is in the right proportion to build muscle. Dairy-based proteins have a PDCAAS of 1.00, with whey protein the best choice for right before or after a workout due to its fast absorption and casein, which is useful as an overnight slow-release protein.

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.

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.

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