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Which Factors Are Driving Consumer Purchases in Sports Nutrition Products?

As the fastest-growing segment in consumer health, sports nutrition is drawing unprecedented attention from food, beverage, and supplement manufacturers. Learn what’s driving both core users and active lifestyle newcomers to purchase sports nutrition products and how manufacturers can seize this high growth opportunity.

Sports Nutrition Growing and Evolving

According to Euromonitor International, the global sports nutrition market grew 217% percent from 2006 to 2020, at a CAGR of 8.5 percent.1 The rise of the active lifestyle consumer is largely responsible for this growth. What began as dabbling in sports nutrition products to provide general support for an active, healthy lifestyle has given way to seeking products that address very specific needs. In the next 5 years, global market growth is expected to remain high at an estimated CAGR of 7 to 8 percent. 2

Core Users vs. Active Lifestyle Consumers

The original sports nutrition consumers (known as core users) remain focused on products that support optimal athletic performance. Core users seek specific functional benefits to keep their bodies in tip-top shape before, during, and after intense physical activity. Ingredients that deliver desired benefits are often prioritized over clean label ingredients or taste.

Active lifestyle consumers tend to pursue less intense fitness activities, such as jogging, hiking, or participating in exercise classes at a gym or now online in their own homes. The aim of active lifestyle consumers who seek out sports nutrition products is not to support performance, but to support a healthy lifestyle. Functional, clean label products that taste good and are convenient are important to these consumers.

What’s Driving Core Users?

1. Muscle Building and Strength Performance

Core users involved in weightlifting and other types of strength training often rely on sports nutrition products to meet their high protein demands. Ready-to-mix powder or shakes are the preferred product format and should contain complete proteins such as whey protein or soy. Creatine and amino acid ingredients, like branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) or essential amino acids (EAAs), also appeal to these consumers.

man making a protein shake

2. Hydration

Hydration is another major driver of sports nutrition purchases. Serious athletes look for beverage mixes and ready-to-drink (RTD) beverages that contain electrolytes—particularly potassium and sodium—so they can replenish while they rehydrate. Multiple electrolytes can be combined into a single custom nutrient premix for easy addition to any beverage.

3. Endurance

For endurance athletes, products with easily digestible carbohydrates are ideal. Other top ingredients for this segment are BCAAs and caffeine. Gels are popular sports nutrition products for these consumers.

4. Recovery

Core users take post-exercise recovery seriously with a focus on hydration to restore lost fluids, combating muscle fatigue with protein and consuming the right macro-nutrients. Sports nutrition products for recovery should contain protein to repair damaged muscle tissue and carbohydrates to replenish glycogen stores. Electrolytes are an added bonus.

What’s Driving Active Lifestyle Consumers?

1. Muscle Support

Active lifestyle consumers choosing products for muscle support range from Millennials seeking to supplement a vegan or vegetarian diet to Boomers striving to prevent age-related sarcopenia (muscle loss). Protein is the key ingredient for these consumers—especially organic, grass-fed whey protein, or plant protein, all which continue to have a health halo.

2. Weight Management

Weight management is another driver of sports nutrition purchases among active lifestyle consumers. These consumers are checking labels for features such as low or no added sugar and high protein or fiber. Nutrition bars and RTD beverages are useful product formats for this group looking for a convenient replacement to meals or between meal snacks.

woman in a workout class on yoga mat

3. Energy

Consumers are also seeking to increase their energy levels to help keep up with the demands of their busy lives. Sports nutrition products with functional ingredients such as B vitamins, green tea extract, and caffeine are especially appealing and can be added to any food or beverage through a custom nutrient premix.

4. Healthy Snacking

While the busy, on-the-go lifestyles of these consumers have made snacking a necessity, they are unwilling to snack on just anything. Protein-fortified snacks, such as protein bars or chips are perceived as healthier than many traditional snacks. Even fortified cookies and snack cakes represent better-for-you alternatives to popular indulgent treats.

Simplify Sports Nutrition Formulation with an All N™ Blend Solutions 

For manufacturers eager to jump into the rapidly growing category of sports nutrition, using an All N™ off the shelf blend or format complete blend is a simple way to get started. Off the shelf blends offer a portfolio of scientifically backed and, validated blends pre-formulated with, active ingredients, ready to use as a base for new product formulations. For those looking at formulation optimization, format complete blends offer A complete blend of active ingredients (macro and micro), inactive binders, excipients, flavors, and carriers that is ready for inclusion into a final product format.

Want to learn more? Learn more about All N™ Blend Solutions and contact us to fast track your next product launch. 

Frequently Asked Questions

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.

Protein powders sold to consumers are regulated by the FDA as dietary supplements under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA). As with conventional foods, misbranding and adulteration are prohibited in the manufacture of protein powders, and manufacturers are responsible for ensuring product safety and labeling meet the FDA regulations.

For any new dietary supplement ingredient (including a new protein powder), a manufacturer must submit a notification to the FDA for review before the product containing it goes to market. Under DSHEA, structure/function claims (such as “supports healthy muscles”) can be used to describe the benefits of a supplement as long as the manufacturer keeps on file scientific evidence supporting the claim. 

Protein contains essential amino acids that our bodies need to support a variety of functions—from muscle building to energy production to immune response. While most people get the bulk of their protein from a healthy diet, some groups of people are interested in the benefits of higher protein intakes—and protein powder helps them achieve this.

A protein powder offers a quick and easy way to take in more protein than one can usually get from foods. This is because a protein powder has been processed from the original food into a concentrated source of protein. Athletes, active lifestyle consumers, and seniors are just a few examples of people looking for extra protein for muscle support, satiety, weight management, and more.


1-2.    Euromonitor International, Sports Nutrition in World, January 2021 

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