From e-sports to protein gummies: driving sports nutrition growth in 2023

By Kevin Robinson | Published: 11-Apr-2023

Ahead of Vitafoods Europe 2023, Dr Kevin Robinson spoke with Sara Lesina, General Manager, Sirio Europe, to discuss growth prospects in European sports nutrition.

Sports nutrition will be one of the major nutraceutical growth markets in Europe during the next 2–5 years, with the category already being worth €3.4 billion.1 According to Euromonitor, protein products alone are predicted to surpass €4 billion by 2026 (up from €2.5 billion in 2021).

In fact, throughout Europe, its analysts forecast a CAGR of 7% for the next 5 years. This is clearly a high-growth segment in which CDMO innovation and product development is helping nutraceutical brands to stay ahead of and even define the big trends of 2023.  

When we look at sports nutrition, however, most people within the industry are drawn only to powders, drinks and bars. And, although certainly that has been the dominant product narrative until now, we do see big shifts under way in the market in 2023.

In fact, some of the biggest growth areas are likely to come from a widening of traditional definitions, as well as sports nutrition products coming to market in alternative dose and delivery forms. For example, as the sports market shifts towards “grab and go” options, we expect gummies to grow quickly.2 

Another interesting aspect of the market in Europe is the unusually large dominance of one country; the United Kingdom accounts for nearly half (45%) of current sports nutrition sales, with growth occurring at rates of nearly 10% per year. Other prominent markets (Figure 1) are the Nordic countries (15%), Germany (11%) and Italy (7%).

From e-sports to protein gummies: driving sports nutrition growth in 2023

Figure 1: The UK dominates sports nutrition consumption in Europe and is expected to sustain strong forecast growth of 10% per year in the coming 5 years3 

Delving deeper into what to expect in 2023, we anticipate a shifting picture. If we first look to define subcategories, we can then examine how this might shape market opportunities throughout Europe. What we see are three broad types of sub segments, with products aimed at 

  • active sports, including products for protein supplementation, speed and power, recovery and endurance/energy 
  • products that help to maintain an active lifestyle 
  • a newer class of products that target e-gamers. 

The active lifestyles class is focused on areas such as joint health, cognitive function and energy, whereas e-gaming products look to enhance concentration and eye health. The latter is a group we expect to see a surge in demand from during the next few years … and a market we believe could become a defining trend.

The opportunities in Europe’s leading sports nutrition market, the UK, have never been greater. Historically, thanks to the country’s large gym-going population, this has been led by the active class of products.

This is a demographic that is well known to invest in additional supplements to support their workouts and recovery; and, in recent years, this market has expanded to encompass general sports and exercise markets. 

Yet, despite this, we see that relatively few truly innovative products have entered the market in the last few years. Brands often rely on dissolvable powders and energy bars, supported by tablets — with key ingredients being caffeine, L-theanine, creatine, whey powders, electrolytes and L-carnitine. 

For the most popular product ingredient (whey proteins), what has not yet been widely attempted is to encourage consumers to take their protein requirements gradually during the day.

From e-sports to protein gummies: driving sports nutrition growth in 2023

This could then be done during a workout or exercise and is one of the reasons why we anticipate surging gummy demand. Not least because many consumers report that whey-based protein products are rarely enjoyable and come with other disadvantages (such as high water intake). 

Part of the reason that this has yet to take off is that it’s only recently become possible to dose each gummy appropriately. The first-generation of products can typically deliver a protein load of 1.25 g.

lready, though, we have second-generation products in development that can accommodate higher loads. The consumer benefit here is clear: rather than cramming a large amount of protein into an often unpleasant and undesirable dosage form (whey bar or powder-based drink), the user gets to reach their desired daily protein intake in a more pleasant and enjoyable way by consuming protein gummies throughout the day. 

Creatine gummies could also be a very promising area, especially for at-gym performance; creatine also benefits from an EFSA-approved health claim for “increased physical performance in successive bursts of short-term, high intensity exercise.”4

However, rather than wait for new trends to emerge, what we are doing at Sirio is actively working with our customers to help them create and build new product classes during the next few years.

For example, we are already envisaging completely novel products, such as a “gummy bar,” to give a really high protein dose in a single enjoyable form.

Beyond protein and creatine products, we anticipate that “sports gummies” will expand incredibly quickly in the next few years as consumer look to grab post-recovery products on the way out of the gym.

We may even see new market entrants from the larger health groups and gyms looking to capitalise on their captive markets. For example, we have launched a product combining krill oil, which not only boasts natural health benefits for the heart and brain, but also aids recovery thanks to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Another option is taking common sports nutrition ingredients from standard tablets and capsules, such as branched chain amino acids (recovery), caffeine or L-carnitine/L-tartrate (for energy) and transferring them to a gummy form.

Looking across to the Nordic countries and Germany — the second and third largest EU sports nutrition markets — in addition to endurance and active sport products, we foresee a slightly different type of sub-demographic group.

From e-sports to protein gummies: driving sports nutrition growth in 2023

Consumers here often enjoy and favour an “active outdoor lifestyle,” sometimes long into middle or old age, so gummy products targeted at bone health and joints are another new class of product that is growing quickly.

In joint health today, much of the existing market is centred on collagen type II and vitamin C with added adaptogens such as curcumin or turmeric. Again, though, the gummy is still greatly underdeveloped and will provide early mover advantage for brands that develop this in 2023.

Building on that emerging potential, Sirio has just partnered with Lonza to launch a UC-II-powered sports nutrition gummy with vitamin C at Vitafoods 2023, which will be a first of its kind to market. UC-II is an undenatured type II collagen that reduces joint discomfort and increases both flexibility and mobility.5

The benefit of this specific ingredient is that you only need 40 mg per day to support joint function (compared with a typical serving size of three large pills multiple times a day). 

Another “on trend” area that we have seen develop in the last 12 months is the enhanced performance gummy — combining caffeine and/or taurine with vitamin B to give that energy boost pre- or during workouts.

This is also a product that has interest outside of these traditional uses and we anticipate its use in ee-gaming. Crucially, online gaming and e-sports is already a highly profitable industry with consumers willing to spend significant amounts on their hobbies.

There is tremendous potential here and we are now seeing brands designing products for what we might describe as both consumer and prosumer markets: those with subtle advantages that will deliver an enhanced gaming performance, reduce negative impacts on eye or joint health, or simply allow a gamer to play longer.

For example, eye health in terms of protecting against blue light exposure is a big area of interest for both the consumer and prosumer that’s conscious of the number of hours they spend gaming.

The e-gaming products we see delivering the biggest growth in 2023 will combine eye health ingredients such as vitamin A, lutein and zeaxanthin, alongside novel energy and focus options with ingredients including L-citrulline, taurine and/or cognitive enhancers such as lemon balm and ginseng.

From e-sports to protein gummies: driving sports nutrition growth in 2023


In nutraceuticals, we often see short short-term and seasonal trends, but the shift towards a wider sports nutrition market is a much more systemic long-term one — and we are only now at the initial stages of product marketing and formulation innovation.

Entire new classes active gummies for all ages of consumer are going to proliferate during the next 12-months. We’ll also see increasing numbers of formulation options that are going to be more prescriptive and tailored.

In areas such as e-sports and joint health, wherein the marketing terrain is still virgin, we are going to see many brands aim to establish first mover advantages. Specifically for 2023, we’ll see mass market gummies with whey, creatine and UC-II offering the most dramatic short-term growth (particularly in the UK, Nordics and Germany).

This will be closely followed by the emerging e-sports sector. In the medium term, we will see a diversifying range of tailored gummy formulations for all stages of preparation, workout and recovery. It’s also unlikely to remain a UK UK-led phenomena and we can expect to see increasing opportunities open up throughout Europe.



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