Sports nutrition: blurring of the lines creates opportunities

In recent years, food and drink producers have been responding to growing consumer interest in all things sporty

As well as traditional gels, bars and drinks, sports nutrition has become more mainstream with the introduction of a wide range of foods, including ready meals, snacks and pastas, all featuring sports-related claims.

With the boundaries blurring as traditional foods get a sporty makeover, are there new marketing opportunities for both sports nutrition companies and snack producers?

Klaudia Volmer, Product Manager for functional carbohydrates at BENEO, explains what a sportified food is, who is eating it and why manufacturers should look beyond protein to natural sources of energy.

The changing face of sports nutrition consumers

According to market and trend researchers, today’s consumers “are motivated in every category — fashion, technology, leisure — to buy things connected with sports in ways never seen before. They want an image of sportiness — even if they rarely do any sport.”

Sportification has grown to become a buzzword in many trend reports and it now flows through the everyday lives and diets of consumers.

Sportified products have shifted from the realm of professional athletes through to “regular actives” who are looking for nutrition to support their active lifestyles.

BENEO’s consumer research reveals that regular actives are those who exercise approximately 2–3 times a week and they account for one in three consumers on a global scale. Key drivers such as fitness wearables and apps, social media influencers, sports nutrition and professional athletes are fuelling this sportification trend still further.

The rise of sportified products resonates with the ultimate goals of the regular actives, which are to stay healthy, achieve their fitness and body toning ambitions and to feel good. Interestingly, this trend is even beginning to be seen amongst those who use sportified products for purposes other than fitness; in fact, a survey conducted by GlobalData has found that 62% of consumers worldwide say that they are “often or always influenced by the health impact of a food product.”

What makes a sportified food?

Innova Market Insights noticed an increase of 29% in food and drink launches carrying a sports claim during the last 2 years. Also, four traditionally mass-market categories have shown particularly large increases in either protein claims, or sports and recovery claims, including ready meals (+25%), dairy (+24%), cereals (+16%) and snacks (+10%).

So, with sportification on the rise, what exactly constitutes a sportified food?

An easy-to-understand functional benefit: Taking yoghurt as an example, it becomes sportified when it incorporates a functional benefit that’s simple and easy to understand, such as provides energy, delivers endurance, high protein, etc.

Seen as a normal food category: Consumers don’t want to make a drastic change in their regular eating habits, so sportified foods need to be recognisable as “normal foods.” Rather than specially formulated food designed for athletes, sportified foods have the appearance of normal products that are often considered to be treats, such as snack bars, treat bags or smoothies.

Contain real/natural ingredients: Consumers want the functional benefits of sportified foods, but they also expect the products to be created using natural ingredients. In fact, 46% of consumers claim natural ingredients would encourage them to choose one brand instead of another and 66% actively buy food and drink with natural claims.

Snackability: As well as being as natural as possible, snackability is high on the list for sportified foods. With 61% of consumers relying heavily on time-saving products and services, consumers often eat or drink their sportified product on the go, so snackability is key.

Great tasting: Even if the product ticks all the other boxes, if it doesn’t taste good, then there will be no repeat purchase. As seen by a recent survey, 60% of UK consumers would swap a normal snack for a sports nutrition product, but only if it tasted similar.

Meeting the needs of mainstream consumers

Many producers are looking to add sports variants to their ranges to address different consumer needs and respond to this demand for sports nutrition amongst mainstream consumers. Those who are regularly active want products that help them to manage a busy day, look and feel good or maintain a healthier weight.

This means that blood sugar management, sustained energy and the fat burning potential of the sportified food is of great importance to them; however, at present, the majority of the sports-based products on the market do not suit these needs.

Many sports products that are designed to increase energy contain high glycaemic carbohydrates such as maltodextrin, glucose syrup and sucrose. Such carbohydrates release glucose into the bloodstream at a fast rate and although this is fine for those in need of instant energy for short-burst intensive athletic training such as sprinting, it isn’t ideal for those engaged in traditional activities.

For these consumers, a low glycaemic carbohydrate that has a lower impact on blood sugar levels is preferable, as it doesn’t just sustain energy, but also promotes fat burning, supporting weight loss goals.

BENEO’s Palatinose (isomaltulose) is a low glycaemic, fully digestible carbohydrate that has a balanced effect on blood sugar levels. It is proving popular with food and drink producers alike ­who are wanting to create sportified products, as it has a natural, mild sugar-like taste and sweetness.

Ideal for use in a wide range of sports nutrition products, Palatinose provides full carbohydrate energy in a sustained way, eliminating unwanted “boost and crash” blood sugar spikes and it helps to burn fat more effectively. These physiological benefits make Palatinose ideal for use not only in products aimed at endurance athletes, but also for those targeted at regular actives and sportive eaters.

Putting it into practice

Specialists at the BENEO-Technology Center conduct regular recipe trials that undergo stringent sensorial evaluation to ensure that BENEO ingredients can deliver in terms of performance, taste and texture. In recent recipe formulation trials for a food concept that would appeal to sportive eaters, Palatinose was used to create a reduced glycaemic response chocolate almond drink that was also dairy free and high in fibre.

The result was a great tasting drink that benefitted from the right level of indulgence to appeal to sportive eaters, while delivering energy in a sustained way.

Thanks to the work of the BENEO-Technology Center, manufacturers can respond to this growing consumer interest in sportification, through the development of traditional looking foods that benefit from a sportified reformulation.

Sports nutrition has evolved beyond elite athletes and now, thanks to Palatinose, there is a functional carbohydrate available to meet the needs of the sportive eater as well.

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