The upshift from sports to active

As consumers become more aware of their overall health and wellness, we are seeing an increase in both healthy eating and exercise

As a result of this growing interest in general wellness, the sports nutrition market has significantly evolved in just the past few years, and there has been outstanding growth in the variety of available products as well as the demographics that purchase them.

Sports nutrition, a category once geared towards weightlifters and professional athletes, has now expanded to average consumers looking for a more active lifestyle.

Although still popular categories amongst hardcore athletes, this shift from “sports nutrition” to “active nutrition” is escalating products beyond muscle building and performance enhancement.

We are seeing complementary categories that have a role in and out of exercise gain traction, such as energy, joint health and mental focus. And, because of its transition into the more mainstream market, we are seeing now conventional trends impact the sports nutrition segment — most significantly, clean label.

In sports nutrition, clean label still retains its traditional meaning: few, free-from and minimally processed ingredients. However, within a segment with a reputation for adulteration, it also means free from banned substances. This has influenced consumer interest and the use of plant-based ingredients in sports nutrition.

One such sports nutrition category that is being heavily impacted by clean label is energy.

Although traditional energy drinks are still popular (retail sales for the top-selling energy drink brand in the United States reached $11.7 billion in 2017), warnings from doctors about excessive caffeine intake, bad press about hospitalisations and deaths from energy drink consumption, and the holistic health and wellness movement, have led to a shift in the category.

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More brands are developing these beverages with organic and/or natural ingredients that are perceived to be better for you.

Consumers are specifically seeking natural sources of caffeine to help with stamina and endurance. In addition, consumers are also looking for a more active lifestyle and rapidly embracing the mental aspect of exercise.

Many endurance recovery products now include ingredients that aid cognition and focus. In fact, cognitive support is one of the fastest growing subsectors of sports nutrition.

Of course, a highly effective aid for mental energy and focus is caffeine. Consumers have countless choices when it comes to getting this stimulant and, again, they are increasingly looking for natural caffeine sources versus synthetic caffeine, such as yerba mate, guarana and guayusa.

Guayusa, one of the newest sources gaining popularity, is a leaf that’s native to South America; it is similar to green tea with natural polyphenols but without the bitter tannins that can turn consumers off from a flavour standpoint.

There is enormous potential for the natural and organic energy drink category; Grand View Market Research expects natural and organic energy drink sales to reach $32 billion by 2025, which accounts for nearly 38% of the market.

Adaptogens, such as ashwagandha, ginseng and maca, are also increasingly being incorporated into energy products. Adaptogens do not contain caffeine, but are rather traditional tonics or rejuvenators known to enable the body to adapt to both mental and physical stress.

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