The New Face of Sports Nutrition

By: Blake Powers on Apr 25, 2017

The sports nutrition industry, once geared narrowly towards elite athletes and bodybuilders, is expanding to reach new markets. As the baby boomer generation ages, active lifestyle trends grow, and more and more health-conscious consumers look for convenience products that suit their on-the-go schedules, the market for sports nutrition has broadened. An industry that used to speak almost entirely to serious male athletes aged 15 to 35 now courts older customers, female customers, casual athletes, and other consumers looking for products to boosting their health.

Today, the sports nutrition market includes not just competitive athletes, but people from all walks of life who are becoming increasingly active and health conscious. A recent Gallup survey1 found that Americans are exercising more often than they used to, and the 2015 Nielsen Global Health and Wellness Survey2 shows that consumers are increasingly focused on personal health and lifestyle issues, especially weight loss and maintenance through both diet and exercise. 

These healthy lifestyle trends have opened up opportunities for the sports nutrition industry, which is geared towards helping people use nutrition supplements to achieve peak performance potential. The business is now focused on improving nutritional intake for both athletes and casual exercisers to boost not only performance, endurance, and muscle growth, but also general health and well-being. As a result, consumer demand is growing for performance food and beverage products. Here are some valuable insights that can help food and beverage manufacturers capitalize on these trends.

How Is the Market Changing?

According to Natural Products Insider3, young, male athletes and bodybuilders make up the base market for sports nutrition products, but these days they only account for about 5 percent of sales in the category. The industry is evolving from one that serves niche athletes to one geared for a wider range of consumers.

One of the factors driving these changes in the market is the aging of the baby boomer population. Born between 1946 and 1964, boomers are now between 52 and 70 years old and, according to the Population Reference Bureau4, they’re reshaping the older population. Boomers — and there are a lot of them — are getting older and beginning to retire, but they still want to live active, long, and healthy lives. Unlike their predecessors, boomers are inclined to include fitness activities in their daily lives well past middle age. As a result, they’re looking for convenience products that can help boost their energy, maintain youthfulness, and prevent injuries. 

Recent data suggests5 that bone, joint, and muscle health and maintenance are top concerns for this group. These concerns, in particular, are driving them to seek products that are high in protein and designed to boost bone and joint health and prevent muscle deterioration. 

Custom nutrient premixesThe female market is another major growth area for the sports nutrition industry. More and more women are adopting new exercise programs geared towards building muscle and improving overall fitness as opposed to maintaining a slim figure. As a result, women are looking for more targeted performance enhancing supplements, but they don’t want to settle for products made for men. They want products that take their special needs and wants into account — products that are convenient, healthy, and delicious while at the same time helping them to achieve their fitness goals. Personalized performance products containing custom nutrient premixes can help food and beverage manufacturers better meet the needs of this growing market segment.

As more and more consumers continue to embrace the healthy living trend, men and women of all ages who are looking to lose weight make up another market-driving consumer segment. This group seeks sports nutrition products that boost their energy, motivation, and metabolism while also curbing their appetites. 

What Do Consumers Want?

These growing market segments are driving the expansion of the sports nutrition industry, and they have a lot in common. Consumers, in general, are savvier than ever before. They have access to more information about what they're putting into their bodies, and they share a desire for healthy products containing tested ingredients, as well as products that are convenient to use and help to enhance their active lifestyles. 

According to recent data6, aging consumers may be most concerned with things like maintaining bone health and preventing sarcopenia (age-related loss of muscle mass and strength). Products to address these concerns are high in protein, leucine, and omega-3 fatty acids. They are under-represented in the market, offering a significant growth opportunity for food and beverage manufacturers. Ingredients that soothe or prevent joint pain, reduce cholesterol, and boost energy may also appeal to this consumer segment.

The growing market of younger female consumers wants products targeted towards women that support their active lifestyles with all-natural ingredients, superior quality, and great flavor. Products that boost energy, help to lose or maintain weight, and boost muscle tone may be especially appealing to women.

Overweight consumers represent one of the most underserved areas of the market. Products that boost metabolism and aid with satiety, and, in particular, products that are high in protein and fiber and low in sugar and other carbs, may appeal to this market. 

Today’s most popular performance products include:

High-protein performance beverages7, like Coca-Cola’s Core Power and Core Power Elite dairy-based sports recovery beverages and Hormel’s Muscle Milk Protein Smoothie yogurt shakes and Muscle Milk Coffee House protein shakes. Mainstream retailers are getting in on this craze, too, from Safeway’s LucernPlus Protein to Sprout Foods Morning Protein Smoothies, Dean Foods’ TruMoo Protein Milks, and others.

Coconut water8 is increasingly seen as a natural alternative to mainstream energy drinks. Made from young, fresh coconuts, coconut water is generally unsweetened and additive-free, delivers the isotonic benefits of a sports drink, and also provides calcium, magnesium, and potassium.

Performance bars9 continue to drive growth in the food-as-fuel market. Mainstream cereal bars now come with performance-enhancing ingredients, while bars once marketed to the specialty sports market are dabbling in trendy new flavors to position themselves in the general healthy food category and appeal to a wider audience. 

Protein-enhanced bars10, which contain dairy or plant protein, are popular with consumers who want to boost their protein intake to help with weight management, muscle mass, and increased energy. 

How to Stay Connected to Sports Nutrition Consumers

The sports nutrition sector continues to expand and diversify. There is no longer a narrowly defined “typical” sports nutrition consumer, but there are a few distinguishable categories: “Hardcore” endurance athletes and bodybuilders, casual athletes, and “lifestyle” consumers who are not necessarily interested in sports, but use sports nutrition to improve their general health and wellness. 

This expansion of the market represents a huge opportunity for growth, but also comes with the risk of alienating core users, price pressure, and potential channel conflict. These risks can be successfully navigated through creative solutions such as creating customized products for particular channels using different brand names, or focusing on a specialty market segment. 

Smart manufacturers are developing products to respond to the concerns of a wider range of consumers. Designing products geared towards women, older people looking to boost their energy or maintain bone and muscle health, people who are overweight, or those simply looking to manage their metabolism can help manufacturers tap into these growing market segments. 


In general, the sports nutrition sector continues to develop and diversify, particularly in terms of target market. While the base market of elite athletes and body builders remains, continuing growth in other market segments — women, aging baby boomers, people who are overweight, casual athletes, and lifestyle fitness enthusiasts — represent major marketing opportunities for producers. Experts foresee the most growth in these areas of the market. Thanks to these and other market developments, the sports nutrition industry is booming. 

Are you interested in learning more about how you can capitalize on some of these recent trends by customizing your products to meet consumer needs? Click to watch our video on choosing a supplier for Custom Nutrient Premixes for additional insights.


1 Rebecca Riffkin, "So Far in 2015, More Americans Exercising Frequently," Gallup, as of July 29, 2015

2 Neilsen, "Younger Consumers Endorse Healthy Foods With A Willingness To Pay A Premium," as of February 4, 2015

3 Mark Mather, "Fact Sheet: Aging in the United States," Population Reference Bureau, as of January 2016

4 Heidi Rosenberg, "Sports Nutrition: Four Mainstream Consumer Segments Driving Category Growth," Natural Products Insider, as of March 15, 2015

5 Scripps, "Health challenges facing the nation's largest generation and how to reduce your risks," as of October 15, 2015

6 Sean Moloughney, "Healthy Aging: Maintaining Vitality Over Time," Nutraceuticals World, as of September 1, 2016

7 Donna Berry, "Protein on trend in R.-T.-D. beverages," Food Business News, as of June 24, 2016

8 Global Food Forums, "2016 Food Trends, as of 2016

9 Dr. Robert Brown, et al., "Nutritional bars trend from sweet to savory," Packaged Facts, as of March 30, 2015

10 Robin Wyers, "Healthy Snacks & Bars: Fresh Opportunities for Growth," Nutraceuticals World, as of January 5, 2016