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The evolution from ‘Sports’ to ‘Active’ nutrition

Article-The evolution from ‘Sports’ to ‘Active’ nutrition

Older active consumers
Understanding how category shifts and consumer perceptions are opening opportunities for product development to serve the mood, energy, digestive and immune space.

The consumer of sports and performance products was once thought to be a competitive athlete or body builder, a person with specific needs for strength, performance, recovery, physical appearance, or focus. These aspects are still in demand, although the need is for more than just athletic occasions. The terminology ‘active nutrition’ supports the development of more inclusive solutions. The active nutrition space of today takes a broader approach, welcoming consumers from varying lifestyles and stages. In fact, a reported 53% of the global population is classified as active nutrition consumers.1 On top of that, 56% of global consumers say they use sports drinks as an everyday product to help them get through the day.2 As the category continues to evolve, consumers are seeking products to help them look and feel better, including supporting mood and focus, sustained energy and hydration, as well as immune function and digestive support.

Mood boost

After years of escalated stress and uncertainty, many people are growing more comfortable prioritising their emotional wellness. In Europe, 51% of consumers are more aware of the need to support their emotional well-being as a result of COVID-19.3 Consumers are increasingly concerned with holistic wellness solutions that support their mind and body. At the same time, scientific research continues to explore connections between the human brain and the microbiome, referred to as the gut-brain axis. For instance, researchers at the University of Oxford recently published results from a clinical trial that examined changes in psychological processing and measurements of low mood using a microbiome product.4 Such discoveries have exciting implications for the active nutrition space. For example, 33% of European consumers are making greater efforts to seek out food and drink with added functional ingredients as a result of COVID-19.5 Beverages, bars and snacks present a huge opportunity for product developers to meet consumers’ holistic wellness demands, including mood, mental alertness, immune function support, fitness recovery and more.

Digestive and gut support

Consumer awareness of the gut microbiome is growing, and research shows that the top three attributes consumers in the U.K. associate with probiotics are gut health, overall well-being, and immune function support.6 Understandably, ingredients like -biotics, fibre and botanicals are gaining popularity, as consumers associate them with various wellness attributes. ADM research shows that prebiotic fibre is the number one ingredient consumers want to add to their diets for reasons like support for digestion, weight management and satiety.7 Furthermore, innovative microbial strains that remain stable through harsh processing conditions, such as postbiotics and spore-forming probiotics, are opening the door to a vast range of applications. From gummy vitamins and nutrition bars to hydration beverages and stick packs, brands are incorporating biotics into a host of active nutrition offerings.

Holistic well-being

Consumer lifestyle shifts linked to the pandemic point to a more proactive approach to health and well-being. Over half (57%) of European consumers are more conscious of the need to lead a healthy lifestyle due to COVID-19,3 and 42% of European consumers state they are trying to lose weight.3 For those who say they have exercised more in the last two years, their top exercise-related product purchases in the last six months include protein, sport and energy bars, and high-protein ready-to-drink (RTD) beverages.1 Active nutrition shoppers appear to be agnostic on the type of protein in their products—plant, milk, whey and protein blends all have potential in this market category.

Another big player in the holistic wellness space is botanicals. These familiar and closer-to-nature ingredients can provide intriguing sensory profiles and may contain consumer-desired nutrients depending on usage amounts, such as naturally sweet carob that contains fibre, or fruity açai berries with vitamin C. Other popular options for the active nutrition category include green coffee or guarana that offer caffeine, acerola and vitamin C, and beetroot for certain minerals. Purposefully pairing botanical ingredients with biotics, protein, fibre and other functional ingredients can differentiate active nutrition offerings like shakes, granola and yogurt, enticing consumers with highly tailored solutions.

Hydration on-the-go

Hydration is a hallmark of the sports nutrition category, with formulations that also include important nutrients to support efficient recovery. Everyday consumers also have a need for hydration-plus beverages, as many people turn to energy drinks to sustain them through work, school, and extracurricular activities. ADM research shows that reference to electrolytes on product packs are the most sought-out claim by younger consumers.7 Functional ingredients from natural sources are key to meet this need, including offerings like coconut water or hibiscus powder. As the active nutrition space matures, an emerging growth area is isotonic beverages. These sports drinks quickly replace fluids lost through sweating and supply a combination of electrolytes, vitamins, minerals, and carbohydrates to help replenish the body. Isotonic beverages are convenient for anyone to add to their daily routine, delivering the refreshment, taste and functionality consumers want.

Value-based consumption

Today’s consumers have high expectations: they want their health and wellness purchases to not only benefit themselves, but also their communities and the environment. For example, 61% of European active nutrition consumers associate natural ingredient claims with perceived healthfulness of a product.1 Moreover, research shows that over half of sports nutrition shoppers believe most nutrition and performance drinks contain too many artificial ingredients,7 signifying both athletes and general consumers alike are drawn to products that boast clean and clear labels. As more people are driven by what they value, active nutrition brands can capture the attention of conscientious consumers with foods and beverages that deliver on evolving wellness demands while also featuring recognisable ingredients on product packs.

Forward motion

In the current market, active nutrition products are attracting shoppers beyond traditional athletes. Furthermore, the global specialised nutrition market is projected to grow 20% by 2026.8 This broad range of consumers has an array of needs to be fulfilled. They’re seeking convenient drinks and snacks that help them recharge, rehydrate and replenish key nutrients. Active nutrition consumers are also more aware of the role functional ingredients can play in their overall well-being, whether that’s protein, fibre, botanicals, or -biotics. This awareness is giving rise to the positive nutrition segment, meaning calorie-controlled foods and beverages, such as meal-replacement drinks. Boasting convenience, nutrition and less waste, positive nutrition products are a growing opportunity with the younger demographic.

Millennials and Gen Z consumers are increasingly interested in the role of nutrition in supporting health and well-being, and their purchasing behaviours are shaping the future of the active nutrition market. Brands can meet their needs head-on with the help of a partner that has a global and reliable ingredient supply and the technical expertise to put that portfolio to work. With that foundation, active nutrition product developers will have what it takes to win with consumers.

Andreas Petrick ADM.jpgAndreas Petrik is the director of category marketing – Specialized Nutrition (EMEA) at ADM. Andreas joined ADM in 2021 and has over 20 years’ B2C marketing experience in human nutrition segments, in particular OTC (over the counter), sports nutrition and lifestyle diets. Based in Heidelberg, Germany, Andreas leads the category marketing for specialized nutrition throughout the EMEA region. Previously, he was head of marketing at Active Nutrition International, responsible for the European branch of brands like PowerBar, Dymatize and Premier Protein.



1. FMCG Gurus, Overview of the Sports Nutrition Market and the Growth of the Active Nutrition Consumer, October 2021

2. FMCG Gurus, Sports Nutrition vs Active Nutrition, 2020

3. FMCG Gurus, How Has COVID-19 Changed Consumer Behavior, March 2021

4. Baião R et al. Psychological Medicine. 2022;1-11. DOI: 10.1017/S003329172100550X

5. FMCG Gurus, Health and Wellness: Positive Nutrition in 2022

6. ADM/Buzzback report, Microbiome Consumer Exploratory, 2021

7. ADM Outside Voice℠

8. Euromonitor, January 2022