The global sports nutrition market was worth €11.1 billion and Europe saw growth of more than 12 percent. While the rise of sports nutrition has undoubtedly been a success story, the industry has faced plenty of controversy and Dr Susan Kleiner, acclaimed scientist and nutrition consultant to the Women’s NBA team Seattle Storm and Women’s football team Seattle Reign FC, weighed in on one of the largest: gender inequality in sports nutrition.
Do men and women need different sports nutrition? The initial answer would be no: if a person wants to build lean mass, increase power or shed body fat, they need to follow a structured training programme regardless of whether they possess a Y chromosome – the same goes for sports nutrition. Gender has no bearing on needing to stay hydrated, support training or to recover and while dosage might need to be adjusted to take bodyweight or composition into account – ultimately, everyone needs protein, carbohydrates, antioxidants, etc. However, there’s a huge discrepancy in the amount of research into male and female sports nutrition and Dr Kleiner says, just because the data we have now says men and women need the same thing, doesn’t mean it’s accurate. She likes to say, women are not men with hormone issues, and explains the misconceptions arise because there is a ‘kernel of truth’ in that when women exercise at high-intensity, their muscle physiology is like a man’s, and the nutritional demands for that muscle is very similar. However, when women train at moderate to low intensity, their needs are different and change over a monthly cycle. Dr Kleiner explains it’s much easier to conduct research on men because there’s no need to account for a menstrual cycle.
Dr Kleiner says typical sports nutrition products are not designed for the goals a female athlete has; rather, they’re commonly targeted as weight loss products. An athlete’s goal is to be the best at their sport and ‘skinny and sexy does not fit anywhere in that ambition’, she continues. However, for a professional female athlete, looking a certain way must be a main focus to attract sponsorship. It’s unsurprising then there seems to be a lot of scepticism surrounding the sports nutrition industry for female products.
Despite this, Dr Kleiner has a positive outlook for the sports nutrition industry. She says women are coming together to research and advocate for products that will enhance their sporting performance, both physically and mentally. She calls for more female scientists, for more successful female athletes to get involved and for women who have experience in the industry to step up.
Ultimately, sports nutrition for women is currently a marketing ploy. Pink packaging, no product development and no consideration for a woman’s unique needs are not the products female athletes deserve. Women don’t need a softly-softly approach and they certainly don’t need even more diet industry nonsense reinforcing low self-confidence and poor body image. The sports nutrition industry needs to remember the female athletes desperate for proper nutrition, research, engagement and intelligent education.
To hear the full interview with Dr Susan Kleiner, listen to this podcast.
To learn more about sports nutrition, download the Digital Magazine: The Evolving Sports Nutrition Market.