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Science is key to unlocking the female sports nutrition market [Interview]

Article-Science is key to unlocking the female sports nutrition market [Interview]

© Vitafoods Insights Science is key to unlocking the female sports nutrition market [Interview with Dr Susan Kleiner]
Demand for evidence-based sports nutrition products, developed specifically for female athletes, is growing. At Vitafoods Europe, Dr Susan Kleiner will discuss how brands can tap into this market, and meet consumer needs.

Founder and owner of the consultancy High Performance Nutrition, Dr Susan Kleiner has been blazing trails in the sports nutrition innovation space for decades, working with elite athletes to improve performance and connecting cutting-edge research with product development.

I’ve been doing this for a while now, and I love it,” she says. “I completed my PhD in 1987 when the practice of sports nutrition was still really being pioneered. My area of focus was nutrition and muscle, strength and power, and at that time, my research was conducted almost exclusively with men.

Where’s the information?

In the 1990s, Kleiner began to familiarise herself with the world of bodybuilding, a fairly niche sport. She became aware that while largely dominated by men, women were also participating. Kleiner noted, however, a significant gap in available nutritional information for these women, as well as a lack of rigorous academic research.

In 1994, Kleiner moved to Washington State, where she became even more involved in female athletic nutritional needs. In the early 2000s, she began working with the Women’s National Basketball Association team the Seattle Storm, as well as the local female soccer team, the Seattle Reign. In these areas of sports as well, Kleiner found a paucity of nutritional information specifically targeted at women and girls.

There was just nothing,” she says. “Any nutritional product out there that was targeted at women tended to be about being smaller and skinnier. The message was that women shouldn’t have strength, power, speed and endurance. My business partner at the time coined the term ‘Pink it and Shrink it’ as the key message coming out of the industry.

The importance of communication

Since then, a key focus of Kleiner’s work has been to raise the profile of female sports nutrition needs, and to communicate these needs to industry. Another important element has been to underline the importance of rigorous research into female sports nutrition, which to date has been lacking.

I think in the last five years though, we have really seen an elevation of the science,” she says. “Work that has been going on for years is finally being published, providing foundational guidance on how studies into female biology should be conducted. More women are getting involved in industry and decision-making positions. It is slowly starting to change.

Why evidence-based data is so critical

At Vitafoods Europe, Kleiner plans to touch on her personal and professional journey, and look at the untapped potential in the female sports nutrition market. Capitalising on this will require investment in evidence-based nutrition. “There is so much opportunity out there, but people need to put their money where their mouth is,” she says. “They need to do the research.

One key area of focus, for example, is better understanding the menstrual cycle, and what happens to women’s bodies as they move into the peri-menopausal and menopausal stages of life. Kleiner notes that the peaks and valleys of the hormonal cycle affect every system of the body.

We need to speak with both elite athletes and active women,” she says. “We need to find ways of helping them to understand their bodies, and deliver appropriate sources of energy. And to do this we need evidence-based studies and performance data. If a woman is looking for something to improve her training or performance there is still very little out there that has evidence.

This, says Kleiner, should be seen as a golden opportunity. A focus on female performance-related research will give any brand a critical competitive advantage in tapping into this market.

Talk to consumers, and find out what they need,” she says. “Think about developing products that are easy and wholesome, but don’t try to throw the kitchen sink into one product. One ingredient like creatine, for example, can be massively multifunctional. You couldn’t have a more open template for creative design.

Kleiner will be delivering a session on optimising nutrition for female athletic performance at the Vitafoods Europe Conference Theatre 2024 under the Sports Nutrition and Active Lifestyle theme. A key focus will be on the International Society of Sports Nutrition’s recently published Position Stand on the Nutritional Concerns of the Female Athlete.