Performance enhancement is likely to become a major issue in the UK in the run-up to the 2012 London Olympic Games. The inquiry, Human Enhancement Technologies (HETs) in Sport is being conducted by the Science and Technology Committee, which is inviting written evidence on the potential for different HETs, including drugs, genetic modification and technological devices, which could be used legally or otherwise for enhancing sporting performance, either now or at some time in the future.
It is also inviting submissions on steps that could be taken to minimise the use of illegal HETs; the case for allowing the use of different HETs in sport and the role of the public, government and parliament in influencing regulatory framework for their use; and the state of UK research and skills base underpinning the development of new HETs amd technologies that enable them to be detected.
Chris Whitehouse, MD of The Whitehouse Consultancy, told NutraIngredients.com that the inquiry is of relevance to sports nutrition companies since many of the leading products in this area are based on cutting edge technology and can deliver real benefits for sportsmen and women.
He is urging involvement from the sector: "Sports nutrition companies must engage with the process so that they can seize the positive opportunities it affords, whilst making sure that any false allegations about contamination in sports nutrition products are addressed."
He added that, in the past, there have been problems over doping issues but that mainstream sports nutrition has cleaned up its act in recent issues.
"Many specialist sports nutrition products have come out of the back streets and onto the high street," he said, and these high street products are taken by competitive sportspeople with impunity.
He believes that the London Olympics also hold major opportunities for the sports nutrition industry to get its message across.
If companies act in good time, responsibly, and by working with the authorities, the Olympics "could be the biggest marketing opportunity in the history of the industry," he said.
Dr Steve Carey, chair of the European Specialist Sports Nutrition Alliance (ESSNA) and resident nutritionalist for UK TV show Celebrity Fit Club pointed out that the London games will be the first Olympics in the northern hemisphere since Barcelona in 1992, at which time the sports nutrition industry was still in its infancy.
"Sports nutrition has changed dramatically in the past five years. It came from a background in hardcore body building, and has now moved mainstream," he told NutraIngredients.com.
While ESSNA does not advocate sports nutrition in place of a sensible balanced diet, he said that sports are recognising the role of nutrition in performance and that sports nutrition has an ever increasing role as part of overall food intake.
And there are times when specialist products can be better than ordinary foods; for example, after exercise it is better to consume simple sugar and easily digestible protein than, say, a chicken sandwich.
Dr Carey is also nutrition director for the Rugby Football Union, and fulfils a similar advisory role for cricket. He said that the opportunities for sports nutrition lie in products being safely endorsable by sporting bodies.
In the past the advice might have been not to use sports nutrition products since they may show up in anti-doping tests, but that advice is now changing and organisations and companies are working together to develop kite-market products.
"All the companies that ESSNA represents are looking for a common pathway with EU legislation."
As for the Commons Select Committee inquiry, Dr Carey said that nutrition is one of the less controversial HETs, alongside drugs and gene therapy.
He expects that it will "highlight that sports nutrition is on the right side of the fence, and there are a whole load of other things that are on the wrong side".
A market report published by Mintel in September 2005 valued the UK sports nutrition market at £207 m (€301.9 m) - growth of 122.6 per cent since 2001 - with drinks playing a particularly dominant role.
Guidance on submissions to the Commons Select Committee is available at http://www.parliament.uk/comons/selcom/witguide.htm. The deadline for submissions is May 22 2006.