special edition: sports nutrition

EU sports segment hurdles: Health claims and categorisation

By Annie Harrison-Dunn

- Last updated on GMT

If creatine hadn’t got an approved health claim, sports fanatics wouldn’t care, according to an analyst
If creatine hadn’t got an approved health claim, sports fanatics wouldn’t care, according to an analyst

Related tags Sports nutrition Nutrition

Hard core sports nutrition users don’t care about health claims, according to an analyst, but industry associations say its members have approval in their sights.

A spokesperson for the European Specialist Sports Nutrition Alliance (ESSNA) - members including First Milk, Maximuscle, Grenade and Glanbia - said the ability to make such claims was key in restoring faith in the much-marred sector, but it was important that specific needs of sports people were taken into account in assessment. 

Director general of the British Specialist Nutrition Association (BSNA), Roger Clarke, told us that members of the trade group were currently preparing several health claims including one for carbohydrates, saying while he thought the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) was best placed to do this, fears around political and 'emotional' interference on the part of member states remain.  

Meanwhile consumer health analyst for Euromonitor International, Chris Schmidt, told NutraIngredients hard core sports nutrition users were a savvy, forum-frequenting bunch for whom EU-approved health claims meant next-to-nothing.

Specialising in legislation

Clarke said the BSNA welcomed the potential for sports nutrition products to transition out of the current PARNUTS​ (foods for particular nutritional uses) system and be brought under the remit of the EU nutrition and health claims regulation (NHCR).

ESSNA told us the main challenge in sports nutrition industry was how to avoid over-regulation whilst having the specific needs of sports people recognised within general food law. But it said this need not mean further regulation.

“The biggest challenge here is to effectively enforce the legislation in place - there is a lot of it. Policy makers believe the answer to a crisis is more regulation but the real answer is applying the law and that means investment by government. In times of austerity it seems enforcement takes a back seat and as such self-regulation becomes a significantly important issue and in that respect ESSNA and its members are beginning to take on this role,” ​the group said.

Building reputation

ESSNA said another challenge facing the sector was improving public perception of the industry, particularly given the, “misconceptions that still surround the sports nutrition sector amongst some politicians, officials and other bodies in charge of setting the regulatory framework”.

It said: “ESSNA seeks to improve the reputation of sports nutrition sector by working with regulators and taking steps to disassociate responsible brands from those few that tarnish its reputation.” 

The group said that claims were crucial in their ability to allow firms to lawfully promise safety, performance and recovery benefits to consumers. “Health claims legislation has an extremely important impact on the sports nutrition sector. The legislation seeks to ensure that misleading claims are banned, which should increase consumer safety and protection and build long-term trust in sports supplements."

Unmoved meat heads

Schmidt said he did not see the issue of health claims as a key challenge for the sector, particularly since “fanatical users”​ were the type to seek out their advice online, as opposed to waiting for a judgement from an authority like EFSA. He said these claims were only likely to sway more casual sports nutrition users. 

“They’re not looking for these claims – they’re already aware of the product’s functionality,”​ he said. “If creatine hadn’t got an approved health claim, they wouldn’t care."

“I don’t really think the EFSA health claims rubric is that big an issue for the sports nutrition segment.”

Schmidt said many of the big category ingredients like protein already held approved claims, and those that didn’t used specific “jargon”​ like “pumped”​ which would not ostensibly fall within the realms of this regulation. He said it was hard to say if this kind of communication would be policed under the EU nutrition and health claims regulation (NHCR).

To date there are 24 sport nutrition-related health claims approved within the EU, as listed in the graph below.

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