However, an increasing number of ex-athletes are now seeking to address the nutritional shortfalls encountered during their careers by taking on the task of product research and development.
That is certainly the case for Lucy Colquhoun, an ex-GB and Scotland athlete, who is the founder of Gutzi Foods, a start-up committed to developing a range of nutritionally balanced sports gels and bars that better meet the demands of professional athletes.
Speaking to NutraIngredients ahead of this month’s Sports Nutrition Congress, Colquhoun said, “My primary motivation is to create sports food which tastes good and provides an alternative to the sugary, sweet products commonly available.
“Like many athletes, I used to crave savoury flavours and real ingredients, and the usual energy bars and gels would make me feel sick. I'm determined that sports food can taste nice as well as performing well.”
Gutzi is a direct result of Colquhoun’s experiences as an athlete, where she describes how ill she would become from ingesting an excess of gels and sugary bars.
As an endurance athlete, Colquhoun’s preference was for savoury-based food to fuel her training sessions and performances during competition.
Although not a sports nutritionist, she understood the importance of nutrition and distinguishing between what was real from what was a passing fad.
“Take the current craze for protein, for example - it's great for recovery but you don't need it while running. Energy from carbohydrates is far more important.”
“Having a wide network of fellow athletes also gives me easy access to market testing and very honest feedback.”
Just heard that we’ve won a place to the Sports Nutrition Congress next month as a Trailblazer company. Programme packed full of great speakers, can’t wait. And no, don’t worry, this isn’t the next flavour of Gutzi snack, just a geographical clue. pic.twitter.com/ZrTaNqkMhf— Gutzi Foods (@Gutzifoods) August 7, 2018
Along with Belgium start-up Hiddit and German outfit Isaac Nutrition, Gutzi Foods form the trio of firms to feature in the Congress’ Trailblazer session.
This discussion will be a chance for these companies to present their innovations and approaches to the sports and active nutrition market.
Want to attend our Sports Nutrition Congress in September this year?
Organised by NutraIngredients and hosted in partnership with the European Specialist Sports Nutrition Alliance (ESSNA), the SNC will offer a one stop shop for the latest must-have insights in the worlds of sports and active nutrition - including the use of ketones in sports.
Top levels speakers already confirmed to join us in Brussels include:
- Florina-Andreea Pantazi, European Commission
- Daniel Davy, Leinster Rugby
- Orla O’Sullivan, APC Microbiome Institute
- Robert Walker, SCI-MX Nutrition
- Professor Kieran Clarke, University of Oxford
- João Gonçalo Cunha, KickUP Sports Innovation
- Pia Ostermann, Euromonitor International
- Katia Merten-Lentz, Keller and Heckman LLP
- Adam Carey, ESSNA Chair
- Alex Zurita, London Sport
- Professor John Brewer, St Mary’s University
- Tom Morgan, Lumina Intelligence
- Luca Bucchini, Hylobates Consulting & ESSNA Vice-Chair
Together with expert innovators and investors, the Trailblazers will discuss the consumer trends and technologies they are tapping into and shine a spotlight on some of the opportunities (and pitfalls) that are out there.
One opportunity that Colquhoun is eager to explore is the various ways Gutzi can sustainably produce its range in an affordable, environmentally responsible manner, with the product’s green packaging credentials very much in the firm’s thoughts.
“Wrappers have not been seen as environmental problems because they are a lot smaller than more obvious culprits such as big plastic bottles,” Colquhoun said.
“But the sudden growth in awareness of plastic contamination has spilled over into sports nutrition, and consumers are more educated and demanding about the products they buy.”
“Also, most endurance athletes spend the majority of their time outside and value the countryside, so don't want to see it spoiled by gel wrappers everywhere.”
Carb-rich and gut-friendly
The quest to create a carbohydrate-rich, natural, gut-friendly, long-life ambient product is one pursued by many a start-up and indeed some of the larger food makers in the sports nutrition space.
Notable players include the UK’s Battle Oats, Rawvelo and Human Food, while the US is represented by Nevada-based Rowdy Prebiotic Foods and Glanbia-owned ThinkThin.
Despite the number of active participants, the creation of such products is by no means a straightforward process. To date, nothing has surpassed the cost-effectiveness and rapid delivery of sugars and its ability to refuel the human body.
“There are various factors at play: for one thing, sugar is cheap,” Colquhoun said. “It's easy to make products using maltodextrin, glucose etc. and price margins are high.”
“Sugars also play a vital preservative role, so if you want to reduce or eliminate sugar you need to find an alternative solution to shelf-life. Sugar is also a binding agent, and by creating recipes without any sugars, (including fruits such as dates), you create an added challenge of getting the product to stick together.
“Current sports foods tend to be cereal bars, jellies or gels, all of which rely heavily on sugar for taste, energy source, binding and preservatives. And they're popular, so while manufacturers may be aware of a demand for savoury flavours, the practicality of delivering functional, appetising products at a realistic price is probably too big a hurdle.”
Colquhoun and Gutzi Foods are now engaged in a period of product refinement with finding a solution to the shelf life and consistency of the Gutzi bite product the next step.
“Once we have a workable recipe we can launch, then grow our audience base beyond the UK and extend product range to different flavours.
“In parallel, we plan to conduct manufacturing trials of the savoury 'power pouch' and raise funds to start full production, subject to further market testing. Our aim is to be the world's most popular savoury sports food brand.”