WATCH: Navigating sports nutrition's biggest regulatory hurdles

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

Sports nutrition remains one of the most innovative and forward thinking sectors in the food and nutrition industry. However, like all new sectors, the speed of new products coming to market threaten to overtake legislation designed to maintain standards.

NutraIngredients also spoke to Dr. Christopher Zeppenfeld, founder of Swarm Protein, a company developing innovative sports nutrition with sustainable protein from insects.

Firstly, how far do you agree that current sports nutrition regulation is stifling innovation?  

I only partially agree. Regulation is a double-edged sword in any industry and market forces put up a lot of pressure to be innovative as consumers are always looking for the newest ingredients.

“I think that sports nutrition greatly benefits from being recognized under general food law, specifically under the Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation.

“This helps to level the playing field when it comes to impact-related statements geared to attract consumers. However, it is important that the rules are also enforced for companies pushing on the EU market from other jurisdictions to prevent an unfair advantage and consumer confusion.”

The speed of new products coming to market threatens to overtake legislation. How can both sides keep pace and work with each other?

“Communication is key. It is important that regulators recognize athletes as having specific nutritional needs which may require formulations that are not intentioned to be consumed by the general public (think of extra sodium for example).

“However, this difference between athletes and the mainstream consumer must also be accepted by the industry when developing and marketing these products (e.g., choosing the maximum level of a given substance).

“In the end, products are bought not by the very elite but by regular people doing sports on a much less intense level. Companies should spend a lot of attention on appropriate labelling and engage in dialogue with the respective legislators before bringing a product on the market.”

Zeppenfield
Dr. Christopher Zeppenfeld, founder of Swarm Protein, a company developing innovative sports nutrition with sustainable protein from insects. ©ChristopherZeppenfeld

From a regulatory standpoint, what are the biggest challenges facing the sports nutrition category?

“Sports nutrition is marketed under specific promises towards the consumers. You buy a product because you think it makes you stronger, leaner or bulkier.

“However, such statements are often not permitted under EU law. Industry and regulators should work hand in hand here to protect consumers from unverified nutrition and health claims on the one hand and offer meaningful context about the product and its purposes on the other hand.”

How is the industry responding to increased scrutiny of ingredients and products in the sports nutrition category?

“Companies need to scrutinize their own supply chain more thoroughly and only buy from trustworthy suppliers to prevent fraud and adulteration. In addition, companies are getting more and more focused on facts in evaluating new ingredients before sourcing them.

“In addition, regulation has eased the path of bringing novel as well as traditional ingredients from third countries to market. 

“The recent revision of the Novel Food Law may thus have very wide-ranging consequences. Novel ingredients are estimated to come to market much faster. I think this can bring real benefits for both innovative companies and consumers alike.”

Finally, which sports nutrition ingredients should industry keep an eye on in 2019?

“Alternative proteins in general will push more and more into the sports nutrition industry. Ranging from Textured Vegetable Proteins (TVP) and algae over in-vitro meat to insect protein like that made available by Swarm Protein​. Alternative proteins will fuel the trend away from livestock-based protein sources.

“Here, sports nutrition is a natural market to start in as consumers are open for innovation and willing to try new ingredients.”

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