Sports nutrition: Shining light on the white space in the female supplement industry

By Danielle Masterson

- Last updated on GMT

© Getty Images / microgen
© Getty Images / microgen

Related tags Sports nutrition female athletes Supplements

The dietary supplement industry is missing huge opportunities by ignoring female athletes.

“There is an enormous untapped market. And the funny thing is, we know that women are the purchasers for everybody. And we’re really not giving them anything to buy. So they do buy because they want things to buy, they’re looking for solutions. But then they drop them because they don’t do anything for them. There’s an impression that women won’t stick with supplements, but I think that’s because they don’t work,”​ says Dr. Susan Kleiner, a PhD nutritionist who advises high-profile female athletes. 

Kleiner says the industry is getting it wrong before supplements are even formulated.  “Less than a third of the subjects in sports nutrition studies are women. In many of those studies, they blended the data, because they said it was no different. But the problem is, without seeing it, without publishing it separately, we don’t see a body of evidence. It would behoove some of these big brands to start to really fund some labs to do some female-specific research, even if the data comes up that in whatever this testing is, it’s no different than a male athlete. We’d like to at least know that.” 

[Dr Kleiner will discuss the topic of the female athlete at the upcoming NutraIngredients-USA Webinar, White Spaces and Influencers: Winning in a Crowded Sports Nutrition Marketplace. ​For more information and to register for FREE, please click HERE.​]

Strong is the new sexy 

Kleiner points to messaging as another problem. She says all too often, the bottle promises everything but performance. “Women don’t want a product that says it’s fat burning and will make you sexy. That’s a turn off. They don’t want to hear anything is ‘the new sexy.’ That has nothing to do with physical performance in their sport. So the marketing, the branding, everything is wrong.”

Endurance racer Morgan Porzsolt-Graves agrees. The Michigan native has been on the hunt for the right supplement to fuel her marathons since she began running seven years ago. “It feels like most things marketed toward women show more concern for packaging and label design than they do for actual ingredients to improve performance. My Instagram and Facebook feeds are full of advertisements for supplements marketed toward women. Unfortunately, it seems like they are trying to sell their rainbow, iridescent packaging harder than the actual benefits of the supplement.” 

Running from an untapped market

The popularity of ultramarathons and other intense sports has increased in recent years, and so has the interest in nutrition and mechanics of how the body handles these extreme situations. 

“I am not some girly-girl who wants a strawberry mojito BCAA mix. I train hard! I lift with a trainer and train for endurance races. I am strong and I work hard toward the goals I set for myself. The message should be about empowering women to be their best, not about which bottle looks the prettiest. I'm not saying that those kinds of things make for a bad product but they don't personally sell me on the fact that they have a winning product. Just a great design team. I truly just want something that works. Give me an endurance drink that carries me through a marathon or a recovery drink so I can sit down without assistance the day after a hard workout,” says Porzsolt-Graves. 

Porzsolt-Graves running the New York Marathon in 2018

Despite all the momentum behind high profile, world-class female athletes such as Megan Rapinoe, Simone Biles, and Serena Williams, the industry continues to ignore females and fail to develop a supplement tailored to meet the needs of these athletes. Instead, companies resort to “pinking and shrinking.”

Kleiner says it’s a formula she’s all-too-familiar with: “They lower calories, they make something that they call a ‘fat burner’, they make sure its low-carb and probably some kind of stimulant, and that’s what they market as their sports nutrition for women.”

Girl power = purchase power 

Women and their prominent space in the supplement industry are a force to be reckoned with. At home, women act as the “chief purchasing officer,” making 80% of the purchase decisions. When combined with the $40 billion dietary supplement industry, one could argue that women are the most important target audience. Women unquestionably have the most buying power. As a result of this underrepresentation, the market is failing their own pocketbooks and a huge chunk of their audience. 

Sports Nutrition Summit 2020

Susan Kleiner, PhD, will give a presentation on the female athlete / consumer at the second annual NutraIngredients-USA Sports Nutrition Summit in San Diego, February 3-5, 2020. 

For more information and to register, please click HERE​.

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