Survey reveals sports nutrition preferences of athletes and active consumers

By Nikki Hancocks

- Last updated on GMT

Getty | OlegPhotoR
Getty | OlegPhotoR

Related tags sports exercise

A transition towards a food-first approach to health has lead to consumer enthusiasm for functional food and drink with a focus on muscle recovery, endurance, and strength enhancement, according to a newly published survey of active young adults.

Sport and exercise nutrition is a rapidly growing sector, with the global market valued at $40 billion USD in 2021 and projected to grow annually by 8.5% between 2022 and 2030​ creating an increasing demand for evidence-based nutritional products to support competitive and healthy lifestyles.

Yet a considerable issue that has plagued the sports nutrition industry has been the non-science backed nutrition products arriving into the market with spurious efficacy claims, according to a recent survey report in 'Frontiers in Sports and Active Living'​.

The authors, from the School of Food and Nutritional Sciences, University College Cork, Ireland, say development of an evidence base to enable and underpin new product development strategy is essential to support the forthcoming growth in this sector and to tackle the challenge of credibility of product claims within this sector.

"The product development process for novel foods should rely heavily on end-user engagement to facilitate future success, however there is a dearth of published information available," the report notes. "An understanding of the practices and self-reported nutritional priorities of athletes and active individuals is required for the development of new food products, facilitating evidence-based product formulation."

The researchers argue there is a "complete dearth" of scientific knowledge investigating athletes and active individuals' preference for sensory characteristics of sports nutrition food products.

They therefore conducted cross-sectional research with an overarching objective to inform key priorities and design elements for future new product development through assessment of current practices, perceived nutritional priorities and product preferences of athletes and active individuals.

The resulting data leads them to conclude that active consumers are calling out for evidence-based functional foods, particularly with a focus on muscle recovery, endurance, and strength enhancement.

The survey

A total of 405 University College Cork students (164 female, 241 male, 29 ± 9 years) undertaking competitive sport or actively participating in a form of physical activity program on at least two occasions per week were recruited as participants.

Fifty-eight percent of participants reported taking nutritional supplements. Multivitamins were the most commonly reported supplement used for health and wellbeing while protein supplements were the most commonly used exercise-related supplements. Forty three percent of participants reported using bioactive functional foods as part of their nutritional routine to improve exercise performance or recovery. 

When asked to rank their top three most sought-after product claims in sports nutrition, “enhanced muscular recovery” was the most prioritised receiving 101 first choice preferences (25%) and 295 top three preferences. 

Caffeine containing functional foods (excluding caffeine supplements) were the most commonly used functional food group. A very low incidence of functional food usage was reported otherwise.

When asked to rank the importance of various food product attributes, “nutritional profile” was ranked as the most important with rating of 3.37 ± 0.7 out of 4 followed by “taste” and “accessibility”. Whole food nutritional products received the most first preference selections and most top 3 selections when presented with a number of popular performance and recovery products on the market.

The number of hours of activity per week the consumer took part in had no significant impact on the importance of taste, nutritional profile, ease of preparation, ease of access or sustainability.

However, participants reporting less than 10 hours per week of activity were more like to choose a product based on price than someone undertaking greater than 10 hours per week. 

Source: Frontiers in Sports and Active Living

"Nutritional priorities, practices and preferences of athletes and active individuals in the context of new product development in the sports nutrition sector"

Authors: Carey. C.C., Doyle. L., and Lucey. A.,

Related topics Research

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