ESSNA on the latest developments in AI and sports nutrition

© EmirMemedovski / Getty Images
© EmirMemedovski / Getty Images

Related tags Sports nutrition AI

We’ve seen an increasing interest in Artificial Intelligence (Al) from sports and active nutrition businesses and consumers, and this has a twofold impact on the market as it can improve products, operations and customer experience, and athletes can use AI tools like ChatGPT to request information on nutrition and performance.

Decision makers are in the process of introducing legislation governing the use of AI. In this context, staying current on both industry and policy developments is critical for capitalising on emerging opportunities and addressing upcoming challenges.

However, the debate surrounding AI is constantly evolving, as is its significance in the sports and active nutrition sector. ESSNA has begun to investigate how sports nutrition and AI are linked, as well as the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead, particularly in light of the policy framework that is being developed—for the first time—in the European Union.    

AI and personalised nutrition: Challenges and opportunities

With research and science at the heart of the sports foods sector's growth, personalised nutrition and the transition from a one-size-fits-all model to products tailored to consumer need will continue to trend, with AI set to play a key role.

Businesses can use AI apps to analyse sensory data and consumer preferences to optimise product development and fine-tune their formulations and flavours. What’s more, as AI becomes more advanced and ‘deep learning’ tools capable of intelligent decisions become ubiquitous, so too does the possibility of generating unique assessments of consumers’ nutritional needs and analysing the effectiveness of ingredients to provide bespoke products and services.

AI can help companies produce tailored products based on individuals’ genetics, differences in nutrient processing and lifestyle patterns, allowing sportspeople to transcend biological limitations and optimise their performance. Beyond product development, companies can also use AI to expand their customer base with service-led solutions, providing meal plans, recipes and education.

While businesses can use AI to develop innovative solutions in personalised nutrition, tools such as ChatGPT and Bard that are already available to consumers are capable of providing dietary and exercise advice. This “guidance” however is often incomplete, not based on the latest research and even misleading.

For example, a test​ conducted by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) and a registered dietitian demonstrated that AI-generated nutritional guidelines can lead athletes to consume insufficient calories and carbohydrates, potentially undermining their performance and health.

As USADA and researchers have argued, nutrition and training plans are so individualised and vary from week to week that ChatGPT cannot account for such unique circumstances. Raising awareness of this issue and gaining a better understanding of how AI can be used to help consumers live healthier and more active lifestyles is critical for businesses and professionals in the sports and active nutrition industries. 

Using AI for marketing purposes

The sector of marketing and communications is among the domains where AI can contribute the greatest value. Businesses can use AI to create buyer personas, speed up their consumer communication activities—for instance, by producing draft media content—and reinforce the marketing of their products.

Nevertheless, businesses shouldn’t solely rely on tools such as ChatGPT for communication purposes, and they should ensure marketing content generated via AI adheres to regulations. For example, when it comes to communicating the benefits of sports foods, ensuring compliance with legal frameworks such as the EU Nutrition and Health Claims regulation is vital.

Regulatory developments

In December 2023, in a groundbreaking policy development, the European Parliament and the European Council (which is made up of the EU heads of state and government ministers who come together to discuss and scrutinise European legislation) reached a provisional agreement​ on the regulatory proposal on the EU Artificial Intelligence Act (AI Act).

Following a risk-based approach, the objectives of this landmark legislation are to ensure that AI systems used across the EU market are safe and respect fundamental rights, norms and values. This includes measures to govern how businesses use “high-risk” AI systems (such as medical technology and devices), which may pose a risk to the health, safety or rights of individuals. The legislation also aims to introduce greater transparency and accountability in the use of AI systems to ensure compliance and minimise risks.

Sports nutrition businesses should also be aware that the upcoming regulation will impose financial penalties for violations of the AI Act, which can be up to €15 million, as well as fines for the supply of incorrect information up to €7.5 million.

While the proposal must still undergo a lengthy political process prior to formal adoption, it’s crucial that sports food businesses keen to explore the functionality of AI understand the challenges and risks posed by a largely unregulated technology that can undermine consumer safety and individual rights.

As the sports and active nutrition sector continues to grow, rapid advances in AI can unlock the industry's potential for further development, ranging from product innovation to optimisation in the manufacturing process. At the same time, AI's integration into personalised nutrition presents both opportunities and challenges for the industry.

Ensuring consumer safety is just as important as staying on top of market trends. Staying up to date on the regulatory landscape of AI and working closely with decision makers to ensure that upcoming rules promote innovation while avoiding administrative burdens is critical.

As the voice of the sports foods sector in Europe, ESSNA, in conjunction with nutrition and AI experts, is developing its position on this critical issue to help safeguard consumer safety and foster advances in this area.

Businesses keen to learn more about AI and how to shape the industry and legislative landscape can get in touch with ESSNA at vasb@rffan.pbz​.

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