How has the sports nutrition category changed to help customers stay active through COVID-19? Matt Chittock finds out
Whether it was the popularity of Joe Wicks or the growing number of cyclists on the (virtually car-free) roads, lockdown boredom was the spur that inspired lots of people to get moving in 2020.
“We found that lockdown meant our customers were getting more into their fitness as a way to stay healthy and feel good,” says Alan Martin from Food for Thought.
“I think long-term that it will inspire more people to get moving and think more about the exercise that they do, whether that’s jogging, cycling or a workout at home.”
The stats back this up. Research from Sport England reveals that by the sixth week of lockdown, 63% of Britons were making sure they walked for exercise every day, while the number of people cycling increased by 13%.
People also realized exercise isn’t just about the physical benefits. The same study showed that 63% were getting active to manage their mental health through the COVID-19 pandemic.
So what does this mean for the sports nutrition category? Well, first of all, the closure of sports centres and gyms probably meant more business for the sector at health stores that stayed open (online orders benefited too). And it may well have created demand for products that can deliver an immune boost to the fitness mix.
“Speaking at a webinar hosted by ESSNA in June 2020, experts from the sector suggested that while many products had seen a decrease in sales, products which supported immunity – such as protein powders and supplements – remained popular amongst sports nutrition consumers,” says an ESSNA spokesperson.
The golden spice
One key beneficiary could be turmeric. One new scientific review on curcumin (the active ingredient in turmeric) found that administering it ‘before and during exercise, and up until 72 hours post-exercise, improved performance by reducing EIMD (exercise-induced muscle damage) and modulating the inflammation caused by physical activity’.
Of course, many brands – like Natur Boutique, which offers specialist turmeric capsules and tea – already supply turmeric products for general health. For others, like The Turmeric Co, the clear fitness benefits offer a chance to talk to customers about sports nutrition.
“Triathletes stand to bene-fit massively from adding turmeric root to their diets to aide their recovery,” says The Turmeric Co co-founder, Thomas Robson Kanu. “If customer feedback is anything to go by, they will find that they are able to train more often and at a higher intensity.”
The brand is also experimenting with sports-positive formats like shots. “When it comes to preparing for a period of intense exertion, our range also includes a beetroot-infused shot. This can help oxygenate the blood prior to exercise and boost performance,” explains Kanu.
“This particular shot was developed with the help of professional nutritionists and is now used regularly by elite athletes including the England Rugby Team to help support performance,” he adds.
Ready-to-drink is also a natural fit with sports nutrition. To meet this burgeoning market, UK-based business Avrox has launched Ei8ht Energy, a new drink scientifically proven to substantially increase the body’s ability to transport oxygen in order to boost performance.
“Our core aim when we started out was to develop a consumer product that genuinely and demonstrably enhanced the body’s ability to transport oxygen, to deliver proper health and performance benefits,” says founder Ray Averre.
“An increase in the body’s ability to transport oxygen of around 5% for an 80-minute period after ingestion is a significant result and completely unique in the marketplace.”
This benefit also offers a point of difference with other energy-style drinks in the chiller, which can feature high levels of sugar.
Sports nutrition consumers may not tend to purchase products because of their ease and convenience
Naturally, our sector has often valued convenient products at a good price point. This helped steer the category away from fat protein tubs towards easy-to-consume products for the more general shopper.
ESSNA maintains this switch to convenience might have evolved as lockdown has limited our movements.
“From a sports nutrition standpoint and in view of the coronavirus crisis, convenience has arguably been de-prioritized in the last few months,” says chair of ESSNA, Dr Adam Carey.
“Rather than seek to purchase on-the-go products such as bars and drinks, consumers have gradually moved towards new behaviours where convenience has become less of a decisive factor in purchasing habits given that people have been staying at home and prioritizing home workouts. In light of this, sports nutrition consumers may not tend to purchase products because of their ease and convenience.”
Consumers could well switch back when freedoms return, yet many might have spent lockdown researching the sector and looking at long-term nutrition solutions rather than short-term boosts. But whatever they choose, many consumers will now be locked into the category for the long run.
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