projected size of sports nutrition category in 2030.

After a rocky few years of COVID-19 restrictions and shutdowns, fitness is making comeback in a major way: Boutique studios and gyms have reopened and are flourishing, professional sports are back in full swing, and popular endurance races and athletic competitions are returning with a record number of participants. Data shows that people of all ages and fitness levels are increasingly trying new wellness programs, amateur sports leagues, and other active pursuits as awareness of the benefits of movement for overall health and wellbeing has grown.

“Many people are turning to physical activity to boost energy and support a healthier lifestyle. In fact, research shows that 60% of consumers exercise at least three times a week on average. What’s interesting though, is that a healthy lifestyle can mean different things to different people,” muses Jaume Reguant, Healthcare Director, Bioiberica.For most consumers, it’s not about extreme endurance challenges like marathons or beating personal bests. They simply want to be fitter, more flexible, carry on hobbies into old age, or be stronger and more resilient in the face of disease.”

Demand for active nutrition supplements has soared in lockstep with consumer interest in fitness, notes Gene Bruno, MS, MHS, RH (AHG), VP of Scientific & Regulatory Affairs at Twinlab Consolidation Corporation. Accordingdata from Grand View Research, the sports nutrition category is expected to expand from $42.9 billion in 2022 to $81.8 billion in 2030, growing at a CAGR 7.4%.

“Having been in the industry for 43 years, I remember when sports nutrition products were predominantly geared towards bodybuilders—but that has changed,” Bruno recalls. “More people are exercising now than ever. They’re riding their Peloton, they’re playing pickleball, and they’re walking to try and get in their 10,000 daily steps. People are just trying to stay fit and healthy. And they’re also using dietary supplements to help them achieve those goals.”

Novice athletes, weekend warriors, general consumers…they all can benefit from quality nutritional sports supplements, says Charlie Ross, SVP Americas, HH&N, Aker BioMarine. “Sports nutrition supplements can help consumers unleash their potential when it comes to the active lifestyle they are looking for. Regardless of the intensity level, the main reasons for consuming a sports nutrition supplement comes down to strength/muscle tone, hydration, recovery, and endurance. It is all about ensuring that you are preparing the body for optimal performance—fueling it with the nutrients that it needs to be and perform at its best.”

Stocking a range of quality active nutrition supplements can also attract customers who are looking for benefits beyond the physical. “The active nutrition category is not limited to improving stamina, endurance, or physical performance; it also involves mental focus and enhancing cognitive performance or skills to match the competitiveness required not only on the playground, but also at the workplace and just keeping up with busy lives,” adds Anurag Pande, Ph.D., VP Scientific Affairs, Sabinsa. “Having stamina and focus to keep up with all the things they are juggling is motivating to many women who use active nutrition products.”

The mental and physical benefits of active nutrition supplements hold significant appeal to eSports gamers, too, points out Lindsey Toth, Director of Global Marketing at Lonza Capsules & Health Ingredients. “A highly promising off-shoot of the traditional active nutrition space, the eSports market offers impressive opportunities for brands to create innovative solutions.”

Just like traditional sports, Toth says, eSports athletes want to perform at their best. “They are looking for products that can support their mental and physical performance. With the eSports market expected to reach $1.8 billion in revenue this year, the time is now for brands to get ahead of the game.”

3 keys to maximizing your active nutrition sales

Natural health retailers are in a prime position to capitalize on soaring demand for active nutrition supplements—especially since consumers are looking for more clean label products and high-quality branded ingredients, says Trisha Sugarek MacDonald, BS, MS, Sr. Director of Research & Development/National Educator, Bluebonnet Nutrition Corporation. “Gone are the days of weight-gaining products formulated with inferior materials and laced with artificial colors, sweeteners, and flavors. Today’s consumer is focused on naturally functional foods and drinks that are plant-based, sugar-free, and contain keto-friendly fats and proteins targeted to healthy weight management and energy levels connected to mood as well as digestive health. Thus, we are seeing a rebirth of fat and an emergence of nootropics and probiotics in the sports nutrition category.”

In addition to stocking products made with clean, high-quality natural ingredients, it’s important to highlight those backed by clinical research. “The products that will stand out are those which can deliver on their promises,” says Reguant. “To cut through the noise, the ingredients used in formulations must be scientifically sound.”

If consumers notices a difference in how they feel or perform when using a product, they’re also more likely to become a repeat customer, adds Sébastien Bornet, VP Global Sales & Marketing at Horphag Research. “When an ingredient or product helps a consumer meet a goal—say finishing a race with fewer muscular aches—they hold it in high regard, almost like a halo effect.”

Concerns about inflation and the economy also have consumers looking to get more bang for their buck by opting for products that offer double- or triple-duty benefits. “Active nutrition consumers are increasingly choosing combination or hybrid products—those that deliver multiple ingredients or benefits in a single product,” says Toth. “These products may target active nutrition alone, or complementary health and wellness benefits too, such as mood and sleep support, joint health, immune support, and weight management.”

Consumers are also prioritizing convenient delivery formats, such as ready-to-drink beverages, gummies, and soft chewables, says Bryan Morin, NOW Sports Brand Manager. “Clear protein is an example of this. It is a different viscosity of whey protein, allowing it to be consumed like you would a sports drink while still delivering high amounts of protein. Ready-to-drink products also continue to be a popular trend for delivery methods because consumers like the convenience of just having a ready-to-go drink product that has everything they need already in it.”

Trending Ingredients in Active Nutrition

  1. Natural Energizers
Consumers want supplements that offer an extra boost of energy to power them through workouts or just through their daily to-dos, but they don’t like the crash and other negative side effects that can come with hefty doses of caffeine. Instead, they are looking for stimulant-free natural compounds that deliver more sustained energy. Winning ingredients to look for in a product:

Curcumin:This powerful active compound is best known for its anti-inflammatory benefits, but research shows it can also improve the efficiency of cellular energy engines (mitochondria) to help reduce exercise fatigue.  “A healthy metabolism is one of the key areas for maintaining an active lifestyle,” notes Dr. Pande. Sabinsa’s patented curcumin extract CurCousin not only combats exercise fatigue, “it helps to overcome metabolic imbalances, which can lead to elevated levels of lipids and sugars, and is also responsible for overweight-related issues.”

Gencor also offers HydroCurc, a curcumin ingredient, which David Foreman, RPh, N.D., the Herbal Pharmacist, notes has “amazing clinical substantiation of improvements in the areas of endurance, recovery, and energy.”

Cordyceps: This functional mushroom works to improve performance by reducing adrenal fatigue and depletion, as well as helping to balance cortisol levels, says Nirmal Nair, Founder/CEO of Sempera Organics, of the standout ingredient in the brand’s Performance Core supplement. “This dual action leads to increased stamina and energy.”

Lion’s Mane:When it comes to pushing through a particularly tough sweat session or making it to the finish line during an endurance race, mental energy can be just as important as physical energy. “Often, an intense workout not only exhausts the muscles, but drains mental energy, and when this feeling occurs, the workout is over,” notes Nair. “By extending mental energy as well as physical energy, the individual can experience more effective workouts, leading them quicker to their fitness goals.” That’s why the company developed Clarity Core, a blend anchored on lion’s mane, which provides the mental edge that helps to extend fulfilling workouts and competition. “Lion’s mane has powerful research showing its ability to preserve and support mental acuity and related cognitive functions.”

Targeted probiotics: Probiotics also show potential for natural energy, says Toth. “Our TWK10 sports probiotic, for instance—originally sourced from Taiwanese kimchi—has been shown to increase circulating blood glucose levels during exercise for improved muscle endurance. It is the first probiotic clinically proven to increase exercise endurance by up to 75%.”

Sabinsa also offers probiotic products including LactoSpore and LactoCran, which support healthy microflora for optimal energy balance.
  1. Muscle and Strength Support
Whether your customers are looking to bulk up with lean muscle gains, generate more power and force during weight training sessions, or prevent age-related muscle loss, these trending ingredients can help.

Beta-Alanine:This non-essential amino acid is used by muscle cells to synthesize carnosine, a compound that helps buffer the lactic acid produced during strenuous workouts. “NOW Sports uses CarnoSyn, a patented form of beta-alanine that has been clinically tested and shown to increase muscle carnosine content, which allows muscles to work harder and longer during intense exercise,” notes Morin. “Supplementation can help athletes to attain strength and endurance training goals by delayed muscle fatigue and rapid recovery time. NOW Sports Beta-Alanine is backed by scientific research demonstrating that CarnoSyn supplementation results in delayed muscle fatigue and rapid recovery time, thereby helping people attain their strength and endurance training goals.”

Creatine:“Creatine is a compound that occurs naturally in the body, primarily in skeletal muscle,” says Morin. “Creatine’s function is to serve as a precursor to adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the form of chemical energy used by all cells. Studies have demonstrated that creatine supplementation can help to maintain existing muscle tissue, support the growth and development of lean mass, and promote optimal performance during short bouts of intense exercise.” Morin adds that NOW offers both pure and micronized forms of creatine monohydrate as well as a gentler Kre-Alkalyn form that reaches muscle cells at its maximum strength and purity. “This patented pH-buffered formula is stable throughout the GI tract, which may prevent its breakdown and allow it to enter the muscle tissue fully potent, thus effectively eliminating the uncomfortable stomach distress, gas, and bloating that is sometimes associated with other creatine supplements.”

HMB (ß-Hydroxy ß-Methylbutyrate): This naturally occurring metabolite of the branched-chain amino acid leucine helps to prevent the breakdown of protein in the body, helping to preserve lean muscle mass, says Morin. “It may also help to enhance recovery from intense exercise.”

Protein powder:There’s a reason that protein shakes are a key part of every body-builder’s supplement arsenal: Protein provides essential amino acids that the body uses to repair and bulk muscle tissue. But when stocking protein powders, be sure to include some plant-based formulas, advises Sugarek MacDonald. “This is because approximately one-third of the U.S. population, meaning over 100 million people—or one in three Americans—are making plant-based dietary choices each and every day. Plant protein products, like Bluebonnet’s Super Earth Organic VeggieProtein Powder, which offers 18 grams of protein per scoop,  and is soy-free, dairy-free, and gluten-free, have become a cornerstone for those who engage in an active lifestyle.”

Krill oil:“Through our research, we know that choline, found in krill oil, is an essential nutrient for athletic performance due to its role in maintaining normal muscle function,” reports Ross. “According to a study inFrontiers in Nutrition, pre-race supplementation with phosphatidylcholine from krill oil can increase levels of choline and some of its metabolites in athletes during triathlon competitions.” He notes that krill oil can be especially beneficial to active seniors and older adults looking to stave off age-related muscle loss. “A recent study at University of Glasgow found that supplementing with 4 grams of krill oil daily had beneficial effects on skeletal muscle function, strength and size in healthy seniors. Previous scientific studies show that the high concentrations of DHA and EPA, and choline found in krill oil help protect and strengthen the body as it ages.”
  1. Joint Health and Recovery
“Recent trends point to maintaining joint health as a key component of staying active,” says John Quilter, Kerry VP of Global Portfolio, ProActive Health. “More than a third of Gen Z and Millennial consumers, along with nearly 70% of Gen X and older people say it’s a top reason for purchasing healthy lifestyle products.  Looking beyond immediate goals, consumers want to maintain joint health and comfort throughout their lifetimes.”

Anti-inflammatory ingredients can also help support recovery and prevent aches and pains after tough workouts, adds Tim Hammond, Vice President of Sales & Marketing, Bergstrom Nutrition. “Training and strenuous activity place a demand on muscles. Therefore, consumers desire products that promote recovery and reduce soreness, without blunting the muscle’s adaptive response to stress.” Some standouts in the market:

Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM): This ingredient provides nutritional support to help keep joints and connective tissue healthy, says Hammond. He notes that OptiMSM, Bergstrom Nutrition’s branded form of MSM, has also been shown to enhance recovery by accelerating muscle repair and mitigating pain, muscle damage, and soreness that typically follow intense training. Plus, OptiMSM bolsters the immune system by supporting redox capacity and mitigating inflammatory cytokines.

Pine bark extract: Polyphenols in French maritime pine bark, available in the standardized extract Pycnogenol, have been shown to dial down inflammation in the joints to help naturally improve mobility and relieve aching, especially in those with osteoarthritis symptoms, says Bornet. “After supplementing with Pycnogenol, joints are more flexible, and studies show that less medication is required for those who experience joint pain. In addition, Pycnogenol has been found to lower inflammatory markers of joint soreness.”

As a welcome bonus, supplementing with Pycnogenol regularly may also help improve exercise performance and reduce post-workout soreness. “As a potent antioxidant, Pycnogenol has been shown in various studies to aid the body in producing nitric oxide, thus enhancing blood microcirculation and improving blood flow to the muscles,” adds Bornet. “This helps the body achieve peak muscle performance and speeds recovery after exercise, which may result in a reduction of muscular aches.”

Hyaluronic acid: More commonly known for its skin care benefits, supplemental forms of this moisturizing ingredient can also help to lubricate joints, which can reduce stiffness and improve range of motion, says Reguant. Bioiberica offers a patented form of hyaluronic acid (HA) under the name Mobilee that contains three naturally-occurring components—HA, polysaccharides and collagen—designed to work synergistically to increase the body’s synthesis of hyaluronic acid by up to 200-fold. “This is comparatively higher than that produced by fermented hyaluronic acid at the same tested dose,” says Reguant. “Effective at a low dose, it can be easily formulated in a range of formats, as well as combined with other joint health ingredients, like Boswellia and type II collagen.”

Palmitoylethanolamide (PEA): This fatty acid is naturally produced by the body in response to injury and stress to speed healing and recovery, says Foreman. Supplemental forms, like Gencor’s Levagen+, can reduce delayed onset muscle soreness and help athletes bounce back faster from tough workouts.

Tamarind+turmeric:TamaFlex is a proprietary blend of tamarind seed and turmeric root extracts containing anti-inflammatory compounds that can help protect joints. “A product like TamaFlex can help people manage their joint pain and mobility issues, so they can get back out there again,” explains Eric Anderson, Managing Director, NXT-USA. “It works well pre-workout and post-workout because it operates on two pathways—the COX pathway, which is fast-acting, and the 5-LOX pathway, which is long-lasting.” He notes that a recent study commissioned by NXT-USA found that subjects with mild to moderate knee osteoarthritis (OA) who supplemented with 250 mg of TamaFlex daily showed a significant reduction in pain, joint stiffness, and improvement in their physical function over 30 days. “In fact, TamaFlex delivered significant reduction in knee OA pain by day five,” says Anderson. “Another pleasant surprise was that this study showed that TamaFlex has the capability to improve aerobic capacity and endurance as well as improve lower body strength, power, and physical function in knee OA subjects.”

Terminalia chebula: This ancient Ayurvedic plant, available in the standardized extract AyuFlex from Kerry, has been used for centuries to support joint health, says Quilter. “AyuFlex is clinically shown to support joint health and comfort, evidenced by clinical studies that show improved flexibility and fast recovery to maintain healthy joints and mobility.WF