$66B estimated sports nutrition market value by 2028, growing at a CAGR of 7.9%

The active nutrition category is on a winning streak, and it shows no signs of faltering. A recent report from Verified Market Research Research revealed that the sports nutrition market was valued at $36 billion in 2020 and is set to reach $66 billion by 2028, growing at a CAGR of 7.9%. “The market has expanded to include a whole host of new consumers who are looking to get more active,” asserts Auke Zeilstra, Managing Director for North America at FrieslandCampina Ingredients. Unlike professional athletes, these consumers aren’t just looking to train as hard as they can; they’re more motivated by the overall wellness benefits associated with being more active, including immune health, strength, and even mental well-being.” 

It’s not just casual exercisers driving interest in the active nutrition market. Gamers are another sub-category fueling explosive growth. “The e-sports market is growing at a breakneck pace and becoming mainstream with significant investments from large tech giants and advancing technology; we expect the market for supplements to cater to its participants to follow the same growth trajectory,” explains Vishal Shah, Whole-Time Director, Nutriventia Limited. “While the pandemic played a huge role in propelling the gaming market forward as people started to self-isolate and increased their time online—video game internet traffic experienced a significant surge of 75%, according to Verizon—competitive gaming has become mainstream with a viewership of e-sports comparable to major league sports in the U.S. In fact, even the Olympics committee is considering adding e-sports to the summer games.” 

All told, the analytic firm Statista estimates that the global e-sports audience will encompass 640.8 million people, notes Emily Navarro, MS, RD, Global Marketing Manager, Lonza Capsules & Health.“The global e-sports market is growing rapidly, too, expected to reach $1.87 billion U.S. dollars by 2025.” 

Gamers encompass a diverse demographic seeking a wide range of benefits. “Initial indicators are that e-sports may draw younger consumers into the natural products market. The focus on cognitive performance and focus are real motivators for these consumers,” notes Sébastien Bornet, VP Global Sales & Marketing at Horphag Research. “Additionally, eye health and circulation concerns from long hours of sitting are top of mind. They spend long hours in front of a computer screen and are looking for supplements that benefit energy, decision-making, focus, blood flow and eyesight to support extended periods of gaming.” 

In addition to cognitive support and eye health, e-sports participants are also seeking many of the same energy, performance, and recovery benefits as traditional active nutrition consumers. “Lonza’s proprietary consumer research revealed the key health benefits that gamers crave, including improved brain power, energy support, and solutions for joint health,” notes Navarro. “These closely align with the needs of active nutrition consumers, meaning that science-backed ingredients that are popular with this demographic can easily crossover into the e-sports space.”  

Natural retailers are well-positioned to appeal to this growing group of consumers…and to grow their bottom line. “Like other types of highly active consumers, both casual and professional gamers are health conscious and highly values-driven when it comes to their supplement and functional food and beverage purchasing decisions,” says Navarro. “In fact, 53% of gamers are looking for more natural products, while 47% are interested in clean label products. And, as many as 45% of gamers want products that are scientifically proven to be effective.” 

One key to capturing the attention of these online-savvy consumers is leaning into education and changing up your marketing strategy to include online outreach. “Reaching this audience can be tough, but luckily, gamers are online and ready to shop,” says Trisha Sugarek MacDonald, BS, MS, Senior Director of Research & Development/National Educator, Bluebonnet Nutrition Corporation. “First and foremost, retailers need to have an online presence to connect with this audience. This can be done strategically by creating ads, blogs, and an attractive online shopping front to capture this demographic. More specifically, retailers will need a targeted digital advertising plan that includes ads on popular gaming streaming platforms such as Twitch, YouTube, or Mixer, and using retargeting advertisements on social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram would greatly benefit those who are targeting this audience.” 

5 keys to capturing the eye of e-gamers 

“Marketing to e-sports players requires a different approach than traditional marketing,” says Shah. “Brands should leverage social media and content creation to provide entertaining, informative, and relevant information customized to their interest.”

Set up a table at a local gaming event. Attending gaming-related events, such as conventions, tournaments, and LAN parties, can help gain exposure to the gaming market and provides opportunities to reach out to gamers in person. Having a physical presence at a gaming event and handing out samples to gamers and audience members could make a significant impact,” notes Maggie McNamara, Marketing Director, Gencor. “In fact, one report states that 90% of Twitch fans recall at least one non-gaming esports sponsor.” 

Lean into influencers. Gamers who are big on Twitch and other gaming platforms have a built-in audience, and they can help you increase your reach in a niche community, notes Sugarek-MacDonald. “Influencer marketing can effectively reach the gaming community—approaches such as sponsored posts, sponsored livestreams, and video series could be used to raise awareness of the nootropic supplement product offerings.” 

Build opportunities for interaction. “Give your consumers something to respond to and interact with whether through video content, social media posts, or blogs. Engage with your consumers and meet them where they spend the most of their time,” advises Julianne Gardner, Marketing & Communications Coordinator at Stratum Nutrition. “The gaming audience is wildly diverse. Successful marketing strategies focus on inclusivity and reaching the broad diversity of gamers, which requires extra creativity. When people feel included, they want to interact. Interaction is what drives gaming.”  

If you’re struggling to find the right audience and engagement, Gardner suggests: “Analytics tools can aid in finding out which platforms speak to which demographics best. This can help you target your content to the right people in the right places.” 

Hone your e-commerce approach. Gamers in general are among the most tech-savvy and most likely to respond to direct-to-consumer campaigns. They can quickly research and order while simultaneously gaming and never leaving their location,” explains Kareem Cook, co-owner of Naturade. “Some natural health retailers have adjusted by creating their own direct-to-consumer delivery strategies, sometimes guaranteeing two-day delivery. Most have also taken advantage of Instacart and food delivery apps that provide that immediate delivery service for them. Companies whose success is often determined by in-store trials and samples have switched to including a sample as part of the delivery.” 

Play up double-duty benefits. “We’re seeing increased interest in formulations with multiple health benefits or complementary ingredients,” points out Zeilstra. “With two in three consumers recognizing that gut health is key to achieving overall well-being, one way that brands can tap into this trend is by combining gut health support with popular active nutrition ingredients. For example, brands could add gut-supporting ingredients, such as prebiotics like Biotis GOS, to their formulations. In addition to supporting gut health, Biotis GOS has also been shown to positively impact mental well-being, which is a much-desired benefit for performance and active nutrition.” 

 Trending supplements in e-sports & active nutrition 

Whether your aim is to appeal to gamers, elite athletes, or casual exercisers, keeping your active nutrition aisle stocked with a wide range of supplements to support everything from energy and muscle performance and growth to joint and eye health will help ensure you never miss a sale, says Navarro. “While the schedules and goals of diverse active nutrition consumers may vary, the desire to perform at their best is the same. Building muscle is just one element of active nutrition; energy, endurance, recovery and joint health are all key consumer focuses, too.”  

Overall health and wellness, immune health, increased energy and focus, sustained energy, and recovery after exercise...these all drive interest in the active nutrition category, says Shah. “Active consumers want to perform at their best and be at the top of their health, so quality sleep, a healthy immune system, and physical well-being are also important. Gamers are also looking for supplements that can provide focus, attention, and optimal reaction time, which are essential for their performance. They need steady hands and calm focus.” Read on to learn the trending ingredients that are driving interest and delivering benefits.

Energy boosters: Both active consumers and gamers are looking for healthy energy support. “Caffeine, of course, is one of the most popular ingredients for energy and focus,” notes Shah. He advises stocking products that contain an extended-release form of caffeine, such as Nutriventia’s CaffXtend, which can provide long-lasting energy, reducing the likelihood of jitters and other negative side effects and reducing the need for multiple servings. 

Staying ahead of another known side effect of caffeine can also help with energy support, notes Dr. Chris D. Meletis, Director of Clinical Education, Trace Mineral Research. “Caffeine is a known diuretic and thus can flush out not just water, but also electrolytes. This is why nutritional support is critical. A sustained lift in focus and energy is by far better achieved when the body is nourished with electrolyte and adrenal support.” He recommends replenishing electrolytes with an electrolyte supplement, like Trace Minerals Electrolyte Stamina and Max-Hydrate Immunity effervescent tablets. “This can support muscular-skeletal and overall cellular performance.”

Thermogenic ingredients, such as capsaicin extract (including branded CapZfuel), can also help with energy and endurance while aiding in weight management, adds Sevanti Mehta, President, Unibar Corporation. “CapZfuel is a unique capsaicin extract shown to burn existing body fat through a process called non-exercise activity thermogenesis for enhanced energy, reduced fatigue, and improved performance. By using fat as fuel, the ingredient also allows for extended exercise duration by enhancing overall endurance for even better results.” 

For additional energy support, consumers may want to consider supplements that include targeted sports probiotics, such as Lonza’s patented TWK10, which is sourced from Taiwanese kimchi, says Navarro. “TWK10 sports probiotic is clinically proven to enhance exercise endurance by up to 75%, as well as improve energy levels. It has also been shown to increase circulating blood glucose levels for improved muscle endurance in traditional athletes—these benefits may be transferred to e-sports athletes too, who need to optimize muscle endurance during intense matches. Plus, the ingredient was shown to exert anti-fatigue effects, as indicated by lower lactate and ammonia biomarkers post-exercise.”

Joint & mobility support

It’s not just aging consumers who need nutritional support for healthy joints. “Sedentary games are a huge risk of musculoskeletal issues and potential obesity,” cautions Dr. Meletis. “For both gamers and e-sports, repetitive injury much like carpal tunnel or tendonitis is a very real concern.” 

A key consideration: “Most people know how important protein is to feed muscle, yet don’t often consider that we should also provide nutrition to our joints,” adds Bornet. He notes that supplementing with high-potency antioxidants, like French maritime pine bark extract (branded as Pycnogenol) is an easy way for consumers to support joint mobility. “Studies have shown that after supplementing with Pycnogenol, joints were more flexible and less medication was required. In addition, Pycnogenol has been found to lower inflammatory markers of joint soreness. A study found Pycnogenol inhibits the generation of COX-2 and 5-LOX, two naturally occurring enzymes associated with a host of inflammatory conditions.” Pycnogenol also has been shown to improve muscular function and endurance. 

Turmeric is another standout antioxidant clinically shown to reduce joint inflammation and improve mobility, says Shah. “Turmeric/curcumin can also aid in recovery after exercise.” He says a low 250-mg daily dose of TurmXTRA60N has been shown in two human clinical studies in healthy individuals to support musculoskeletal health and muscle recovery. 

Gencor also offers highly bioavailable curcumin extract, branded as HydroCurc, clinically shown to aid in joint health, immune health, heart health, exercise recovery, and cognitive benefits. 

Another joint health helper is palmitoylethanolamide (PEA). “PEA is produced naturally in the body in response to injury and stress, and is beneficial for joint health, immune health, exercise recovery, sleep, and mood,” explains McNamara. “People need to supplement with PEA because as we age and during times of stress, inflammation, or pain, PEA decreases, and therefore exogenous supplementation is necessary to replenish the depleted levels in the body.”  

Muscle growth

Protein remains one of the most popular nutrients that consumers seek to include as part of an active lifestyle, says Zeilstra “This is particularly true for whey protein, which remains a tried and tested ingredient to deliver improvements in athletic performance.” Clear protein ingredients, such as FrieslandCampina Ingredients’ Nutri Whey Isolate Clear, can help brands formulate trending and unique applications such as gels and protein waters that are easy to consume on the go. 

Consumers who prefer plant-based protein formulation also have plenty of options to consider. For example, Naturade offers VeganSmart Protein Shakes that are ideal for people who want to shake up a smoothie that they can drink in the car or while walking. 

Sugarek-MacDonald adds that Bluebonnet also offers plant protein products, including Super Earth Organic VeggieProtein Powder, which offers 18 grams of protein per scoop, along with a bevy of health-supporting phytonutrients. “This product benefits consumers looking to improve immune function, support a healthy weight and lean body mass, as well as aid in maintaining healthy blood pressure, cholesterol, and glucose levels that are already within the normal range. Moreover, these products are creamy, filling, and naturally delicious.”

Other options include protein powders made with Plantaris Pea Isolate 85A or Faba Isolate 90A protein ingredients, which are good sources of essential amino acids, such as leucine and branch chain amino acids (BCAA). What’s more, says Zeilstra, the high protein content helps to optimally stimulate muscle protein synthesis.

Eye health

“Because of the number of hours spent in front of the screen, e-gamers need products for both short-and long-term comprehensive eye care,” says Mehta. He advises looking for his company’s capsanthin carotenoid extract (branded as CapsiClear), which has been clinically proven to improve eye strain, fatigue, and dry eye and protect against blue and white light exposure. 

Bluebonnet also offers Targeted Choice EyeCare MACUAR & BLUE formula, which is designed to help shield eyes from glare and blue light from excessive screen time, according to Sugarek-MacDonald. “This formula offers catch-free DHA from plant sources, sustainably harvested or wildcrafted super fruits like bilberry and wild blueberry that are also free of common allergens and kosher-certified to help protect eyes from blue light. One ingredient, in particular, has captured our attention is OmniActive’s Lutemax 2020, which is a wholesomely derived marigold flower extract providing all three macular carotenoids—lutein and enhanced levels of both zeaxanthin isomers (RR-and RS [meso]-zeaxanthin)—at the same 5:1 ratio as found in nature to support eye health optimally.” 

In addition to supplementation for eye health, gamers should also implement the 20-20-20 rule first introduced by Dr. Jeffrey Anshel, OD, FAAO, notes Sugarek-MacDonald. “This rule consists of for every 20 minutes spent on a screen, you should look at something that is 20 feet away for 20 seconds. This break will allow your eyes to rest and rehydrate due to the increased blinking rate.” 


“The e-sport arena is home to some of the world’s top-performing brain athletes. And like any athlete, brain athletes need the proper nutrition to keep them at the top of their game,” notes Charles Ross, SVP HH&N Americas, Aker BioMarine Antarctic US, LLC. He says krill oil is one critical nutrient that can keep the brain lubricated and running at optimal performance.

 “The human brain is made up of phospholipids and these phospholipids contain that much-needed omega-3 and choline, which are well-known for their importance in cellular function, nerve signaling and cognitive health,” explains Ross. “The omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA, are important for brain development and function. Additionally, choline also plays a key role in functions such as muscle control, memory, and neuronal function—all key to e-sports players.” 

Ross reports that Aker BioMarine put the power of krill oil to the test with two professional e-gaming teams, Heroic and 00Nation. “After six weeks of taking Superba Boost, 28 team members shared their assessment of krill’s impact and the majority reported improvements in memory and concentration, as well as more energy and less sleepiness. Overall general mood improvement was also reported.” 

Stress support is another critical to optimizing cognition, adds Dr. Meletis. “If you have ever watched an individual fully immersed in their e-sport or gaming craft, they are often tense and hyper-focused. So my adult gaming and e-sport patients use Stress-X, which supports the adrenal glands and nutritional status of those experiencing stress.”  

Adaptogens such as ashwagandha can also help mitigate the harmful effects of stress and improve focus, according to Shah. “For example, Prolanza, Nutriventia’s long-acting ashwagandha root extract-based ingredient can, in a single daily dose of 300-mg, provide benefits such as improved visual accuracy, memory recall, and reduced stress with an eight to twelve hour coverage.” 

Of course, it’s not just gamers seeking cognitive support. “Six in 10 adults believe cognitive health benefits can be achieved by taking nutritional supplements,” says Sugarek-MacDonald. “Exciting new research tells us that modifying nutrition and supplementation using nootropic nutrients or cognitive enhancers can improve mental energy, focus, attention, and memory. Examples of these nutrients include bacopa, lion’s mane, citicoline, wild blueberry, and phosphatidylserine. The research on these cognitive enhancers and the ability to modify your daily nutritional intake to impact brain health is especially important for the younger generations as to preserve their current state of brain health.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article noted that Lonza supplies HydroCurc, which is actually supplied by Gencor. This has been updated in the current version.

“Initial indicators are that e-sports may draw younger consumers into the natural product market. The focus on cognitive performance and focus are real motivators for these consumers.” 
– Sébastien Bornet, Horphag