Sports-Nutrition Formulators Eye Opportunities, Challenges of Plant Proteins


Presenters at Nutritional Outlook’s recent webcast, “Protein and Sports Nutrition,” shared their take on what shifting consumer preferences mean for the booming sports nutrition category.

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The U.S. sports nutrition market currently boasts nearly $7.4 billion in total sales, according to market researcher Euromonitor International, and that figure is expected to hit $11 billion by 2021. But with new demographic bases for sports-nutrition products, shifting consumer priorities, and a growing list of emerging protein sources, the sports-nutrition market may look remarkably different by the time actually we arrive at 2021.

Earlier this morning, at Nutritional Outlook’s educational webcast “Protein and Sports Nutrition,” presenters from Euromonitor, plant-based sports nutrition brand Vega, and the International Society of Sports Nutrition shared their take on everything from new research on high-protein diets to global markets poised for major sports-nutrition market growth. The entire webcast is available for on-demand viewing here, but here are a few key takeaways.


Keep Watching Plant Protein

Whey still dominates the protein world, and is in fact “having something of a resurgence,” but plant-based protein sources continue to experience strong growth and are poised to attract even more attention in years to come, explained Eleanor Dwyer, research analyst for Euromonitor.

“While many hardcore athletes view plant sources as inferior to milk proteins, a growing number of both athletes and regular consumers are responding positively to plant sources’ health and ethical claims,” Dwyer said. “Environmental and animal welfare concerns are expected to boost plant sources across many food and supplement categories in major markets.”

Although soy is currently one of the best performing plant-protein sources, its allergen issues and the skepticism heaped on it by many athletes have consumers looking for other plant-protein sources, including pea, hemp, rice, chia, and sacha inchi, Dwyer added. She noted that “fitness lifestyle users,” which Euromonitor describes as brand-conscious consumers interested in products bearing health and wellness claims, “is the group that shows the strongest interest in these alternative proteins and is willing to pay extra for them.”

Similarly, Julie Daoust, PhD, research and development manager for Vega, pointed to the “explosion of options” in plant-source protein to formulate with in recent years, including lesser-known proteins from algae, pumpkin seed, sunflower seed, fava bean, lentil, potato, and lupin. Yet, while many consumers turn to plant-based proteins for their nutritional content or because they have sustainability concerns, Vega’s own consumer research found that flavor and sweetness is actually a higher consumer priority-which can be especially challenging with many plant proteins.

“We can have issues with poor solubility, gritty mouthfeel, and challenging aftertaste like earthy and bitter note,” Daoust said. “So, really addressing those concerns so that flavor and sweetness are satisfactory to consumers is very important to bring that category forward into the mainstream.”

Aside from the sensory issues, many of these novel plant protein sources also lack established supply chains, regulatory approval, and/or consistent organoleptic profiles across various sources, according to Daoust. In short, while plant-based ingredients may be one of the more exciting elements in the sports nutrition conversation right now, there is still plenty of work to be done to make more of them protein powerhouses.


Emerging Consumer Priorities, High-Protein Intake, and More

Beyond plant protein, experts at this morning’s webcast also shared their take on some of the other changes propelling the sports-nutrition market in new directions. Euromonitor’s Dwyer predicted that female consumers, elderly consumers, and consumer prioritizing ethical concerns such as environmental sustainability will increasingly receive more attention from sports-nutrition marketers and formulators.

Additionally, Jose Antonio, PhD, CEO and co-founder of the International Society of Sports Nutrition and editor-in-chief of the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, shared some of the latest research he has worked on relating to high-protein diets. From safety studies to studies examining whether high-protein diets increase body fat mass (they don’t, the results suggest), Antonio reported on several reassuring findings for athletes consuming high-protein diets.

Again, this is just a small sliver of everything covered in this morning’s webcast. Experience all three presentations in full here.


Read more:

Latest Sports-Nutrition Product Trends

2016 Sports Nutrition Ingredient Trends

Brain Health and Sports Nutrition Team Up in Dietary Supplements


Michael Crane
Associate Editor
Nutritional Outlook Magazine

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