Sports performance: Unleashing the nutritional potential of oils and fats in Europe


A snapshot of Europe’s sports nutrition market—and the use of oils and fats, specifically—by ChemBizR.

Photo ©

Photo ©

Athletes are well aware of the importance of nutrition in optimizing and improving overall performance. Sports nutrition is a multidisciplinary field that prioritizes the principles and applications of a healthy diet. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) describes how optimal nutrition enhances physical activity, athletic performance, and even recovery rates post-workout.

Across Europe, concerns about health and growing obesity rates have spurred an increase in health clubs and fitness centers. In addition, the market for sports nutrition products reached nearly 4 billion euros in 2020. The European sports nutrition market expects a steady, promising growth rate of over 5% until 2025.

In Europe, the main consumers of sports nutrition products have traditionally been athletes and sportspersons, but the demand is now coming from a broader cluster of customers. Both sports professionals and beginners are looking for nutritional products that are ideal for pre- and post-workout recovery as well as for providing a push to their training routines. In addition, along with improved physical performance and fitness levels, there is a growing emphasis on improving mental health and preventing chronic disorders. With changing demands and consumer personas, new sports nutrition product launches have accelerated.

Among other macronutrients, fat is the third most important element in sports nutrition and is included in products in a variety of forms, such as base oils, medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), and lipids. Currently, base oils account for the majority of the European market, with MCTs and lipids together accounting for less than 20% of the market.

In this article, we explore the market dynamics of each of these oils in Europe’s sports nutrition market in terms of cost, performance, functionality, accessibility, and dosage.

Types of Product Formats in Sports Nutrition

The sports nutrition market is currently divided into four major segments:

  1. Powders: A powder is a mixture of vital nutrients that can be consumed before or after exercise by combining it with milk or water. Powders can deliver large doses of ingredients and allow consumers some degree of customization. They have occupied the largest segment of the sports nutrition market with a share of more than 40%.
  2. Energy Drinks: This class includes beverages that claim to help athletes replenish their lost glucose, fluids, and electrolytes (sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium) during or after training or competition. The segment shows promising growth in the future with the introduction of new flavor and ingredient-based drinks to meet evolving consumer demands.
  3. Bars: Nutrition bars are one of the most practical and well-balanced foods in terms of macro- and micronutrients, and they are primarily used by athletes or exercise enthusiasts for muscle growth.
  4. RTD Protein Drinks: Ready-to-drink (RTD) forms of protein and other weight-loss supplement powders are typically sold in flavored milkshake varieties. The market’s growth is anticipated to be significantly higher than that of the overall sports nutrition market in Europe and will be fueled by products offering ease of consumption and a wide range of flavors.

The Potential of Base Oils in Nutritional Bars

Base oils provide energy to the body, aid in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, and fulfill the body’s requirement for essential fatty acids for healthy growth, development, and maintenance. Over 90% of the market for base oils is shared by nutritional bars.

One of the key factors behind sunflower oil’s growing popularity in sports nutrition bars and powders is its high-oleic oil content, which aids in promoting healthy fats in the body. Palm oil is one of the most commonly used base oils because it is less expensive and more widely available than other base oils.

Given that customers are becoming more aware of the health benefits of coconut oil, there has been more emphasis on including it in sports nutrition products in recent years. Coconut oil is an appropriate substitute for palm oil because it can provide the required total fat content while containing a lower percentage of unhealthy saturated and trans fats and has a potential growth rate of nearly 6% by 2025.

Canola oil is typically used when combined with other base oils like palm or sunflower oil because it is unable to offer the necessary fat profile on its own.

MCTs’ Role in Nutritional Powders

Scientific research has linked medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) with improved body fat metabolism and considerable improvements in metabolic rate. It is a type of fat that is more easily absorbed by the digestive system than conventional lipids. MCT oil has the potential to help with weight loss and can be utilized as an instant energy source. Additionally, it can prevent bacterial development and help in the treatment of several neurological diseases. With a market share of more than 90%, medium-chain triglycerides are quickly becoming a very popular component in sports nutritional powders, especially those aimed toward weight loss and the ketogenic diet.

Extending the Functionality of Lipids

For better product stability, fats are also added in the form of emulsifiers, both synthetic (SSL or monoglycerides) and natural (lecithin). Soy lecithin is a popular natural emulsifier for both bars and powders because it can provide the necessary emulsification without significantly increasing the overall fat content of the finished product. It usage is also expected to grow at the fastest rate among the categories, by nearly 4% by 2025. Linoleic acid is commonly used in supplement powders for low-sugar diets because it can help control the body’s insulin levels.

Consumer-Driven Trends and Innovations

Given the rising awareness of health concerns and the increasing availability of product choices, Europe presents amazing growth opportunities in the sports nutrition market.

Introduction of New Flavors

To replace sugar while still maintaining taste, low-sugar products are beginning to appear on the market, such as the Baouw Organic Beetroot, Almond, and Espelette Pepper Nutritional Bar and Grenade Go Nuts Peri-Peri High-Protein Low-Sugar Bar. The flavor of these products may range from salty to even spicy (pepper, peri-peri).

Exploring Plant Protein

The most prominent product claim by recent performance nutrition product launches in Europe is for high/added protein. While whey protein continues to dominate the market for sports nutrition products, interest in plant-based proteins is rising because of environmental concerns. Some interesting product lines on the market have come from Emco and BioTechUSA. Emco’s nut and protein bars contain vegetable protein sourced from soy, while BioTechUSA protein bars contain protein sourced from rice and peas to entirely complement the protein intake of the sportsperson.

Bioactive Ingredients

The COVID-19 wave heightened interest in bioactive compounds associated with traditional medicine, prompting people to seek out more holistic methods of staying healthy. As a result, certain sports nutrition firms have started including these bioactive ingredients in their products, particularly those derived from natural sources, like ginseng, pine bark, ginger, vitamin C, etc. The Olimp Sport Nutrition powder brand contains extracts from both Korean and Siberian ginseng to improve blood circulation and regeneration in the body.

Personalized Nutrition

The American Nutrition Association defines personalized nutrition as a field that includes dietary recommendations for disease prevention, management, and treatment for individuals with varying health concerns and issues. This idea has a lot of potential, and it’s growing significantly in Europe as people want to customize and choose what’s best for them based on their unique physical, mental, and lifestyle requirements. The result is products like the flavored energy bars recently launched by brands such as Milbona, Yamo, Corny Haferkraft Zero, and Monoprix Bio.


The demand for sports nutrition products in Europe has skyrocketed, owing to a large number of consumers, particularly the Millennial and Gen Z population, who have a defined focus and interest in health and fitness. The region also exports its products to Middle Eastern and African countries, with a large number of production facilities in countries such as Germany, the Czech Republic, and Poland, among others.

With the continuous shift towards convenience foods, there will be growing demand for travel-friendly products like energy bars that can provide all or the maximum sports nutritional components within one product. One challenge to keep in mind is that because fat is highly correlated with weight gain and cardiovascular diseases, consumer education will be needed to spread information about the positive aspects of fats such as base oils, MCTs, and emulsifiers in sports nutrition products in Europe.

About the Author

Shivani Bisht is an associate consultant, food and nutrition, for ChemBizR. ChemBizR is a boutique business research and consulting partner of chemical companies globally, involved in addressing companies’ critical business challenges and strategic growth initiatives to help them transform their enterprise for sustainable growth in a highly competitive and rapidly evolving environment. For more information, e-mail

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