Criteria for this report

Performance nutrition products includes:

  • Global food, drink, and vitamins & dietary supplement products
  • Products launched between May 2015 andApril 2017
  • “Performance nutrition” as the specialized nutrition

“Performance nutrition” products promote physical and mental performance for athletes. Their functional purposes are directed towards weight and muscle gain, increasing the metabolic rate and enhancing or boosting energy levels, accelerating the breakdown of protein to aid muscle growth, muscle repair and recovery.

Performance nutrition overview:

  • Performance nutrition deals with the following functionalities: supports active lifestyle, improves physical endurance, increases muscle growth and development; and boosts muscle recovery. Consumers are looking for performance nutrition products that support specific sports needs and fitness functions.
  • The US dominates for product launches of performance nutrition food, drink, and vitamins & supplement products, which is mostly driven by launches in the meal replacement and sports drink sub-categories.
  • One of the main attributes that consumers are looking for in performance nutrition products are health & nutrition benefits such as high protein, high fiber, low calorie, and no artificial ingredients. However, innovation around taste and new flavors are arguably the most influential factors in purchase decision of performance nutrition products. Moving beyond the usual vanilla and chocolate flavors, interesting flavors, such as dessert-inspired, coffee, and tropical fruits are appearing in this space. Manufacturers need to explore fully the diverse consumer preferences in order to target them and position products suitably.
  • Between May 2015 and April 2017, Europe was the leading region for performance nutrition food, drink and vitamin & dietary supplement innovation, accounting for 48% of launches, followed by North America and Asia Pacific. Meal replacement, sports drink, and VMS are common categories for performance nutrition products.
  • Protein is still the key ingredient in performance nutrition products as it helps repair, rebuild, and strengthen muscle tissue after exercise and can be consumed during exercise for energy, particularly when carbohydrate stores are very low. Whey protein is the most common protein used in these launches.
  • Brands could explore the use of Nordic ingredients (for seniors), antioxidants and some natural ingredients, such as pickle juice, beetroot, watermelon, and dark chocolate in their performance nutrition product innovations.
  • Innovations like nut butters in snack bars and meat jerky appeal to consumers who are health-savvy as they are perceived as unprocessed, better-for-you, and ‘clean’ sources of protein. They would also interest consumers looking for an alternative to traditional performance nutrition products such as protein powders.


Approach to specialised performance nutrition needs is significant

Nutrition is very important for athletes and individuals with active lifestyles as it plays a key role in optimising the beneficial effects of physical activity and provides the energy required to perform an activity. Insufficient nutrient intake may result in poor performance, tiredness, and even injuries during physical activity. Consumers are now looking for products that will provide their specialised needs in performance nutrition.

Opinions toward nutritional and performance drinks, US, February 2015


US leads for performance nutrition product launches

Europe is the leading region for performance nutrition launches, accounting for 48% of global performance nutrition food, drink, and VMS product launches during May 2015-April 2017. However, the US is the top country for product launches globally.

The majority of performance nutrition products in the US were launched in the meal replacement (65%) and sports drink (15%) sub-categories.

Countries with the highest percentage of performance nutrition food, drink, and VMS product launches, May 2015 – April 2017


In China, flavour is a key factor in purchasing sports/energy drinks

  • Sports and energy drinks are common solutions to replenish energy and boost exercise performance.
  • According to Sports and Energy Drinks- China, July 2016, 58% of sports and energy drinks buyers would buy sports and energy drinks with the flavour they like; additionally, 51% of respondents agree that they would be interested in trying sports/energy drinks that come in a unique flavour such as pomegranate or ginseng.
  • Sports and energy drink companies have options to market products using common flavours to satisfy the masses as well as to innovate with uncommon flavours for people with more adventurous tastes, perhaps through limited editions or seasonal variants.
  • Exploring fully the different consumer preferences allows manufacturers to target them and position products accordingly.

Performance nutrition product examples with interesting flavours

Functions of performance nutrition products

Performance nutrition for active lifestyle support


Performance nutrition for physical endurance

Performance nutrition for muscle growth and development

Performance nutrition for muscle recovery


Meal replacements and sports drinks lead in the performance nutrition space

Between May 2015 and April 2017, Europe led for global performance nutrition food, drink and vitamin & dietary supplement innovation, accounting for 48% of these launches, followed by North America (27%) and Asia Pacific (16%). Meal replacements, sports drinks and VMS are the most prominent categories for performance nutrition products.

Top 5 sub-categories for performance nutrition food, drink and vitamin & dietary supplement launches, by region, May 2015 – April 2017:


US consumers associate performance nutrition products with protein delivery

US consumers associate performance nutrition products, such as performance drinks/mixes and performance bars with protein delivery.

 Whey protein is the most common protein used in performance nutrition

Consumers continue to look for protein sources and this is considered part of a healthy diet, especially by consumers engaging in exercise. Between May 2015 and April 2017, whey protein concentrate and whey protein isolate were the leading proteins used in performance nutrition product launches, accounting for 19% and 16%, respectively. It was followed by isolated soy protein with 9%.

Glanbia’s specialization on protein and performance nutrition expands through thinkThin

  • Irish multinational Glanbia is a leading performance nutrition and ingredients company.
  • Glanbia Performance Nutrition (GPN) is its performance nutrition brand portfolio consisting of Optimum Nutrition, BSN, Isopure, thinkThin, Nutramino, ABB and trusource, in which each has its own brand essence.
  • Glanbia acquired the American high protein nutritionbar thinkThin, bringing this successful yet relatively low profile company into the spotlight.
  • Glanbia’s specialisation and dominance in protein provides the company with a strong position in both performance nutrition and more mainstream better-for-you foods and beverages.
  • The acquisition of thinkThin provides it with a means to access broader consumers attracted to better-for-you products and target consumers with differing needs, from high performance athletes and body builders, to those who are striving to be healthier.

Antioxidants in performance nutrition

Sports and exercise place substantial acute and chronic demands on physiological, metabolic and energetic processes.

 Competition for key nutrients between the energetic and immune systems during prolonged exercise training is one explanation for the heightened risk of illness in some athletes. Intense physical activity generates free radicals that damage cells and lengthen recovery; antioxidants reduce free radicals.

According to Antioxidants in Sport Nutrition, supplementation of vitamins C and E (mainly the α-tocopherol form) can prevent muscle damage or speed up recovery which results in improvement of sports/exercise performance.

Between May 2015 and April 2017, 6% of global performance nutrition food, drink, and VMS launches had an immune system claim. During the same period, vitamin C, a potent antioxidant, is the top micronutrient included in such product launches globally, accounting for 27%.


Performance nutrition products containing natural and superfood ingredients attract consumers

The functional benefits of natural ingredients are also of interest in performance nutrition products. This includes using nutrient dense ingredients to fortify processed foods and functional plant-based ingredients to improve athletic performance in sports nutrition products targeting this consumer niche. Some of the natural ingredients and superfoods that link with sports and performance nutrition are beetroot, watermelon, red spinach, dark chocolate, and pickle juice.

In China, 33% of consumers aged 20-49 are interested in trying energy drinks containing superfood ingredients.

In US, 76% of nutritional and performance drink consumers say that nutritional and performance drink products made with natural ingredients are as effective as those using manufactured ingredients.

In Canada, 45% of consumers who consume energy and/or sports drinks are interested in sports drinks with all-natural ingredients.

In UK, 71% of UK sports nutrition consumers agree sports nutrition products with all-natural ingredients appeal to them.

 Ingredient spotlight: Nut butters appear in performance nutrition bars

Nuts and seeds are good sources of energy,  proteins and good fats, which are important macronutrients in performance nutrition.

As explained by Mintel’s 2017 trend Power to the Plants, a preference for natural and simple diets is leading consumers to seek more fruits, vegetables, grains and seeds. One factor driving the popularity of nuts and seeds is their protein content, as a rise in flexitarian, vegetarian and vegan diets means consumers look for essential amino acids in products other than meat. 

According to Nuts, Seeds, and Trail Mix – US, June 2016, nearly 90% of US nuts, seeds, or trail mix consumers agree that nuts and seeds are good sources of protein, while 84% agree that they are a good source of energy.

Category highlight: meat jerky gains traction in performance nutrition space

Opportunities to improve the role of meat snacks in the performance nutrition space remain under-developed and this is an area of potential growth. As consumers are looking for products that are natural, clean, and less processed, meat jerky is a category that performance nutrition manufacturers could leverage. Growth in meat snacks has been given a boost by the popularity of this unprocessed, ‘clean’ source of protein amongst consumers looking for an alternative to traditional performance nutrition products, such as protein powders and bars.

In the US and UK retail sales of meat snacks posted growth of 51% and 57%, respectively, over the five years to December 2016*, outpacing many other snacking categories.

In Australia, meat snacks have yet to take off, however, the market is ready for investment given the confluence of factors, such as high meat consumption and strong interest in high protein diets.

Meat snack manufacturers can look to established markets, such as the US and the UK, for ways to position meat snacks as clean sources of protein for performance nutrition users.

Diet watch: Nordic diet supports seniors’ physical performance

Nordic diet is associated with better physical performance and a decrease in disability risk among seniors.

  • According to the British Journal of Nutrition, Finnish researchers have investigated whether a healthy Nordic diet was associated with measures of physical performance.
  • It was found that among the participants with the mean age of 71 years who had a highest score to a Nordic diet had higher intake of antioxidants such as beta-carotene and vitamin C and E. Also, the dietary patterns linked with improved overall physical performance have higher intakes of Nordic foods, which are linked with reduced inflammation and oxidative stress.
  • Nordic diet focuses on the traditional foods of the Nordic countries (Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Iceland), including fruits, berries, vegetables, legumes, potatoes, whole grains, nuts, seeds, rye breads, fish, seafood, low-fat dairy, herbs, spices and rapeseed (canola) oil.
  • There are opportunities for brands to explore using Nordic ingredients in their products especially if targeting the senior market.

Expanded Specialised Nutrition Coverage

As the specialised nutrition market continues to grow, expand and diversify, Mintel GNPD strives to reflect these changes accurately and has strategically increased coverage for these categories, purchasing more products specifically labelled for clinical or specialty nutrition.

Within Specialised Nutrition, GNPD categorises the products in four ways:

Foods for medical purposes (FMPs)

FMPs are products intended for consumers with specific medical conditions or that address nutritional challenges or increased nutritional requirements. Clinical nutrition products are not intended for use by the general public and do not include functional foods, which are intended for general use but have an additional beneficial effect.

Infant nutrition

Infant nutrition includes all baby formulas and food making specific claims that help infants’ and young children’s development. It also includes nutrition for conceiving and pre-natal mothers. These products will serve a dual purpose of aiding the healthy development of the unborn child while simultaneously protecting the health of the mother to be.

Performance nutrition

Performance nutrition products promote physical and mental performance for athletes. Their functional purposes are directed towards weight and muscle gain, increasing the metabolic rate and enhancing or boosting energy levels, accelerating the breakdown of protein to aid muscle growth, muscle repair and recovery.

Weight management

Weight management products are those intended to help adults maintain health through weight loss. Products will often state they are for use in a weight controlling diet, they help control hunger through prolonged levels of satiation, they have fat-burning qualities or they help in losing weight and body fat.

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