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Overlooked Opportunity: Sports Nutrition for Women

If you’re a health and fitness-minded woman, whether or not you’re a serious athlete, nutrition is never far from mind. A myriad of diets and lifestyles are available, seemingly targeted at women striving to balance what they eat with the calorie burn of their workout. But in the quest to eat ‘right’ to ensure performance, focus on nutrition can sometimes get lost. According to Jaci Van Heest, PhD, “there is a difference between ‘lean and mean’ and undernourished.”[1] Van Heest also notes that female athletes may not always eat properly, resulting in low energy intakes, which can lead to increased injury or illness.[2]

Careful choices are important for active women to maintain nutrition to fuel their workout, as well as their often-busy lifestyles. At most, it’s about balance—ensuring caloric intake matches metabolism, yes—but also focusing on the nutritional impact of those choices.

Learn more about sports nutrition for women and other active people. Download our white paper, Game Changer: The Evolving Sports Nutrition Market.


Active convenience.

While choosing nutrient-rich foods is crucial, convenience plays a very large role in foods active women select. Whether she is an athlete or a busy professional juggling her gym time with all her other responsibilities, an active woman’s food choices sometimes hinge on what’s available right now. Increasingly, those choices are convenience product-based. When it comes to preferred formats, female athletes, like other adults, prefer performance products that are easy-to-consume on the go.[3]

  • 45% percent of adults have bought a sports/energy bar.[4]
  • One-third of consumers aged 55-plus use sports drinks and mixes.[5]

In the economy of caloric intake, maximizing the benefits obtained from what is eaten is vital. With time-starved athletes reaching for convenience products like sports nutrition bars and drinks, these benefits can make some products better choices than others. The importance of staying healthy and ready to train is essential.

Meeting the needs of women.

Women are a force to be reckoned with in the fitness world, but just 2.1% of sports nutrition products are targeted at active females.[6] Understanding the benefits associated with overall sports nutrition can help women choose products that meet their unique needs. As Jim Winters, President of branding agency Badger & Winters puts it: “Women are not a special-interest group. They are over half the population.”[7]

Yet a common pitfall of ‘female-specific’ products is the ‘pink it and shrink it’ trend, meaning that targeting products especially for women can sometimes miss the mark.

The sports nutrition market by the numbers.

So what does the sports nutrition market look like? For one thing, it’s vast, ranging from powders and supplements to food and drink products. And it’s growing. Between 2004 and 2018, the global sports nutrition market grew by 190%.[8] In 2019, it was worth $17 billion, and it is forecast to reach $21 billion by 2023, a CAGR of 7.9%.[9]

What differentiates the many foods, beverages and supplements are the benefits the respective products provide. Sports nutrition-focused products are now designed to meet a wider variety of needs, goals, and health concerns in areas such as immune health and mental clarity.

While active women and men are looking for beneficial products, the differences between the genders cannot be ignored. One of the most important is transparency. With the multitude of available sports nutrition products, products that deliver on their claims are especially resonant with women.[10] And one of the best ways to ensure efficacy is to choose products with research-backed branded ingredients that provide benefits active women desire. According to Thomas Morgan, market analyst for Lumina Intelligence, “As #strongnotskinny and #fitspiration take off… [products] must have the trust of the consumer. Women are more empowered than ever before. Products in the gym just need to reflect the gains [they] are making.”[11]

Support so women can stay active.

While the most obvious goal of nutritional foods and beverages is to provide fuel for daily life, being active may require the extra support of products formulated especially for athletes. Nyree Dardarian, RD and assistant clinical professor and director of the Center for Integrated Nutrition and Performance at Drexel University notes that “Good nutrition helps you play a game, work out or run a race longer, without injury and at your peak level.”[12]

Immune health for active women.

In addition to maintaining fitness, immune health is also a key concern for athletes. A Harvard Opinion Research Program study of 1,579 adults found immunity to be one of the top three reasons people bought supplements, ahead of heart and digestive health.[13] And immunity becomes even more important when focusing on a particular fitness goal.

Athletes at all levels can face harsh environmental factors (increased exposure to crowds or travel exhaustion) as well as physical and psychological stress. These factors can negatively impact the immune system and overall physical health. This can lead to missed training days or critical workouts and impact performance and wellness goals.

With so much on her plate, the last thing a fitness-focused woman needs is to struggle with illness. While maintaining an active lifestyle is key to protecting health, adding beneficial sports nutrition products can help. In a study of healthy adult marathon runners, Wellmune®, the natural immune health ingredient, was shown to reduce the duration of symptoms of upper-respiratory tract infections (URTI) as well as the number of training days post-marathon lost to URTI.

By supporting the immune system, Wellmune helps athletes stay healthy during and after intense exercise, allowing for harder and longer training, and facilitating quicker recovery. And these benefits extend to adults of average fitness levels, too.

When it comes to sports nutrition, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for every athlete. But sports nutrition products that make a connection between functional ingredients and benefits address concerns unique to the typical active woman– balancing multiple priorities, nutrition on the go, and the desire to maintain health and fitness. about how Wellmune can help support a healthy lifestyle.

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[3] IRI, Taking Stock of CPG Past & Future Report, 2016
[4] Packaged Facts, Food Formulation and Ingredient Trends, 2016
[5] Mintel 2015 Nutritional and Performance Drinks—U.S. Report
[8] Euromonitor International, cited in Oster, M ‘Sports nutrition is expanding across consumers, categories, and positionings’ Nutritional Outlook, 25 March 2019
[9] Euromonitor Passport, 2019
[13] Decker, Kim ‘Immune-health ingredient update 2019’ Nutritional Outlook, 21 February 2019

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