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Nutrition goes beyond simply studying nutrients in food. It is the relationship between your diet and body that determines an understanding of what food to eat and what happens after you eat them.
Individuals are increasingly becoming more responsible for their health, and with the increasing requirement to adopt a healthy lifestyle, food intake is a carefully monitored and well-thought-out process.
Likewise, the fascination with sports is bigger than it has ever been. Both, exercise enthusiasts and professional athletes need to carefully regulate and balance their meals to avoid burnout while staying on top of their activities and maximizing their bodies’ capabilities.
Food has always played an important part in the life of athletes. The diet of a participant in the ancient Olympics would differ drastically from that of the modern-day athlete, however, the need for protein to build muscle and carbohydrate for energy, remains the same.
Numerous tales discuss the eating habits of past Olympians. Some of these historical examples could very well have been exaggerated over time, but they create a clear link between food and performance. Sports historians often use the Greek fighter Milo of Crotona, who competed in five Olympic Games between 532 and 516 BCE, as an ancient example of early interest in sports nutrition.
You might have heard the stories of his strength, attributed to his food intake which included nine kilograms of meat, nine kilograms of bread, and eight liters of wine while preparing for a fight. Whether his eating habits have been exaggerated or not, the fighter knew that his diet would have some effect on his athletic performance.
Swedish scientists in the late 1930s conducted studies on carbohydrate and fat metabolism which eventually led to the study of glucose and glycogen. The priority in these early days of research was to increase athletes’ energy and to understand how muscles store energy in the form of glycogen. Technology was also developed to help those scientists measure human tissue responses to exercise.
In subsequent research, proteins were found to increase muscle size. Athletes were typically characterized as either endurance or strength athletes and the former focused primarily on carbohydrate intake while the latter on protein intake.
The more muscle an athlete had, the more glycogen they would be able to store, resulting in a competitive advantage not only in form of energy but also endurance. With this discovery, the demand for protein in the sports industry skyrocketed and led to the birth of the protein supplement industry.
A lot has changed since the early and mid-20th centuries regarding the development of this field. Advancements in technology have allowed what was once a topic of study to grow into a lifestyle choice and fast-growing industry. According to Research CMFE, the global sports nutrition market was valued at more than USD 24 billion in 2020 and is projected to reach nearly USD 48 billion by 2027.
The sports nutrition market is not exclusive to athletes anymore. Some of the major factors contributing to the advancement in sports nutrition are the growing popularity of fitness, self-care, and preventive medication among people.
The rising cases of diseases such as obesity and diabetes along with long working hours and a busy lifestyle are posing several challenges in healthy eating patterns. These issues can also lead to anxiety, weakness, depression, and other health-related problems which in turn, lead to consumers inclining towards nutritional products and sports supplements to fill the nutrition gap in their diet.
An overview of the sports nutrition industry today can broadly be categorized into two sections: nutrients and supplements.
Nutrients can be considered as fuel for the body. For our physical and mental health to remain strong and healthy, a balanced diet of nutrients is not only important while performing sporting activities, but also to navigate everyday life. The right amount of nutrients is an essential aid to support performance, importantly carbohydrates, fats, and protein which maintain the body's energy. These include:
Supplements are mainly used by athletes and sportspersons to boost strength, performance, and recovery. They are available in numerous different forms ranging from multivitamins and minerals to protein, creatine, and various other ergogenic aids. Some of them include:
Individuals who engage in any type of physical activity, from a personal workout to improving general fitness or preparing for a major professional sporting event, can benefit from understanding the role of good nutrition in athletic performance.
We are entering an exciting phase when we look at the ongoing advancements in sports nutrition. A phase where the industry looks to unite the knowledge of immunology, agriculture, sports science, and various other branches of research to provide a more holistic take on athletic performance and health.
DKSH offers a broad variety of ingredients that cater to the latest trends in sports nutrition and supplements. Our international teams of technical specialists collaborate across borders to develop innovative solutions for companies looking to tap into the growing consumer needs. Contact us to learn more about our food supplement and nutrition solutions.
Cesar Saez is based in Singapore. He is currently Vice President, Global Food & Beverage Ingredients, Performance Materials at DKSH Management Pte. Ltd.