Natural products and supplements in sports

Sports nutrition is an important concept for all athletes irrespective of the sport of interest. Various reports had traced the origin of sports nutrition to the early 1940s when bodybuilders were placed on a diet regimen to help provide the right nutrients needed in the needed amount. With time, endurance events in sport gained popularity with millions competing annually in marathons races, ultramarathon races, wrestling, competitive swimming, cross-country skiing, and cycling. The need to further develop defined nutritional requirements for various athletes supplied enough boost for advanced discussions and interests in sports nutrition.     

The niche status of sports nutrition for only athletes engaging in endurance events changed steadily with different health campaigns highlighting the health benefits of proper dieting and lifestyle modification that includes regular exercise. Non-athletes then commenced a lifestyle module with exercise plans for different reasons—appearance improvement, non-drug approach to addressing predisposing health challenges, and competition. Although the need for a customized diet plan for elite athletes has long been agreed to, nutritionists, dietitians, sports scientists, and physicians often debate the concept of an ideal nutrition plan with each professional offering different views on the same topic (Vitale et al., 2019).  

In a bid to supply the “optimal nutrition for athletes,” different studies have been conducted to explore the nutrient store of non-food substances, including organic recipes and synthetic edibles infused with minerals, vitamins, antioxidants, probiotics, nitrates, and caffeine. Natural products derived from plants with known phytonutrients and compounds with health benefits were also explored. These new approaches in sports nutrition have grown tremendously to encompass discussions on dietary supplements, prohibited drug substances, and regulations guiding performance-enhancing products. Currently, different legislations have been enacted by sport governing bodies globally to checkmate the proliferation of natural compounds and drug of abuse in sports. 


CBD in sports

Cannabinoids derived from cannabis plants became the focus of many researches in the 1940s. Although the focus of interest in these researches was far beyond the possible use of cannabis-derived products in sports, research results indicated that the cannabis plant contains compounds of potential health benefits to mankind. With time the mind-altering effects of the plant were discovered, and the plants were banned for use in different regions across the world. The use of cannabis in sport was hindered by different anecdotal and experimental analysis indicating that recreational cannabis may impair psychomotor skills and cognitive functions of athletes (Mark et al., 2018). 

Extensive medical research into the components of the cannabis plants led to the isolation of over 113 compounds of different properties in animal subjects. Special focus was placed on cannabidiol (CBD) and 9-delta-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) as the principal components. Early results analysis revealed that THC was responsible for the characteristic high and mind-altering effects generally noticed by heavy users of cannabis. CBD, on the other hand, was found to be non-psychoactive, that it interestingly affects a dose-dependent antagonism of THC’s mind-altering properties, and also possesses a series of health benefits, especially in the management of neurodegenerative diseases. 

Consequently, the benefits of CBD in athletes were documented. Acting on the endocannabinoid system, CBD effects a series of beneficial medical functions, including pain management, appetite stimulation, memory formation, and sleep quality enhancement. Fortunately, different medical journal reports detailing the benefits of CBD in protein synthesis and, by extension, injury recovery were published. Almost immediately, sports enthusiasts and athletes called for the legal framework allowing the use of CBD-derived products in sports with numerous campaigns specifically focused on reducing the injury recovery period in elite sports professionals. 


Following rigorous campaigns, the World Anti-Doping Agency reviewed its 2004 verdict on the use of cannabis products in sports. The new ruling directed that all-natural and synthetic cannabinoids and cannabinoids-derived products are prohibited in sport except for CBD. This single review allowed the legal use of CBD-derived products by elite athletes and enhanced the boom of the CBD industry. 


U.S. sports nutrition market and the CBD effect

Fueled by the steady increase in the demand for protein bars, dietary supplements, and energy drinks by various elite athletes, the global sports nutrition market is projected to be valued around $31 billion in 2027 with a compound average growth rate (CAGR) of 8.9% over this period. Market analysts have concluded that the rising number of health-conscious individuals coupled with the shift in the demographic base from core athletes to recreational athletes and increased awareness for the adoption of a healthy lifestyle are the factors expected to drive the demand scale. Recent market indicators have also favored this projection. The International Health, Racquet, and Sports Club Association reported an increase in the number of health club members from 55.3 million in 2015 to 57.3 million in 2017 (Grand View Research., 2020). 

The United States and Europe are considered the biggest shareholders of the global sports nutrition market, and the presence of an extensive framework of distribution channels has further established the roles of these players in the market. Following the legalization of CBD-derived products for use in athletes, these products are expected to drive up the demand and valuation of the U.S. nutrition market in the nearest future. This expected boom in the nutrition market has been dubbed the “CBD effect” by market analysis experts. 

Various stakeholders in the CBD market have initiated plans to roll out different CBD-infused beverages and isolates for use in professional athletes. In 2018, a Heineken-owned beer label launched a brand of cannabinoid-infused drink as a zero-calorie, zero-carb sparkling drink. Other global food product brands have also announced plans to produce CBD-infused food products and isolates for use by active participants of the endurance events. However, different state laws and cultural perspectives are expected to weigh in on the potential of CBD on the sports nutrition market, especially in conservative regions of the world. In all, CBD-derived products set the global nutrition market on the right course for an impressive vertical valuation. 



Ian Parkes

Ian has been writing for a number of high growth industries for the past decade. Having plied his trade in the craft beer industry, Ian drew parallels between that and the world of CBD and soon became fascinated. Ian enjoys writing about innovation in the industry, particularly as it relates to the development of the leading brands.

See all posts by Ian Parkes

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