As consumers become more conscious about their health and wellness, demand for supplements that strengthen muscles is trending upward for both younger and older.
People of many ages and from various demographics have been increasingly focused on maintaining or further strengthening their muscle mass for their fitness and overall health. Whether one is a regular athlete, weekend warrior or aging individual concerned about losing muscle, the market has been trending upward when it comes to demand for muscle and strength products. It makes sense, as many consumers have struggled with weight gain since the pandemic began and desire to get back into shape. With gyms opening back up and the convenience of at-home workout programs, more and more people are interested in exercising for both their physique and their health. In addition, COVID-19 has brought health and wellness to the forefront of the global population’s consciousness, leading many consumers to want to preserve their muscles and increase overall strength to remain healthy.
According to Trisha Sugarek MacDonald, BS, MS, senior director of research & development/national educator, Bluebonnet Nutrition Corporation (Sugar Land, TX), “The active nutrition category was dominant in 2019, and with the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021, they are shining ever so brightly today. As a nation, we all realize how important it is to maintain our health. As we emerge from the pandemic restrictions, we see how much we have taken for granted—the opportunities we have, like participating in group activities, fitness, sports, going to a gym, eating out, etc.” Indeed, she added, the Natural Marketing Institute (NMI) reported that 62 percent of U.S. consumers surveyed during the COVID-19 pandemic said they have become more health conscious. Furthermore, the number of new dietary supplement users increased, with Millennials and women having the greatest interest.
Many consumers have turned toward dietary supplements, such as protein, to aid in muscle growth, recovery and repair as the fitness category grows and people become more in tune with their health. As stated on the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health website in an online journal entry from Nutrients, “Increased protein intake contributes to greater strength and muscle mass gains when coupled with resistance exercise, allows for greater muscle mass preservation when consumed during periods of negative energy balance, limits age-related muscle loss, and, to a lesser extent, provides a greater muscle protein synthetic response when evenly distributed across meals.”
Trends/State of the Muscle & Strength Market
According to www.grandviewresearch.com in a market analysis report titled “Protein Supplements Market Size, Share & Trends Analysis Report by Source (Animal-based, Plant-based), By Product (Powder, RTD), By Distribution Channel (Online Stores, DTC), By Application, And Segment Forecasts, 2021-2028,” “The global protein supplements market size was valued at $18.91 billion (U.S.) in 2020 and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 8.4 [percent] from 2021 to 2028. The market is gaining momentum owing to the increasing health consciousness and a rising number of fitness centers around the globe.”
Furthermore, the analysis stated, “The increasing product popularity among the Millennials coupled with their interest in building health through a balanced diet is expected to create additional demand for protein supplements over the forecast period.” Millennials are hitting the gyms more and eating healthy to stay in shape, stay healthy and build muscle to look and feel their best. The older population, on the other hand, wants to preserve their muscles so that they have the strength to move and function most optimally as they continue to age. As a result, one of the most popular and traditional muscle products on the market, protein, has seen a significant increase in sales.
Neil E. Levin, CCN, DANLA, senior education manager at NOW Health Group located in Bloomingdale, IL, noted, “At NOW, we have seen significant growth in our mass building category, as well as increased demand for traditional products that are used for muscle fuel, such as creatine and beta alanine …We expect to see a continued increase in demand for protein products over the next few years.”
Furthermore, Levin has noticed two main factors that are currently impacting the market. “The first is regulation both in sports and for consumers,” he stated. “In sports, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) list has grown to include over 200 banned substances. This has caused athletes to be more cautious when taking supplements with new or unfamiliar ingredients. The other is on the consumer side; as consumers are becoming more educated, they are looking for products and ingredients that are clean and have studies to support their claims.” For both athletes and the everyday consumer interested in maintaining or building muscle, what they are putting into their bodies matters. As the desire to live a healthy lifestyle grows, especially since the start of the pandemic, consumers of all kinds are looking into what supplements might be best for their health and fitness needs. Levin elaborated, “These factors have led both athletes and consumers back to traditional products that have years of studies to prove their safety and legitimacy, such as creatine, beta-alanine, glutamine and protein powder.” He also noted that protein powder went from being marketed as a powerful muscle builder to a supplement being added to functional foods, which led to it becoming increasingly popular in the mainstream market.
Another trend that NOW has noticed is that the demand for plant-based protein and collagen products are growing faster than other sources of protein. “While bodybuilders and athletes have historically been the traditional consumers of muscle and strength products, we have seen a broadening of that market to include weekend warriors, busy parents, yogis and people of all ages who are simply trying to preserve their body’s health by exercising,” he explained. “This means that muscles and competitions are less of a motivation for many of today’s consumers of sports-related products. This is one reason why plant proteins are growing faster than any other protein category, other than maybe collagen products. And collagens—based on incomplete proteins that don’t fully support muscles, enzymes, neurotransmitters or hormones as complete proteins will—do support joint and skin structures, which give them claims for maintaining youthful activity levels and keeping skin looking young.” Joint and skin health are important to consumers of all ages, and particularly the aging population as their skin begins to show the physical signs of aging and their joints become less mobile.
Sugarek MacDonald noted, “The fitness community, in general, is experiencing an upward trend, which drives the foot traffic in the retail health market and online sales for the sports nutrition category. No matter one’s age, sex or activity level—when one finds a fitness routine that works for them, it is only natural for them to want to accompany their new regimen with a healthy diet and responsible supplementation.” Echoing Levin, she said, “according to a recent report by Allied Market Research, the Global Sports Nutrition Market is expected to reach $44,003 million by 2021. This is because ‘sports nutrition’ is no longer just for bodybuilders and athletes. Lifestyle and recreational users have adopted this category as well, and the number of users has consistently increased year after year.”
Sugarek MacDonald shared research to support these upward trends. Since muscle is primarily made up of protein and water, adequate protein intake is required to strengthen them. “The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dieticians of Canada and the American College of Sports Medicine recommend 1.2 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day for athletes, depending on training. Additionally, because of the sizable thermic effect of protein, it is suggested that protein intake should be 25 to 30 percent of total energy intake.” She also noted that pre-workout to boost energy, stamina and endurance are vital to exercising to build muscle. “Pre-workout boosts are typically combinations of simple carbohydrates, herbs, amino acids and caffeine to help increase energy levels and rev the mind. That said, for long-distance runners or other endurance athletes (i.e., long-distance bike enthusiasts), it is essential to also consume complex carbohydrates before, during and after the workout so that energy levels are maintained and can drive you through your workout or event.”
Lastly, she elaborated on the importance of muscle recovery and repair. “Studies suggest that within 30 minutes after intense exercise, the body optimizes its ability to replenish energy stores—particularly muscle and liver glycogen. The body becomes a sponge, and for hardcore bodybuilders, this is the golden opportunity to optimize muscle rebuilding and recovery if the right ingredients are available. This is also a critical time because the body instigates muscle protein synthesis for muscle tissue recovery and repair, replenishes fluids and electrolytes lost through sweat, and adapts to the stresses encountered in the workout … By having appropriate nutrition after one’s workout, a dynamic shift is created in the body, allowing it to move from a catabolic state to an anabolic one, which ensures proper muscle gains. It is typically recommended to aim for a small snack or meal that provides roughly 30 to 40 grams of carbs and 10 to 15 grams of protein.”
Mark Malinsky, founder of Sprout Living located in Chicago, IL, illustrated another interesting reason for these upward trends. “I believe the market for [muscle and strength] products has widened with social media,” he opined. Indeed, with the rise of “influencers” who often start new trends that go viral, it’s no wonder why social media has had such a significant impact on the industry. Furthermore, he stated that “The trend for plant-based is the clearest to us. Research, documentaries, the improvement of ‘food tech’ and countless anecdotal stories are really pushing this lifestyle change to more plants and less animal products.” Plant-based proteins and nutraceuticals have been trending upward consistently the past few years, which makes them important for those looking to work on their muscles. Malinsky also noted that although taste and quality of these products is important, convenience is essential. Powders, RTDs (ready-to-drinks) and protein-based snacks have been the most interesting for consumers, the company has noticed.
How Aging Consumers Can Preserve Muscle Mass
Older consumers are at risk for Sarcopenia, or age-related muscle loss. In an online journal entry from Nutrients titled “Nutritional Supplements to Support Resistance Exercise in Countering the Sarcopenia of Aging,” the researchers noted that “A decrease in muscle mass and function with advancing age exacerbates the likelihood of mobility impairments, disease development and early mortality.” As a result, they explained that “Currently, resistance training provides the most effective, low cost means by which to prevent sarcopenia progression and improve multiple aspects of overall health. Importantly, the impact of resistance training on skeletal muscle mass may be augmented by specific dietary components (i.e., protein), feeding strategies (i.e., timing, per-meal doses of specific macronutrients) and nutritional supplements (e.g., creatine, vitamin D, omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, etc.).”
Since, according to www.bodybuilding.com, building muscle becomes increasingly harder as people age, it is crucial to ensure that one’s muscles are receiving the nutrients they need to remain strong. In the article titled “Healthy-Aging Supplements for Older Adults,” some of the best supplements for maintaining muscle mass include creatine monohydrate (can affect strength, fat-free mass and functional performance) and whey protein/leucine (increase muscle mass and strength, particularly when coupled with a resistance training program). A combination of strength training and taking the right supplements is vital to maintaining muscle mass for the older population.
Muscle and Strength Products
There is a plethora of protein-based foods and other muscle strengthening supplements on the market, especially as demand trends upward. Natural Grocers explained in their blog that branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) like leucine “serve as building blocks for proteins and neurotransmitters in our bodies; BCAAs … stimulate the biochemical pathway that tells muscles to grow and also prevent muscles from being broken down. When combined with resistance training, BCAAs increase testosterone levels and decrease stress hormones.” Furthermore, they explained that beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate (HMB) “is a nutrient that is similar to leucine and … helps to reduce the muscle loss caused by stress hormones, which often increase as we age.” They also listed antioxidants, which “have been shown to quench free radicals and support healthy muscle mass in aged populations,” as well as vitamin D, which “has been found to decrease the likelihood of falls in the elderly and has been demonstrated to improve physical performance and strength in numerous studies.”
NOW began its sports nutrition line in 1988, according to Levin, and the company currently has more than 140 products across eight categories including their mass building category. Some of the products they offer for muscle building include beta-alanine, RDAs, BCAAs and creatine. “NOW uses CarnoSyn, a patented form of beta-alanine that has been clinically tested and shown to increase muscle carsonine content, allowing muscles to work harder and longer during intense exercise*… NOW beta-alanine is backed by scientific research demonstrating that CarnoSyn supplementation results in delayed muscle fatigue and rapid recovery time, thereby helping people to attain their strength and endurance training goals.”*
NOW also offers its Creatine Monohydrate product, which has no additives or preservatives. “We offer both pure and micronized forms, the latter of which is a way of reducing particle size to enhance bioavailability,” said Levin. The company also offers the gentler Kre-Alkalyn form, which “reaches muscle cells at its maximum strength and purity.”* The patented pH-buffered formula is stable throughout the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, “which may prevent its breakdown and allow it to enter the muscle tissue fully potent, thus effectively eliminating the uncomfortable stomach distress, gas and bloating that is sometimes associated with other creatine supplements.”*
Bluebonnet, according to Sugarek MacDonald, “formulates and manufactures high-quality vitamins, minerals, proteins, amino acids, standardized herbal extracts and marine- and plant-based omega fatty acids that are specially formulated based on individual need.” Bluebonnet offers several protein supplements to support muscle maintenance and growth for athletes and regular exercisers alike from all age groups.
Sprout Living, according to Malinsky, has been supplying plant protein focused products since 2012. “Our line of organic, plant-based Epic Protein is the best-selling. We use a variety of plant sources to create a robust amino acid profile to which we add prebiotics, superfoods and adaptogens. This adds function beyond just protein such as recovery, energy, focus and countless vitamins and minerals.” Recently, the company reformulated its line of Epic Protein for improved protein quality, taste and nutrition, Malinsky said. Sprout Living is also launching a nootropic version to help promote mind balance along with protein, as well as a superfood-based hydration mix. As health-conscious consumer demand for plant-based protein increases, it is likely that there will be more and more of these products on the market.
How Health Food Stores Educate Consumers
Retailers have also noticed this increase in demand for muscle and strength products. Dianna Singh, integrative health coach and owner of Elk Grove Vitamins located in Elk Grove, CA, said that her store has been serving the public for 26 years. With a prime location next to a gym, they have had success selling muscle and strength products. “We are seeing all ages of men and women coming in. Sales have increased tremendously in this category. For the most part, the average person relies on social media as a source of education.” However, she continued, many customers enter the store without an idea of what they are looking for. “Creatine is a category that draws them in, and it’s then that we start educating them and discussing their food intake and what exactly their goals are.”
Instead of carrying several different products in the category, Elk Grove Vitamins carries a select few of clean products. “Carrying products we trust is far more important than having too many choices. It’s then that we start educating customers on the importance of the health food industry and natural products versus ingredients that have harmful effects on our bodies.” The education and training provided by the product companies give the Elk Grove staff the knowledge they need to educate their customers. “It takes a village of educational teams to keep the strength and the culture of the small business alive and successful!”
Susanne Engelbert, owner of Eterna Health Foods located in Mansfield, TX, has been serving the public for over 10 years. She noted that in the muscle and strength category, they “have seen an increase over the past three years, and especially over the last 16 months.” Most of their customers know what they are looking for, but the knowledgeable staff is always prepared to answer any questions that they may have. “These products usually appeal to people who work out or want help with their libido. Usually, this line appeals to 75 percent men and 25 percent women.” She also stated that most of her customers lean toward capsules or tablets. As the demand for muscle and strength products soars, retailers are looking for supplements of the best quality for their customers, as well as the information necessary to educate and help them choose what is right for them.
Tips and Education for Retailers
For retailers to be able to sell the best muscle and strength products in their stores, they need to be well-informed about what they are selling. NOW Foods said it supports retailers with education on stacks of supplements that support muscle endurance, mass building and muscle recovery. The company also list these on its websites for consumers and have them available as literature for retailers to keep in its stores. Furthermore, it provides videos on its website from experts, athletes and nutritionists that detail their go-to sports nutrition stacks. The company also provides educational videos and literature to consumers about how to properly dose certain supplements, such as beta-alanine.
As far as advice for retailers, Levin suggested, “When merchandising, make it easy for the customer to shop, group by category such as mass building, recovery, muscle endurance or by workout need such as pre-workout, during workout and post-workout. Generate excitement for these products by including recommended stacks from fitness professionals, experts or athletes. If the product is flavored, let the customers sample the product and show them different ways to utilize the products post workout shake, smoothie bowl or a snack.”
Sugarek MacDonald advised retailers to work on “renovation of the sports nutrition/natural energy department by making it attractive, interactive and informative for consumers—no matter their age. Cross merchandise ‘muscle and strength’ products on an end cap combining dietary supplements and packaged foods for vitality.” She also suggested that retailers “can incorporate signage on the benefits of daily exercise, allowing sales in the whole body that are cross-sectional. If you are looking for a more digital approach, send out email blasts or create thumbnails that you can post on your social media front.”
Sprout Living, according to Malinsky, provides “various types of printed and digital materials, but [we] still find that phone training sessions are the most effective because there’s an opportunity for Q&A. I think the staff being properly trained to be able to talk about the products is critical. Customers assume that they can trust the staff for the right information.”
In the muscle and strength category, it is important for retailers to encourage consumers of all ages to feel that they can use the products. Whether one is looking to build muscle mass, recover their muscles or preserve their muscle mass due to aging, consumers of several generations are demanding clean, quality products to benefit their muscles. VR
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
For More Information:
Trends/State of the Muscle & Strength Market
How Aging Consumers Can Preserve Muscle Mass
Muscle and Strength Products
How Health Food Stores Educate Consumers
Tips and Education for Retailers
For More Information:
• NOW Health Group, www.nowfoods.com
• Sprout Living, www.sproutliving.com