Sports nutrition is not defined by EU legislation. For the most part, the sector is regulated by the European Commission’s General Food Law Regulation, with support from the Food Supplements Directive where relevant.
Sports nutrition food, therefore – developed to improve health, wellbeing, performance, muscle growth, and recovery through exercise – is impacted by new food laws. This includes those proposed under the European Commission’s Farm to Fork Strategy.
How is the sector responding to these initiatives? According to Luca Bucchini, vice-president of trade association the European Specialist Sports Nutrition Alliance (ESSNA), the Farm to Fork Strategy presents both challenges and opportunities to businesses in the field.
‘We are very supportive’
Proposals under the Farm to Fork Strategy cover the entire agri-food supply chain. These include reduction targets for fertiliser and pesticide use and an increase in land dedicated to organic farming.
The main objectives of relevance for the sports nutrition sector include enhanced coordination to enforce single market rules and tackle food fraud, proposals for harmonised mandatory FOP nutrition labelling and sustainable food labelling, a proposal to set nutrient profiles, and efforts to combat obesity.
“We are very supportive of the Farm to Fork Strategy and moving towards a more sustainable system of food production,” said Bucchini at a recent European Food Forum (EFF) event.
ESSNA appreciates the Strategy’s emphasis on enforcing single market rules and tackling food fraud, he elaborated. “Food fraud is an issue. Not a big issue, but some of the raw materials [used in sports nutrition] have this problem for us. So that [initiative] is welcome,” he told delegates.
Elsewhere, the trade association is ‘supportive’ of sustainability labelling. Bucchini, who is also managing director at sports nutrition consultancy Hylobates, stressed ‘there is demand’ for such an initiative. “And we’d like to see harmonised labels.”
Addressing obesity levels in European consumers is also welcomed by ESSNA. “We think that we play a role in addressing obesity, because we support sports, we want more sport and more exercise.”
Challenges at play
That is not to say that challenges don’t exist for the sector in adhering to the Farm to Fork proposal.
The sector is ‘looking with interest’, for example, at developments in the Strategy’s FOP nutrition labelling scheme. This is because the specificities of the sports nutrition sector are not acknowledged in the proposal, Bucchini told delegates.
To take the UK’s traffic light scheme as an example, colours are used (red, amber and green) to help consumers discern, at a glance, whether a product is high, medium, or low in fat, saturated fat, sugar, and salt.
Nutrition labelling schemes that highlight individual nutrients in this way may not serve the sports nutrition food sector, Bucchini explained.
“Every person engaged in high-intensity physical exercise has different nutritional requirements for sugar, salt, and/or fat.” As a result, some food products in the sports nutrition category are specifically formulated to contain higher levels of certain nutrients to cater for the specific dietary needs of their consumers.
“Some of the nutrients that we try to avoid or limit the consumption of, under normal circumstances, are important if you exercise intensively,” he reiterated. “For example, if you exercise all day…you may need extra sugars. If you are in hot weather and sweat a lot, you need extra sodium.”
Another concern for the sector lies in nutrient profiles and claims. “Some nutrient profiles may clash with authorised health claims that relate to physical activity. So we may not be able to use some of those authorised claims, unless the legislation changes.”