Monitor: Quarantine builds new fitness habits and sports nutrition opportunities

With gyms closed and bike paths packed, consumers have clearly shifted their fitness focus, not just on what they are doing—think endurance and outdoors—but perhaps why they are doing it. This could change everything for sports nutrition marketing.

Rick Polito, Editor-in-chief, Nutrition Business Journal

June 4, 2020

8 Min Read

Natural Products Industry Health Monitor, June 5, 2020


A global lockdown might make weeks feel like months and months weigh like centuries, but business allows little room for ennui. As distracting as the daily inundation of the negative can be, the time to look forward is always now. In this new weekly feature, Informa Health and Nutrition sister properties provide that right-now-right-here update. Look for the Industry Health Monitor each Friday to learn the major news that is affecting the natural products market immediately and the less obvious insights that could dictate where the market may struggle or thrive in the months to come.


Consider this: Consumers' changing fitness routines

As consumers inch incrementally closer to a semblance of prepandemic routine, certain components of what they once called “normal life” are feeling anything but routine and gym workouts are high on the “not quite ready for that” list. Indeed, New Hope Network NEXT Data and Insights consumer research places gyms near the bottom of places consumers consider themselves “ready” to return to. Only airplanes and movie theaters rank lower.

Additional New Hope Network research shows that consumers are far more likely to report that they have increased the amount of time they spend walking and hiking (24%) than lifting weights (7%). GPS fitness tracking data from Garmin reveals further dramatic changes in outdoor and endurance activity. As skiing and snowboarding dropped by 96% in March, indoor cycling shot up 64%. The weather has an obvious impact on outdoor activities, but while walking increased by 18% in the second half of March 2019, the increase doubled that in 2020, climbing 36%.  

Quarantine cabin fever undoubtedly drives a lot of this outdoor activity. Much of the world may be “reopening,” but in the tightest weeks of the lockdown, suburban parks and trails were among the only places where getting out of the house was allowed or encouraged. A desire for wellness could be linked, at least in some part, to the rise in activity. Early into the pandemic, it was clear that conditions related to a sedentary life—diabetes and obesity stand out—were closely linked to death and severe complications in COVID-19 cases. Some of the standard motivations for exercise like avoiding heart disease, avoiding osteoporosis and cutting dementia risk are challenges spanning decades. Surviving COVID-19 is a right-now affair. Some predict the pandemic could reset attitudes about exercise and move the focus closer to wellness than performance or “swimsuit season” aesthetics.

Know this: Fitness and sports nutrition don’t always go hand in hand

This increased fitness activity does not automatically set the table for sports nutrition sales growth. These outdoor activities and the spiking sales for at-home cardio equipment like Peloton’s connected bikes are endurance activities and the sports nutrition industry has not traditionally focused on these pursuits. Gels, bars and energy drinks—largely based on simple carbohydrates—represent nearly the entirety of sports nutrition’s endurance market. Sports nutrition companies have not aggressively marketed to endurance athletes; and products like creatine and beta-alanine, which could offer benefits in endurance sports, remain unfamiliar outside the confines of the weight room. This leaves sports nutrition brands ill equipped to capitalize on the migration from gym to bike path.

We see this in New Hope consumer research. Roughly a third, 35%, of respondents said they foresee their consumption of protein powders will increase in the next three months, but only 8% said protein supplement use would increase considerably. A much larger number, 58%, said they do not believe their consumption will change at all. The takeaway might be that protein is already part of many consumers' daily routines. That only 6% said they believe they will decrease their consumption supports that argument.

None of this means the quarantine hurts the sports nutrition market. The pandemic-driven sales spike seen in categories such as herbs and botanicals, and vitamins was never expected in sports nutrition. But the turnaround is notable. For 2020, the Nutrition Business Journal predicts 8.7% sales growth, up from 6.5% in 2019. That’s a pale shade of the 13.1% growth the category clocked in 2013 as it was simultaneously hitting peak growth and peak scandal, but it’s better than any of the intervening years.

Purchasers of NBJ’s 2020 Sports Nutrition and Weight Management Report will receive updated data as trends become more clear. Look for extensive pandemic-focused insight in the NBJ Supplement Business Report when it publishes June 9.

Natural Products Industry Health Monitor indexes

Consumer behavior indexes measure consumer behaviors through weekly surveys that are compared to a 2017 benchmark before COVID-19 emerged to see how the novel coronavirus is changing consumers. Behaviors seeking environmentally and responsibly made products, high-quality ingredients, nutrient density and transparency struggled to compete with other priorities as consumers grappled with a COVID-19 world beginning of April. But, with two months of weekly tracking, we see core consumer values realign with 2017 benchmark data that evaluated the same consumer behaviors.

The natural products industry engagement index tracks social and mass media engagement of the top 50 trends defining the natural products industry. The index tracks weekly keyword engagement of these top trends that are compared to a Q4 2019 weekly average benchmark before COVID-19 emerged. With three months of tracking since the outbreak of COVID-19 in the United States, engagement spikes and dips as we navigate this period of unrest, but consumer engagement within these topics is growing.

Nutrition Capital Network tracks financial activity in the natural products industry. Investment activity experienced a significant lull in March but has found traction again with new deals occurring on par with 2019 through April and May. The last week in May saw a huge uptick in investment activity with notable investment activity in plant-based proteins and meat and dairy alternatives, food delivery services, precision agriculture technologies, and new technologies to help restaurants better thrive in times of germs and crises.  


Hear this: Expert takes on sports nutrition marketing

Resilient sports nutrition. Many of the ingredients that sports nutrition supplement brands promote to weight lifters could present substantial benefits for endurance athletes, says Shawn Wells, a performance nutrition consultant. Just because protein hasn’t been marketed to endurance athletes doesn’t mean a smart company couldn’t target runners and cyclists. “Whether you’re doing strength or endurance training, I think protein should still be a focus,” Wells says. Get the full look at how sports nutrition brands need to rethink their marketing.

New fitness; new marketing messages. Joel Kocher, CEO of nitric-oxide supplement maker HumanN, says he believes consumers shifting their fitness focus means sports nutrition brands need to get ready to shift with them. “If we have learned anything in the last 90 days, it’s that all bets are off,” Kocher says in a Nutrition Business Journal article. “Everything is changing. And that includes our industry. Perhaps this is the dawning of a tectonic shift from the weight room to venues where people don’t congregate.”

The basics. Rick Collins is both a lawyer with an interest in sports nutrition and a 20-year member of a Long Island health club that’s been called “the #1 hardcore gym in the USA.” For Natural Products Insider, Collins writes that while the gym is closed and the Arnold 2020 sports nutrition trade show was cancelled, he stays fit with weights in his basement and thinks COVID-19 should jolt Americans out of their sedentary ways. “We really need to come to terms with the biggest long-term lesson of all: that poor diet, lack of exercise, insufficient rest and a sedentary lifestyle leading to diabetes and obesity together make us easy prey for viruses.” 

Enjoy this

With owners home all the time, dogs are getting more attention than ever, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t exhausted. This meme takes a comic spin on that exhaustion but the Washington Post also offered some tips on keeping pets sane during the quarantine.

dog walk meme

Methodology footnotes


Natural products consumer behavior indexes: New Hope Network NEXT Data and Insights survey of n~1,000 collected weekly since March 30, 2020, using a convenience sample directionally representative of U.S. consumers ages 18-65 weighted for age, region and gender. The 2017 survey data are based on responses of 1,000 people nationally representative of the U.S. adult population. Index tracks “top two box” responses. 


Natural products industry engagement index: New Hope Network NEXT Data and Insights tracks the core 50 trends defining and innovating the natural products industry. By filtering social and mass media listening through these top trends we are able to track weekly indexes of total mentions and Net sentiment of the hot topics representative of the industry from the beginning of March 2020 compared to average weekly scores of the last three months of 2019. This allows stakeholders a view into the pulse of the industry through online conversations.  


Natural products industry investment index: Nutrition Capital Network, part of Informa’s Health and Nutrition portfolio of brands, collects all investment transactions occurring in the natural products industry. Total number of investment transactions (mergers, acquisitions, financings) are tallied weekly and compared to a fourth quarter 2019 weekly average benchmark before COVID-19 emerged.

About the Author(s)

Rick Polito

Editor-in-chief, Nutrition Business Journal

As Nutrition Business Journal's editor-in-chief, Rick Polito writes about the trends, deals and developments in the natural nutrition industry, looking for the little companies coming up and the big money coming in. An award-winning journalist, Polito knows that facts and figures never give the complete context and that the story of this industry has always been about people.

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