An Under-Served Market: Sports Nutrition for Healthy Aging


It’s well-known that lifestyle choices like following an anti-aging diet, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly and minimizing stress are helping to extend life expectancy.[1] As health and longevity continue to improve, more older adults are taking an active role in maintaining fitness. These ‘active lifestylers’ range from casual gym-goers to participants in competitive events like road races and Senior Olympics. In fact, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median age for participants in sports and exercise activities has steadily increased:

  • People aged 25 to 54 account for most of those practicing yoga (62%), running (56%), and hiking (55%).
  • Adults over age 55 make up relatively larger shares of those who played golf and walked for exercise. Bowling was the most age-neutral of the activities; each age group accounted for at least 30% of this sport’s participants.[2]

As an increasingly active demographic, senior athletes are a force in sports nutrition. Yet less than 1% of new sports nutritional product launches are aimed at older adults.[3] Understanding the disconnect can yield opportunities to meet this need. What’s more, there is opportunity for products designed for older athletes to focus on multiple benefits to support overall health, including improving sleep and helping to reduce stress. While nutrition is a critical component for all athletes, it’s especially important that active adults maintain optimal health to minimize the risk of age-related considerations.

Sports nutrition needs unique to older athletes.

What are the potential nutritional needs specific to seniors? Typically, older adults require a nutrient-dense diet[4], even more so when they are active. As well, immune health is a key concern for consumers of nutrition products. A Harvard Opinion Research Program study of 1,579 adults found it to be one of the top three reasons people bought supplements, ahead of heart and digestive health.[5] As is the case for all athletes, supporting immune function can increase seniors’ bounce-back rates and help protect from common respiratory illnesses.[6]

Learn more about sports nutrition for older adults and other active lifestyles. Download our White Paper, Game Changer: The Evolving Sports Nutrition Market.


The importance of maintaining an active lifestyle.

One primary concern for older adults in general is avoiding the declining physical states and levels of activity commonly associated with aging. The active adult athlete faces these challenges even more acutely as every year goes by. Pitting expected athletic achievement against common Women-Walking-with-Beveragepredictions on declining muscle mass and hence, performance, senior athletes work hard to stay fit. Although maintaining quality of life is important to everyone, it’s especially true for those older adults who value an active lifestyle. Fortunately, much of the physical decline in exercise levels, frequency or intensity associated with aging aren’t inevitable, and can be managed.[7] Research has found that seniors can maintain fitness by maintaining their workouts and can make quick improvements when they start to exercise.[8]

Functional foods, beverages and supplements with benefits.

While a healthy diet of whole foods helps athletes of any age stay fit, many older adults turn to beneficial bars and drinks as a way to fuel up before a session or to replace a missed meal.[9] Increasingly, active seniors are looking for products that will aid not only their fitness goals, but their desire for overall health as well.

With more older adults moving towards a preventative approach to their health, immune health is a sought-after benefit for this consumer group. Meeting aging consumers’ needs for safe, effective products that help them realize their wellness goals will bring innovation into the market.

Primary goals of older adults are to replace nutrients lost in exercise, provide a balance of nutrients, and facilitate post-workout recovery.[10] More than 80% of adults agree that products formulated for sports nutrition provide extra energy and help to maintain muscle with aging.[11] After the workout, products that aid recovery and provide an energy boost are priorities.[12]

“As we age, our immune system slows and impacts the body’s ability to fight off health challenges such as respiratory infections. Clinical research not only demonstrates the immune health benefits Wellmune® can provide older adults but builds upon on a body of published research showing Wellmune can improve general immune health.”

Donald Cox, Ph.D., Director of R&D for Wellmune

In addition, Wellmune can help support athletes post-workout by enhancing immune system functioning.[13]

Consider product formats.

Many foods, beverages and supplements can be packed with recommended daily servings of fruits, vegetables, and vitamins or given additional benefits such as immune health support. Increasingly, active adults, like all athletes, are turning to sports nutrition products to provide these benefits. Within the sports nutrition sector, there are opportunities to meet this need in convenient and nutritious ways that also offer functional benefits. With immune health top of mind, clinically-proven immune health ingredients that support the ability to help keep active people healthy are a good fit for sports nutrition products like foods, beverages and supplements.

It’s a logical step to account for the active lifestyler’s desire for healthful ingredients in a convenient format when considering product formulations for senior athletes. When it comes to preferred formats, seniors, like other adults, prefer performance products that are easy-to-consume on the go.[14]

  • 45% of adults have bought a sports/energy bar.[15]

  • One-third of consumers aged 55-plus use sports drinks and mixes.[16]

While the most likely potential for adaptation may be in beverages and bars, the market is ripe for expansion beyond these categories. In fact, even more formats are newly available in shots, capsules, and gummies. This means that there are opportunities to incorporate functional benefits into an increasingly wide range of food and beverage applications. There is also evidence suggesting that consumers of are receptive to experimentation in product formats, with a full 49% trying new or different sports or energy foods sometimes or often.[17] Adding these benefits to an easy-to-consume format for active older adults brings the desire for healthy aging full-circle. Being active supports overall health, and consuming fortified products keeps seniors primed for performance.

Digest more with related resources:


[1] https://www.verywellhealth.com/longevity-throughout-history-2224054
[2] https://www.bls.gov/spotlight/2017/sports-and-exercise/pdf/sports-and-exercise.pdf
[3] Cash, Emma-Jane ‘What’s new for the European market of sports nutrition?’ Nutraingredients.com 27-Jun-2017
[4] https://www.eatright.org/health/wellness/healthy-aging/special-nutrient-needs-of-older-adults
[5] Decker, Kim ‘Immune-health ingredient update 2019’ Nutritional Outlook, 21 February 2019
[6] McFarlin BK, Venable AS, Carpenter KC, Henning AL, Ogenstad S ‘Oral Supplementation with Baker’s Yeast Beta Glucan Is Associated with Altered Monocytes, T Cells and Cytokines Following a Bout of Strenuous Exercise’ Front Physiol. 8:786. 2017
Oct 20
[7]  https://www.verywellfit.com/advice-for-senior-athletes-3120500
[8] https://www.verywellfit.com/advice-for-senior-athletes-3120500
[9] Mintel, Snacking Motivations and Attitudes (US) April 2019
[10] https://www.eatright.org/fitness/exercise/exercise-nutrition/timing-your-pre-and-post-workout-nutrition
[11] Packaged Facts, Food Formulation and Ingredient Trends, 2016
[12] Mintel 2015 Nutritional and Performance Drinks—U.S. Report
[13] https://www.wellmune.com/2013/09/09/bakers-yeast-beta-glucan-supplementation-increases-salivary-iga-and-decreases-coldflu-symptomatic-days-after-intense-exercise/
[14] IRI, Taking Stock of CPG Past & Future Report, 2016
[15] Packaged Facts, Food Formulation and Ingredient Trends, 2016
[16] Mintel 2015 Nutritional and Performance Drinks—U.S. Report
[17] GlobalData Ingredient Insights: Energy and Performance—Sept 2018





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