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The Whey Forward: Innovation in Sports and Performance Nutrition in APAC, Africa and the Middle East

12th October 2020

Eve Heffernan, International Markets, Bord Bia - The Irish Food Board


Over time, there have been many movements within the sports and performance nutrition industry, and between the years of 2004 and 2018, the global sports nutrition market grew 190% at a compound annual growth rate of 7.9%. Around the world, the brands in this industry are innovating and adjusting their products in order to meet the consumer’s current demands. This article will focus on the opportunities, trends and innovating products being released primarily into the Asia Pacific (APAC) region, while also touching on these aspects in the Middle East and African markets.


Innovations and Trends in the Asia Pacific Region


There are a variety of opportunities for sports and nutrition companies to innovate in the APAC region, such as introducing high-protein products that provide functional benefits, innovating with dairy ingredients, and harnessing the benefits of tea.


1.1  High-Protein Products with Functional Benefits

Sports and performance nutrition brands in the region are engaging with consumers by creating more high-protein products with functional claims. Approximately 45% of new performance nutrition products launched to the market from July 2019 to July 2020 have a high/added protein claim, an increase from 19% in July 2016.


Consumers in the APAC region have varying perceptions of protein and consume it for different reasons, such as muscle-building, slimming, energy-boosting, beauty, brain and immunity support.


A number of new products in the market are claiming additional health benefits such as satiety and beauty;


Market: South Korea

Product: Maeil Maeil Health Nutrition Selecs Sports Chocolate Flavoured Whey Protein Powder is a product that contains whey protein isolate, 200mg L-carnitine for a light feeling and energy, and 6.4g of chicory fibre for satiety.


Market: Japan

Product: Weider Soya & Cacao Flavoured Protein Drink Mix is a product which is designed for shape, health, beauty and fun. It provides 15g of soy protein, which is half the recommended daily amount of a variety of vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin C, seven B vitamins and iron.

1.2 Innovating with Dairy

Dairy products are particularly popular with consumers in China, with 80% of consumers that partake in sport regularly consuming dairy products before, during and after exercise. As dairy products are associated with being naturally high in protein and other nutrients, Chinese consumers tend to use dairy to supplement protein, rather than consuming more traditional sports nutrition products such as protein powder.


Some brands are embracing this opportunity and incorporating cheese into their products, using it as a nutritious ingredient and flavour, while highlighting the high protein content and its benefits;


Market: China

Product: Ffit8 Cheese Flavoured Meal Replacement Fitness Protein Bar is a bar that is light and ready-to-eat without added sugar, and contains 32% protein and cheese powder.


Market: Japan

Product: Asahi Ippon Manzoku Bar Sports Protein Run Baked Cheese Protein Bar is a chocolate bar for runners which contains cheese powder, 10g protein, and various vitamins and minerals.


1.3 Harnessing the Benefits of Tea

Tea has a highly influential role in many Asian cultures and is enjoyed at all times of the day. In China, 24% of consumers, primarily high-income affluent consumers, drink tea during a workout as a natural energy boost and source of hydration.


Brands are utilising the health benefits and popularity of tea by infusing sports and nutrition products with tea such as matcha and jasmine;


Market: Thailand

Product: Granovibes Ve-Pro-Bar Matcha Soy Protein Bar is described as a healthy snack bar with soy protein, matcha and macadamia nuts, claiming to be ideal for the fitness conscious consumer.


Market: China

Product: CPT Yu Dong Matcha and Aojiru Flavoured Protein Shake is a product which contains matcha powder and that is enriched with Nutriose (a soluble dietary fibre), known to help regulate normal intestinal function.


1.4 Leveraging the Popularity of Traditional Spices

Sports and performance nutrition brands can harness the popularity of traditional spices, such as saffron in India, by including them in their products in an attempt to increase consumption.


The following brands’ products, infused with saffron, are present in the Indian market;


Market: India

Product: Endura Mass Saffron Pistachio Flavour Weight Gainer is a premium product that has a scientifically advanced weight-gain formula targeted at those who struggle to gain and maintain weight.


Market: India

Product: Develo Protein +Plus Saffron Almond Flavoured Health Drink is a scientifically formulated daily nutrition drink for adults which helps to support muscle mass and maintain strength over time.


1.5 Blurring the Lines Between Traditional Performance Nutrition and Everyday Foods

A number of Australian brands are blurring the lines between traditional performance nutrition and everyday foods, in order to supply products with functional benefits, such as energy, muscle gain and recovery.


Market: Australia

Product: Strength Meals Co. Post-Workout Replenish Recovery Mexican Chicken is a prepared meal which is naturally high in protein, low in saturated fat and releases carbohydrates slowly, in order to satisfy and replenish energy levels.


Market: Australia

Product: Peak Chocolate Focus Functional Chocolate has been described as a formulated supplementary sports food. This bar is made with 80% cocoa, lion's mane mushroom, green tea, ginkgo biloba and natural caffeine.



Innovations and Trends in the Middle East and Africa


There are vast opportunities for performance nutrition in the Middle East and Africa, such as innovating products with alternative flavours that are less-sweet, investigating complex plant-based formulations, and diversifying functional benefits.


Non-communicable diseases such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease are in the spotlight in the Middle East, and their rise is likely to boost the consumer’s uptake in sports and exercise. During the Covid-19 lockdown, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia hosted a virtual fitness festival to promote wellbeing and a healthier active lifestyle for women. The pandemic has led to an increased interest in online fitness programs in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world, which can inspire usage of sports and performance nutrition products.


Furthermore, as the interest in fitness continues to increase in the Middle East and Africa, the focus of innovation in sports and performance nutrition seems to be in RTD protein shakes. Some recent products that we are seeing in the market are as follows;


Market: South Africa

Product: Grenade Carb Killa Chocolate Mint Flavoured High Protein Shake is a convenient drink containing UHT milk, provides 25g of protein and is low in sugar.


Market: Oman

Product: All Stars Isowhey Blood Orange Protein Drink is an RTD food supplement that contains 30g of protein from pure whey isolate, which is known to help build and maintain muscle mass.





Mintel, 2020. A year of innovation in sports & performance nutrition, 2020.


Euromonitor, 2019. The Expansion of Sports Nutrition. Available at: https://blog.euromonitor.com/the-expansion-of-sports-nutrition/ [Accessed 9th October 2020].