New Food Trends: How Pro Athletes Lead The Way

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Perhaps more than ever before, consumers are motivated to better understand the profound effect food has on their mental, physical and emotional well being. Current food trends such as nut milk, turmeric, kale, nut butter and maca powder, gut-friendly kombucha, and brain-boosting lattes demonstrate a desire for nutrient dense foods with functional ingredients. In fact, the popularity of restrictive diets such as Ketogenic and Whole 30 can largely be attributed to claims of improved energy levels, better sleep, lower stress, higher brain function, and overall wellness.

Starbucks has responded with vegan food items and has already offered several milk alternatives. Kroger is taking action with the launch of its Simple Truth® Organic line featuring cleaner, wholesome ingredients. Overall, the food industry is listening and making significant strides to accommodate these evolving demands. But what if we could better predict some of these trends in this highly competitive marketplace?

Searching for optimal nutrition choices that drive peak performance, the sports science industry has been using advanced technology to test professional athletes. The progressive and competitive nature of this industry provides savvy food marketers with a wealth of insight. And it may even help us uncover future food trends.

Elite Athletes Ate “Trendy” Before It Was Trendy

New England quarterback Tom Brady is known for his lifestyle and eating habits meant to sustain his body throughout his football career. He refrains from eating tomatoes because of their reputed inflammatory properties and avoids alcohol, caffeine, and dairy. Brady’s nutrition choices are directly intertwined with his holistic approach to strength training, recovery, cognitive training and overall lifestyle. Backed by industry leader Alex Guerrero, Brady has been using food to enhance his performance over the last 15 years of his professional career, long before most consumers even thought about making the shift. In fact, many of the restrictive food habits Brady has been practicing for years are very similar to food trends happening today (ie: Paleo diet and Ketogenic diet).

Similarly, back in 2013, CBSSports.com did a series on nutrition in the NBA where they specifically investigated the nutritional choices of Lakers players Dwight Howard, Derrick Rose, Blake Griffin, and Ray Allen. Under the supervision of Cate Shanahan, Napa Valley M.D. and nutritionist, the players were guided through “making the shift from basically worse than pet food to actual food.” According to the study, Dr. Shanahan offered a scientific and practical approach to a traditional diet of real, unprocessed food. The players fell in love with not only the significant change in their energy levels but also their improved performance and the faster recovery rates they experienced. This investigation led the Lakers organization to partner with Whole Foods, which now caters every Lakers chartered flight and road trip. Following this investigation, LeBron James garnered media attention in 2014 for changes in his diet. LeBron began eating more in line with the now popular Paleo diet. He claimed he felt faster on the basketball court due to these dietary choices.

While today’s food trends may seem new to the average consumer, marketers should take note that Brady, LeBron, the NBA, and various other elite athletes and organizations have initiated the practice of using food to enhance the body’s performance.

The Science Behind The Sports Science Industry

Although professional athletes might appear to be pioneers of today’s food trends, a closer look reveals the scientists behind these athletes are the ones blazing the trail. Tyler Clary, 2012 Olympic gold medalist swimmer, shared the numerous benefits he experienced after participating in a scientific study conducted by the United States Olympic Committee. The experiment used an ultrasound machine to determine the levels of stored glycogen (easily accessible energy) in Clary’s muscles before and after a workout. Clary was able to use the Ultrasound Muscle Glycogen Analysis to determine which beverages and high-protein foods produced more glycogen. He was able to maximize his energy source and therefore, achieve higher peak performance.

Another interesting test utilized by sport science professionals is the Resting Metabolic Test, which analyzes how many calories participants burn at rest as well as the amount of oxygen and CO2 consumed and expended. The results tell athletes whether they have a slow, normal, or fast metabolic heart rate and whether their body primarily burns fat or sugar. This data allows athletes to design their training regimens and nutritional diet to meet specific performance goals for their particular body.
Girl in a workout studio with pink towel on her shoulder drinking green drink out of water bottle listening to music with ear buds

What Does This Mean For The Rest Of Us?

Consumers are now seeking many of the same nutrient-dense superfoods these technologies pointed athletes toward many years ago. Take protein powder for example. What was once only used heavily by body-builders is now being consumed by the average consumer in gluten-free, vegetarian and/or vegan varieties. The correlation between these technologies and today’s food trends begs the question, ‘Does new data from sports science technologies foreshadow what may become a future consumer food trend?’ While there is no definitive answer, marketers looking to keep their brands fresh and relevant should not discount the sports science industry as a food trend incubator.

Food trends can stem from just about anywhere. The sports science industry’s scientific nutritional discoveries and the influence of elite athletes on consumers plays a significant role in the potential evolution of food trends. With shoppers continuing to seek foods that directly affect the way they feel and perform, more and more holistic food trends may continue to surface. By taking note of what’s happening in the robust sports science industry, marketers can quickly adapt their brand accordingly.

Madison Serrano PR Senior Account Executive EvansHardy+Young
Madison Serrano, PR Sr Account Executive

Madison is instrumental in growing share of voice for the Idaho Potato Commission, Lamb Weston, and Martinelli’s.