Leading The Pack In Asia’s Sports Nutrition Market

Thursday, September 21st, 2017

Asia is rapidly emerging as an important market for sports nutrition products. Here Efrat Kat, vice president of Marketing and Sales at Algatechnologies, looks at the reasons for its growth and suggests that manufacturers who want to stand out from the crowd should turn to a ‘secret’ natural ingredient.

The value of the worldwide sports nutrition sector is set to increase by an average of eight percent a year to reach US$40 billion by 2020, according to TechNavio’s recent ‘Global sports nutrition products market 2016-2020’ report. Such strong growth indicates that more and more consumers are enjoying the experience and benefits of taking part in sporting activities.

This is happening all around the world. The Physical Activity Council of US for instance, found that the overall participation in casual and active activities have increased over 2010-2015. In Wales of UK, a 34 percent increase in the number of people taking part in sports three or more times a week between 2008 and 2012 was reported by Sports Wales. Particular sports that have seen a rise in participation include swimming, running/jogging, cycling, as well as football and golf.

In Asia, now is the perfect time to take advantage of this great potential. With the Rio Olympics behind us, the focus has switched to the 2020 summer games in Tokyo. Furthermore, the next two winter Olympics will be staged in South Korea and China respectively. Excitement around these events will present the perfect opportunity for sports nutrition brands to increase sales.

Physical Activity Rising Across Asia

In fact, we have already witnessed the impact such major sporting events can have on consumer behaviour. The Beijing Olympics in 2008 marked the start of an upsurge in participation in fitness sports that continues today. This is partly because of a concerted state effort to promote mass sports—the Chinese government has set a target of half a billion people taking regular exercise by 2025.

However, it also reflects growing economic affluence and urbanisation, both of which have contributed to rising interest in healthy lifestyles, with increasingly affluent middle class consumers spending their growing disposable incomes on health and leisure.

A survey by the China Institute of Sport Science last year found that the number of the country’s citizens exercising at least three times a week with medium intensity increased from 28.2 percent in 2007 to 33.9 percent in 2014. The vast majority of respondents (93.8 percent) saw participation in sport as an important way of improving fitness, as well as a form of recreation and social interaction. The number of Chinese who regularly train for and compete in marathons recently reached 600,000, reported Euromonitor in a study on ‘Sports Nutrition in China’.

While the Asian market is far from homogeneous, similar trends can be observed in other countries in the region. In Singapore, for example, the creation of a new national Sports Hub and national stadium in 2014 has been linked with a noticeable increase in the country’s interest in sport and exercise. In recent years, the popularity of mass participation fitness has seen events such as the Spartan Race, the Men’s Health Urbanathlon, the IronMan and the Colour Run, come to Singapore for the first time, according to a Nielsen Sports report.

Running has also seen a boom in Japan, generally linked with the launch of the Tokyo marathon in 2007. The number of urban joggers who run at least once a week doubled from almost three million in 2006 to an estimated 5.7 million in 2012, reported the Japan Times. More than 300,000 people applied for 30,000 places in the 2015 Tokyo marathon.

Accordingly, the sports nutrition market is expanding rapidly across the Asia region. Although North America is currently the world’s biggest sports nutrition market, accounting for 41 percent of sales, the Asia-Pacific region represents a healthy 20 percent, reported Technavio in a report on the global health and wellness sports nutrition products market.

Also, according to a country report on Sports Nutrition in Japan by Euromonitor, the value in sales of sports nutrition products in Japan reached ¥23.2 billion (US$225 million) in 2015.

And crucially, the market is expected to grow further still: experts from Persistence Market Research predict that increasing populations, rising incomes and living standards, and greater participation in sports represent huge opportunities for the sports nutrition market in the future, in their global market analysis on sports nutrition.

Leading The Pack

It is clear then that sports nutrition is a great category for food, beverage and dietary supplement companies doing business in Asia. However, it is important to sound a note of caution: while it is a growing market, it is also highly competitive.

To succeed in Asia—as with any other global sports nutrition market—it is important to identify a target consumer and create a product with a distinct proposition that will appeal to them. The big sports nutrition companies in China and Japan are therefore increasingly sponsoring sporting events or investing in promotional marketing campaigns.

It is nevertheless still important to ensure that nutrition products are formulated with ingredients that will appeal to consumers. Of course, this means they should be effective and clinically proven; but they should also be innovative. The sports nutrition market is awash with ‘me-too’ products but it is also one of the most dynamic categories in the health and wellbeing space, and the people who shop in it are always looking out for something new.

With competition so fierce, businesses that set trends rather than follow them will be the most successful. Natural astaxanthin—one of the most potent antioxidants available, and an anti-inflammatory agent—is an ingredient that is emerging strongly in sports nutrition. In fact, it is sports nutrition’s best kept secret. It is supported by several clinical studies relating to performance and recovery, and a newer area of research suggests it can improve performance under conditions of heat stress and prevent exercise-related injuries.

Astaxanthin is a natural carotenoid pigment: it is what gives microalgae-eating shrimp and salmon their orangepink colour. Its unique properties enable it to provide effective antioxidant protection in both the inner and outer cell membrane, which other antioxidants cannot do.

In the nutrition sector, the highest quality natural asataxanthin is produced from the Haematococcus pluvialis strain of microalgae. This source offers the most concentrated source of natural astaxanthin—much greater than the levels found in wild salmon and crustaceans. It is a 100 percent natural, non-synthetic form of astaxanthin that is completely safe and produced to superior quality standard than other forms available.

Scientifically Evidenced

Studies have found astaxanthin to be one of nature’s most powerful anti-inflammatories. According to findings from double-blind, placebo-controlled animal and human clinical trials, the antioxidant naturally inhibits many known inflammation mediators, which means it can ease inflammation and pain without negative side effects.

In addition, in what is still a relatively new area of research, studies have examined the ability of the antioxidant to reduce post-exercise oxidative stress, muscle damage and heat stress, and to improve performance.

Two studies assessed effects on oxidative stress and muscle damage. The first was a placebo-controlled study involving men who took 6 mg of astaxanthin a day for 28 days. The results showed a decrease in lactic acid build up in their blood following a 1,200 m run.

The second was a double-blind placebo-controlled study in which young soccer players received either astaxanthin or a placebo every day and took part in twohour exercise sessions daily for 90 days. Post-exercise plasma creatine kinase (CK) and AST levels—both markers of muscle damage—were significantly lower in the astaxanthin group compared with the placebo group. Meanwhile, the production of damaging reactive oxygen species was higher in the placebo group.

Two trials assessed physical performance. A study in male cyclists found improvements in time trial and power output while cycling after 28 days of supplementation with 4 mg of astaxanthin a day. In another study, young students taking 4 mg of astaxanthin daily for six months showed an improvement in endurance when challenged to do knee squats.

Two animal studies examined the ability of astaxanthin to alleviate the symptoms of heat stress, which commonly occurs in athletes performing in hot conditions outdoors or in overly warm interior environments. In mice exposed to heat stress, the survival rate was significantly higher in the group that consumed astaxanthin, compared with the placebo group.

In a second preliminary study in mice, a lower core body temperature and reduced fluid loss were observed in those animals experiencing heat stress that had been treated with astaxanthin prior to heat exposure. They also exhibited an increased expression of protective heat shock proteins. It can be hypothesised that this biochemical response may result in higher protection from exertional heat injuries.

Further tests in mice have shown that astaxanthin may also increase the utilisation of fatty acids as an energy source. Studies showed that astaxanthin improved muscle lipid metabolism during exercise, accelerated the decrease of body fat accumulation with exercise training, and reduced exercise-increased biochemical markers in skeletal muscle.

Astaxanthin was also shown to reduce the exercise-induced activity of CK and myeloperoxidase in skeletal muscle and increase time to exhaustion during swimming.


In a recent media interview, TechNavio observed of the sports nutrition market generally: “The growth in demand is more inclined toward the use of herbal supplements, a shift in consumer preference from synthetic ingredients to more natural formulations.” The trend is particularly strong in the Asian market, where consumers are even more likely to demand natural ingredients than their western counterparts, as reported by Food Navigator Asia.

And, astaxanthin produced from Haematococcus pl is perfectly in tune with this trend. It is completely natural and, when produced in an environmentally responsible way, it is highly sustainable. It is the perfect ingredient for offering a real point of difference in the crowded sports nutrition sector globally, and its natural credentials give it a crucial edge in the increasingly important Asian market.