Writes Ronan Maloney
The role of nutrition in sport has grown to become a diverse and fundamental conversation, with particular emphasis landing on the food market. With more consumers turning to food businesses in search of the newest and most on-trend products to help them to exceed in their given field, scientific and technological advancements are motivating the continuous flow of innovative goods. The market is bursting with supplements, fortified products and functional foods that can fuel a consumer’s competitive advantage in their game. As players operating in an array of segments across the market introduce health and wellness products, an integral concern that is surfacing is the degree of safety associated with such products. This concern is majorly tied to market trends that dominate the food industry. In this aspect, individuals are growing more health conscious towards organic and natural products that are minimally processed and can be trusted; this element is proven to be tied with foods that can boost a consumer’s immune system, with Covid-19 acting as a major catalyst of this demand. Furthermore, the proliferation of mindful consumers means that transparent products are growing in importance. Regardless of their reasons why, an attentiveness to safe food products is clearly coming into play.
Large-scale organisations must adopt the responsibility of supplying ethical and safe “health and wellness” products; although, the irony in many cases is that products that fall into this product category might be anything but. A category that initially comes to mind is fat burning supplements, which may be deceitful to the degree that consumers lose more money on these products than fat. By speeding metabolism and reducing appetite, it’s easy to acknowledge how consumers would be inclined to support the theory behind fat burners. Although, generally compromising of ingredients that lack strenuous research, as well as a significant amount of caffeine, fat burners pose as an extremely unnatural means to lose fat with adverse side effects. It therefore doesn’t come as a surprise that The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) recently seized fat burning pills that were associated with fatal repercussions. Alternatively, discussion surrounding the safety of food products has particularly surfaced due to the prevalence of energy drinks in sport, that are progressively marketed by athletes and are sold in virtually every food retailer; a salient illustration of this point can be made via Lewis Hamilton’s collaboration with Monster Energy. By resisting demands for “clean deck” products, which consist of between 3-10 recognisable ingredients by name, energy drinks continue to grow notorious. In this way, the doses of sugar and caffeine packed into many energy drinks exposes the debate of whether this agglomeration of hazardous ingredients acts as the most functional pick-me-up.
Supplying consumers with safe food also goes beyond the actions of companies operating on a macro-level to incorporate the practices of food stalls in local sporting environments. The presence of food at sporting events has become tradition, turning food stalls that populate sportsgrounds into a key element of the match-day experience. Albeit stadiums being more or less deserted as a cause of the pandemic, the food safety aspects of these stalls is now a growing point of discussion, with an emphasis on foodborne illnesses – a point explained through an FSAI publication surrounding food stall legislation at sporting events. Further afield, ESPN, as a major sports channel in the US, undertook 16,000 food safety inspections of various sporting facilities across North America over the last number of years. The result of this was that 28% of the venues possessed food service outlets exercising high violations of foodborne illnesses.
Public health, food marketers, and policy makers alike have a considerable role to play in the governing of foods in sport. The importance of intervention is substantial to control the provenance of food, and motivate to incorporate the health claims in plain language to leverage product information and power back to the consumer. More food for thought is that education should be provided to consumers to enhance awareness of the issue at stake. Above all else, the power that companies operating in the “health” category retain should be congruent with their moral responsibility to society. It may just be worth athletes’ while to turn to natural sources to access safe and nutrient dense foods.