Essential Sports Nutrition


Timeline of Sport Nutrition Products

As a Board Certified Sport Dietitian, I have a rewarding job of recommending sport nutrition products to athletes in order to enhance performance and to help athletes maintain good health throughout training and on race day. In order to make proper recommendations, I am always trying out new products to better understand the application of the product and to give my feedback on taste, texture and digestibility. The above picture is a look inside three of our kitchen cabinets full of sport nutrition products (with more products stashed away in the dining work and in our workout room closet - because everyone keeps sport nutrition products in a dining room hutch, right?).  

For decades, scientific breakthroughs by exercise physiologists have driven the evolution of sport nutrition products to help maximize athletic performances. Since the ancient Olympics, when athletes fueled dried fruit and wine before competition, the study, practice and promotion of sport nutrition has grown substantially. Sport nutrition progression has helped athletes train harder and go longer than in the past, which means more records can get broken.

As it relates to sport nutrition products, like sport drinks, it's really all about function and convenience. I often tell my athletes that they don't need to love their engineered products, they simply have to like them. It's also important to find creative ways to prevent taste bud fatigue and to train the gut to minimize GI distress, while sticking to a flexible and a well-practiced fueling and hydration schedule during long workouts in order to delay fatigue.

In other words, appreciate how easy sport nutrition products make fueling and hydrating. Sport nutrition products take away the guessing and calculating to ensure that you are meeting your needs during training and they give you precise feedback on what you did/didn't consume. Plus, it adds confidence to race day that you don't have to worry if your fueling and hydration strategy will (or won't) work because you can routinely practice your fueling and hydration long workout after long workout with similar products and amounts. Certainly, you know my approach to the daily diet - real food should make up the majority of your daily diet whereas sport nutrition products DO have a place during intense and long workouts.

In the recent issue of Triathlete Magazine (January/February, pg 56-62), I have a small article on the evolution of Sports Fuel (bottom of the pages), focusing on the history of several notable U.S. based endurance-focused sport nutrition companies. I also take my guess on the future of sport nutrition over the next ten years.

Since the magazine was not able to include all of my investigations, I wanted to give you a more in depth look inside some of the notable moments of several well-known sport nutrition companies.

Timeline of sport nutrition products:
1965 Gatorade – A balanced carbohydrate-electrolyte beverage was created. As of 2015, Gatorade’s inventors have earned more than $1 billion in revenue.

1986 Powerbar –The first “energy bar” for use by endurance athletes. In 2000, Nestle purchased the company for $375 million.

1987 Hammer Nutrition – In 1995, Hammer nutrition created the first energy gel sold with a re-usable flask.

1994 Gu Energy labs – Considered the first major energy gels distributor. In 2012, GU became the first official gel and chew sponsor of the Ironman.

1992 Clif Bar –In 2000, Gary Erickson turned down a $120 million offer from Quaker Oats to buy the company.

1992 EAS – In 1993, EAS releases the first commercially available creatine supplement (Phosphagen). In 2005, Abbott laboratories purchases EAS for ~$320 million.

1996 Carbo Pro –
Provides a product with 100% pure complex carbohydrates derived from glucose polymers extracted from non-GMO corn.

1996 Pacific Health Labs –
Accelerade utilizes protein in a sport drink with a unique ratio of 4 parts carbohydrate to 1 part protein.

1998 Cytosport – Makers of Muscle Milk, known as the number one brand in the ready-to-drink protein beverage category.

2002 First Endurance – Recognized for OPTYGEN by endurance athletes. In 2008, the EFS liquid shot flask was developed with a re-sealable pop top. The liquid shot contains no gelling agents.

2002 Honey Stinger – Originating in 1954 by Ralph and Luella Gamber as the EN-R-G bar, made with honey. The Gamber’s created the first ever squeezable honey bear in 1957.

2004 Nuun –
Pronounced “noon”, the first company to separate electrolyte replacement from carbohydrates.

2004 Base Performance –
Best known for Base Electrolyte Salt and race vials, where athletes lick the pure crystalline salt to maintain electrolyte balance.

2005 Jelly Belly Sport Beans – Performance Jelly Beans formulated with carbohydrates, electrolytes and vitamins.

2006 SaltStick –
Creator of buffered electrolyte capsules, dispensers and most recently, chewable tablets to help athletes minimize heat stress and muscle cramping.

2006 Infinit Nutrition – Provides a revolutionary system of creating your own personalized sport drink, made from an isotonic blend of ingredients.

2010 Generation UCAN – Launched at the Boston marathon. Powered by SuperStarch, UCAN claims to help sustain energy and burn fat in a healthy way.

2010 Bonk Breaker – Embodies a whole foods philosophy of creating simple, high quality, real food ingredients into great tasting bars, chews and hydration products.

2010 Picky Bars –
Made with a a 4:1 carb to protein recovery ratio, balanced macronutrients for sustainable energy. Containing only real ingredients, gluten and dairy free.

2012 Osmo  -
Stacy Sims introduces the concept of “food in the pocket, hydration in the bottle” and “women are not small men.” Pushes for a new paradigm in sports nutrition.

2012 Skratch Labs –
Dr. Allen Lim makes training food and sports drinks from scratch for cyclists and a business is born. “The Feed Zone” cookbook was published in 2011.

2013 Tailwind  -
Known in the trail and ultra-running community, offering glucose/sucrose fuel, allowing athletes to go longer at higher intensities without gut issues.

2016 HOT SHOT – Curiosity killed the cramp. A propriety formulation of organic ingredients to stop muscle cramps at the nerve.  

My take on the future of sport nutrition:

– More engineered sport nutrition products hit the market, with light palatable flavors, made with “real food” ingredients and electrolytes.  Companies re-invent the shape of “chews”, bars become thinner and lighter and there is a substantial re-design in the packaging of energy gels.

2018-2020 - Sport nutrition products highlight herbs, spices, caffeine, amino acids and fatigue resistant nutrients, in addition to electrolytes and carbohydrates. Products focus more on fatigue in order to help athletes stretch physical limits and to break more records.

- Sport nutrition products become even more convenient with portable options, like buffered and effervescent tabs for “sport drinks on-the-go”. Sport nutrition companies turn the focus to pre-workout/race meal and drink products.

2025 – The emerging field of nutrigenomics makes its way into sport nutrition. By identifying exercise-related genetic characteristics, sport nutrition will become highly ultra-personalized working with one’s unique genetic makeup – Eat/fuel according to your genes.