“The female still gets the message from advertising, from social media that we need to look a certain way,” said Michelle Arent, director of training and conditioning at the Rutgers Center for Health and Human Performance.
She works with college-age athletes, and noticed that societal pressures “to feel attractive” and “wanting to fit in” don’t go hand-in-hand with energy and fitness requirements to perform well in a sport.
Arent presented her observations at the inaugural NutraIngredients-USA Sports Nutrition Summit in San Diego last week.
“We need to do a better job with our marketing and information to those athletes,” she told a room full of representatives from the sports nutrition industry, from product developers to marketing managers of both brands and retailers.
This can be done by designing smarter advertising material, which encompasses everything from blog content to package design to diversifying the body types of models or celebrity endorsers tied to a product.
Gap in research
Arent also noticed a gap in sports nutrition research conducted with female participants.
“When we look at the research, most have been done in males, which has been the case since the beginning of research,” she said
For a long time, she added, many researchers assumed that women's menstrual cycles made it too difficult to control for hormonal fluctuations and hormonal cycles.
But such research is necessary, she said. “The sport nutrition supplement world has a lot of dollars in their pockets. This is where we need to partner with universities and university researchers to develop not only the possibility of certain ingredient blends, but also the validation of the products that they have and the impact on performance for female athletes.”