Aside from the facts that the category is regulated no differently than other food-based supplement products, and that there are herbal ingredients (e.g., ashwagandha, ginseng and plant-based protein) favored by workout enthusiasts, the answer is simple: ten years ago, our member companies asked us to get involved.
Critics of the dietary supplement industry generally or of sports nutrition products particularly, including legislators and the mainstream press, erroneously and inaccurately (and likely intentionally in some cases) were prone to lumping illegal drug-spiked products in with legitimate, science-based products. Even though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) accurately portrays such unlawful and dangerous goods as “masquerading as dietary supplements,” this inaccurate and unfair comparison threatened the reputation of the sports nutrition category. The companies who approached us knew they could rely on AHPA’s extensive experience in regulatory and legislative guidance and outreach and our collaborative community, and they asked that we extend our expertise to their category as they faced this challenge.
That’s how the AHPA Sports Nutrition Committee was born.
Today, the sports nutrition category has by and large successfully changed its reputation from “the Wild West” to “how the West was won,” as Rob Wildman, chair of AHPA’s Sports Nutrition Committee likes to say. Prior to COVID-19, the sports nutrition category was thriving. We believe that as the scientists home in on a medical solution to the pandemic and as people find ways to bring back the things in their lives they value (one of those being physically fit), the category will be back on track.
We do still see state legislators introduce and reintroduce bills—most notably in New York and Massachusetts—that seek to place restrictions on weight loss and body building products, inappropriately melding the two categories together—a move by legislators who neither like nor understand our industry’s products.
(As an aside, I’d be remiss if I didn’t also note that weight loss products that rely on substantiated claims are an important and legitimate product class, but it’s a separate and different category from sports nutrition, and the two don’t actually have much in common. When the categories are combined as one in the same, it makes it difficult for either of these to have their own clear identity. But that’s a discussion for another guest column.)
This year, the AHPA Sports Nutrition Committee is celebrating its 10-year anniversary.
There’s recognition that sports nutrition products are best categorized as nutrient-rich supplements, products that at their core help consumers who want to support an active lifestyle. These consumers—including our neighbors, friends, family—range from those who enjoy practicing yoga or a morning jog all the way up to bodybuilders and elite athletes.
The collaboration within AHPA’s Sports Nutrition Committee has been good for those involved companies and good for the category segment. One of the values of the committee is its commitment to compliance with nutrition labeling in a world where all the rules just changed. Making it a priority to provide guidance to the trade (and comments to FDA), the committee thrives on working on issues such as global harmonization of protein labeling, adapting to FDA’s changed rules on nutrition labeling for foods and supplements, and providing scientific rationale to our government relations team as needed to address inappropriately restrictive state legislation that would unnecessarily restrict consumer access to legitimate supplement products.
Perhaps most important is the recognition that doing what’s right for the consumer is what will best move the sports nutrition category forward.
The way to do what’s right for the consumer is to follow all laws and regulations. The responsible industry does that. For example, AHPA members register as food facilities, are compliant with cGMPs, understand their obligation to submit any serious adverse event reports to FDA and don’t make drug claims.
As it turns out, AHPA’s Sports Nutrition Committee was prescient in developing what turns out to be a forward-thinking in-person-turned-virtual, full-day event—the inaugural AHPA Sports Nutrition Congress. The visionary agenda is the ultimate collaboration: industry experts sharing their knowledge and experience on the things that matter most to this segment.
The things that matter to this trade are ingredient and product testing for label validation and compliance with regulations both federal and state; marketing products that are clean and trusted; and, developing a highly efficient and cost-effective research program that will support product innovation.
Take a lesson from AHPA’s Sports Nutrition Committee: Companies in the sports nutrition category are competitors in the marketplace, but the marketplace improves when we also act as colleagues willing to learn from each other.
The virtual AHPA Sports Nutrition Congress takes place October 21. For more information: ahpa.org
Michael McGuffin is the president of the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA).