The summit, held annually since 2018, included seven speakers that shared inspiring messages and generated thoughtful discussions on research, formulation and marketing.
Keynote speaker Dr. Susan Kleiner, a PhD nutritionist and owner of High Performance Nutrition, said she wanted companies to learn about the culture of female athletics by talking directly with the athletes.
In doing so, Kleiner was joined by MMA Fighter Jessica-Rose “Jessy Jess” Clark of the UFC and basketball star Sue Bird who plays on the Seattle Storm of the WNBA. The three shared an honest discussion about their experiences with sports nutrition.
Less is not more
“There was one moment right after college and I was starting to work out with someone and they were asking me about nutrition and they the first question was, 'What do you want to look like?' It’s something I've come across throughout my career, but the fact that that's even a question and my answer is always 'I don't care, this is about being a great athlete. This is about wanting to check all the boxes and make sure I'm ready to go.' But usually the first question is appearance and 'Oh ,do you want to be leaner?' 'Do you want to look like that?' And I'm like 'This isn't for a modeling campaign. This is so I can run around on the basketball court,'” said Bird. “As a 40 year old, so I'm kind of like an older athlete, I think back on my younger years and we were just living in a different world and now it's like if somebody were to ask me that I'm not saying I'd be offended, but I would probably make a comment.”
Clark said as a professional MMA fighter, her career centered around a set weight class. “So my career my whole career is focused around being a certain weight all the time and being able to make a certain weight. So nutrition has obviously always played a huge part. I've had multiple nutritionists. I've worked with a ton of very educated people And the biggest issue that I always had especially as a female athlete is that they were giving me the same nutrition programs as a male athlete and not understanding that my hormonal cycles, what sort of training we’re doing, everything is affected by being a woman. So being on 1,200 calorie diets all the time, being told 'You just need to survive on steak and vegetables all the time or chicken with broccoli.' Whatever it is, I've done every weight cut you could think of my body always rebounded in a super, super negative way to this idea of having to be on a super low calorie diet.”
“One huge piece we're missing is that we're talking about the athletes that are at this level,” said Michelle Arent, Training Coordinator at University of South Carolina. “They don't get to that level without being at a lower level. They started at the youth level and the one place those athletes tend to get their information is from their sport coach. One huge place that we can make a big impact is taking this education to that level. Start at that ground level and give a broad base education about how these could be important and how they can benefit, and make sure that everything is banned-substance tested and then also researched.”
Fabian Broich, head of performance for Excel Esports, also said he believes education is key.
“I think there is a lack of science and making it easy. I break it easily down for my players because in the end, supplement and talking about nutrition supplement said my primary work,” said Broich, who added that he focuses on what he calls the pillars of performance: sleep, nutrition, physical activity and mental health.
More than just a product
“The way I view it when it comes to partnerships or endorsements, is almost the way you view impact investing,” said Bird. “You want whatever partnership you're about to join to be about something more than just a product and these deals you want to go beyond that.”
Steve Fink, vice president of marketing at PLT Health Solutions, echoed a similar sentiment. “Many times the customer base is looking for a story beyond the benefit package. Where is it coming from? How is it made? Is it sustainable? Is it ethical? Of course you want to build that into the entire platform. So it's not enough that it works great, that it tastes great that the dose is small and that it works quickly -- It's got to have a better story to it as well,” explained Fink.
Along those lines, Elyse Lovett, vice president of marketing at Nutrition21, said “Whether it's in esports or sports nutrition or an active user or even your older demographic, whoever it is that's using these I think that is huge and key for you to know that consumer experience too and for them to come back and keep buying the products. One of the key things that I think also is the sourcing story and that whole story of the company as well and being ethical. I think that's also huge when it comes to ingredients as well.”
Fortunately, both athletes are now in a better place. Bird said with the help of Dr. Kleiner, a performance coach and others, her hormonal cycles are now being taken into consideration and she has people in her support system who help her with diet and supplementation.
Clark said she now works with a supplement company. “Honestly, I used this stuff before I started working with them as an ambassador for the company, but the biggest thing that attracted me to them in the first place was that it was run by a woman. I'm very much about supporting women in male-dominated industries, whether it's sports, whether it's basketball, fighting, bodybuilding, whatever the business, I will always support the female within that industry,” explained Clark.
“Hey, chicks are awesome,” said Clark. “We can do anything AND we can have babies -- which dudes can’t do.”
“Love that,” laughed Kleiner. “It should be a bumper sticker.”
To learn more about the Sports & Active Nutrition Summit USA 2022, click here.