Gender‑role stereotypes have navigated the sports nutrition category over the years, and while it is improving, preconceptions continue to influence the way female athletes are marketed to. As the ‘pink it and shrink it’ trend slowly fades, brands are creating products that speak to women — not for them.
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“Manufacturers are now starting to use language in their marketing and/or packaging that resonates with both female and male consumers,” said Mariko Hill, product development executive at Gencor Pacific. “Brands are starting to change their packaging to be gender-neutral so that they can cater to both sexes instead of solely one. Regardless of gender, consumers look for products that cater to their needs (i.e. 'gain muscle mass', 'increase energy'). By understanding how an ingredient may benefit them (e.g. protein for muscle mass / curcumin for muscle recovery and/or beauty), they will choose the product that speaks to them most.”
Hill added that manufacturers are changing the way they target female consumers by developing bespoke formulations specific to women and addressing the reasons why a product specifically benefits them.
As an international cricketer, Hill would know. Add on her exercise & nutrition education and research at the University of Oxford, Hill is a bonafide expert on both sides of the sports nutrition coin.
Research for every body
Although studies on both male and female populations are starting to increase, Hill said the number of published studies conducted on a female population is still lacking. She added that study outcomes and conclusions must be made based upon female physiology and consumers must understand that the total, type and timing of an exercise and/or nutrient differs across every body.
Indeed, formulations must be more than just taking a male product, reducing the serving size and calling a product for women.
“Let's compare male physiology to females for example: Men's heart sizes, hemoglobin levels and muscle mass are higher when matched for age and race compared to females, whereas females have more glycogen sparing effect when it comes to carbohydrate metabolism. This means that the dose required for optimal performance/recovery is dependent on sex. Imagine what this means when brands need to state a specific serving size on the labels? Therefore, for certain ingredients, personalized approaches must be taken into consideration,” Hill explained.
Brands must make sure their offerings were developed with the female consumer in mind and contain ingredients that appeal to women. Hill, who is responsible for developing Gencor’s marketing, sales and innovation, said specific ingredients commonly found in women’s formulations include iron, folate, and collagen.
Currently, Gencor is conducting a female-only study on their brand Libifem in order to assess the efficacy of the branded fenugreek extract on female sports performance, body composition and health.
Pink is so passé
According to Hill, the role of women in sports nutrition has evolved over time, particularly as female sports gets more air time and awareness through social media.
“The sports nutrition market has gotten past the days of only being for men and now caters to both sexes. It has also grown from the misconception and preconceived idea that if there were to be sports nutrition products for women, then the package had to be pink and small,” said Hill.
Awareness along with more research is helping women zero in on nutrition and performance, and perhaps most importantly, allowing them to speak for themselves.