Convenience beats “naturalness” for sports-oriented Swedes

With prolific and innovative product development – from protein pudding ProPud to the BCAA drink range Nocco –  and a health-oriented population, Sweden makes for an interesting sports nutrition market where some of the most recent trends are played out.

If anyone lives and breathes sports it’s Viktor, a 38-year-old Gothenburg-based trainer who runs an Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) gym.

Working in the gym and competing in his free time means that Viktor is immersed in the consumer end of the health and wellness world. In an interview for New Nutrition Business, Viktor painted a picture of a burgeoning consumer segment.

“It’s definitely become a lot bigger, and more mainstream,” Viktor said. “It seems like every other person I meet today is aware of nutrition on some level, even if it’s just vaguely knowing about protein and where to find it. And the market for bars and drinks has really exploded in the past two or three years I think!” he added.

While a big consumer trend in the Western world is the desire for “natural” and “clean label” foods, sports nutrition consumers are less fazed about long lists of “artificial” foods. Many eat whatever gets them where they need to be, performance-wise.

“I’d like to say that people love all the natural stuff, but it’s not true,” Viktor said. “Just take protein bars and drinks – they’re filled with sweeteners and other artificial stuff! I think it all comes down to what’s convenient. People want quick and tasty solutions and are happy to buy it – regardless of price or ‘naturalness’.”

In Viktor’s line of work, people spend hours doing intense physical activity – and that’s where carbs are key. “When doing intense, long lasting exercise like OCR, you really need carbs to power you though so I’d never advise anyone to go on a low-carb diet. In my opinion it’s not a good option for anyone wanting to improve their sports performance, it’s too complicated a diet for an average person to succeed on,” Viktor said.

Whether it’s a big event, or competition, or just the usual workout, his winning formula is always the same: first come carbs, then protein. Because he works out frequently – sometimes three times a day – he keeps a bag of nuts in the car just in case.

Sometimes he does intense and demanding races – 10 or 24 hours long – and for those he brings a Clif bar to eat along the way, or Nutella pouches.

“Dried fruit and nuts are great during a race too, but can be hard to digest, so in those cases I prefer Clif Bars or chocolate, but that tends to be a lot harder to store because it melts,” Viktor said.

Sugar content is not an issue. “I definitely don’t care about sugar or healthfulness when I am racing,” Viktor said. “It’s all about whatever works for your body while giving you quick energy!”

Asked to choose between carbs or fats, Viktor has a diplomatic answer – “everything in moderation”.

He doesn’t eschew fat, he said. “Fat is great for sustainable energy, and a spoonful of plain peanut butter is my go-to thing to have before an early morning run,” Viktor explained. “I generally avoid, and advise others to avoid anything labelled ‘low-fat’. Or at least check the nutrition label before going for a low-fat product as it can contain a lot of horrible stuff to compensate for the lack of fat.”

As for carbs, “I try to keep my intake of added sugar down during the week,” he said, “but I definitely treat myself on the weekend. Especially ice-cream!”

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