(Editors' Note: This article is part of Club Industry's report, "Trends That Will Affect the Fitness Industry in 2019." You can download this report for free by going here.)
Every new year brings new trends to the fitness industry, and while consumers and gym members are constantly looking for ways to lose weight and improve their health, it’s important for operators to offer tools and services that are credible so they don’t lose the trust of their member base. After all, health clubs have the word “health” in them for a reason, and nutrition’s impact on wellness and weight management goals is undeniable. Also undeniable is the plethora of unproven products, diets and misinformation that persists.
Here are a few nutrition trends that are likely to pick up steam in 2019 as well as the related strength of evidence.
1. Nutrigenomics and “personalized nutrition.” Genetic testing in the fitness industry is gaining traction, as companies market their services as a way to customize a fitness plan. This typically includes the type of exercise that best suits you, which supplements to take and avoid, and the nutritional makeup that “matches” your genes. Although genetic makeup can identify genes related to specific nutrients such as caffeine metabolism and therefore the usefulness or timing of certain supplements, the research is less supportive for identifying the ideal activities and diet based on DNA makeup. This is one to keep an eye on as the research emerges.
2. The microbiome and gut health. The immune system function, digestion, weight control and even sleep cycles involve the microbiome. Products related to boosting gut health, including probiotics and prebiotics, are gaining in popularity. Data shows that poor diet can negatively affect the diversity of friendly gut bacteria, which can affect various aspects of well-being. A wide variety of fiber-rich foods and various strains of probiotics have been shown to improve gut health, positively affect blood sugar and the immune system, and offer potential benefit for exercisers and athletes, which explains the numerous “gut health boosting” products on the market. Microbiome testing to personalize dietary recommendations and supplement plans is also making its way to the mainstream, but it’s a bit too early to consider this an evidence-based tool for the masses.
3. Protein and its role in healthy aging. Protein and protein supplements will continue as mainstays in fitness and will likely appeal to older segments of gym members as more research emerges supporting the role of higher protein intakes to counteract the age-related loss of muscle tissue, strength and functional capacity. Data supporting the safety of higher protein intakes should be of particular interest to fitness professionals. In 2018, one systematic review of 28 studies found that daily protein intakes almost twice the minimum recommended dietary allowance (RDA) did not impair kidney function in healthy individuals of varying ages, and a separate review had similar findings related to blood pressure. Thus, higher protein intake not only supports body composition goals but also appears safe and vital for healthy aging.
4. Fasting and time-restricted eating. A specific form of fasting, called time-restricted eating (TRE), will gain some steam as additional research emerges about the benefits of fasting on weight loss, the microbiome, sleep and aging. Time-restricted eating involves consuming all calories within a specified window of time each day. Common examples include the 16:8 TRE, in which all food is consumed within eight hours followed by 16 hours of no eating. The 20:4 TRE restricts eating to a four-hour window and so on. This type of fasting has been shown to reduce total calorie intake and may be more appealing than fasting one or more entire days. Therefore, TRE appears to be a safe and effective option for those with weight management goals; however, whether it is feasible and results in meaningful and sustainable weight loss is dependent on each individual.
5. CBD-related products. Cannabidol, or CBD, which is derived from the hemp strain of the cannabis plant family, purportedly has benefits for treating pain, anxiety, inflammation and other conditions without psychoactive impact. Although marijuana is legal in some states, the FDA does not permit CBD as an ingredient in food and dietary supplements. That doesn’t mean there’s no shortage of CBD-containing brownies, cupcakes, beverages and other items in the marketplace. It’s best to stay clear of these products for now as the FDA is starting to enforce its current stance. This, however, could change with new research and a change in public policy.
6. The carnivore diet. An extreme version of the popular ketogenic diet is making its way into the mainstream as people continue to seek simple solutions for ridding excess body fat. As the name indicates, this diet involves consuming meat only, whereas the keto diet includes a healthy amount of fat and approximately 5 to 10 percent carbohydrates. Although this diet is trending up, I’m not sure this one will hold up as long as the ketogenic diet due to its extremely restrictive nature. Keep in mind that extreme diets often result in temporary results due to their unsustainability. It’s better to offer solutions that people can stick to even if it takes more time. Credible nutrition and supplement education, the proper use of protein-rich meal replacements for weight loss/muscle gain and wellness goals, along with regular accountability have tremendous value for members and function as retention tools for operators.
Kat Barefield is a registered dietitian and a certified fitness professional with NASM and ACSM.