The current framework for sports nutrition is the most stable it’s been for years. But policy and political priorities of those setting the rules governing these products are evolving: a renewed focus on the need to create sustainable food systems, the end of the Brexit transition period and global efforts to recover from the COVID-19 crisis mean that changes are to be expected.

ESSNA works to help its members understand and comply with applicable legislation. It also engages with all these developments and seeks to shape those pieces of legislation that have a significant impact on sport nutrition innovation, manufacturing and marketing – as well as consumers.

How is sports nutrition regulated?

Sport and active nutrition is tightly regulated under General Food Law. A framework that allows the industry to innovate while also providing high levels of consumer protection.

Depending on composition, products can fall either under (1) food law or (2) medicines law. The latter scenario concerns only products presented as having properties for treating or preventing disease in human beings or products containing substances having the effect of restoring, correcting or modifying physiological functions by exerting a pharmacological, immunological or metabolic action.

Food legislation

The production, processing, distribution, retail, packaging and labelling of food stuffs is governed by a considerable body of laws, regulations, codes of practice and guidance. Much of the detailed legislation on food standards originates today in the European Union. Following its departure from the EU, the UK has incorporated much of that framework into its body of laws, however some degree of diverge is to be expected.

All products placed on the EU market – including sport nutrition products – must comply with general food legislation which includes general safety requirements (risk analysis, traceability, withdrawal, recall and notification, precautionary principle), general labelling requirements (name of food, list of ingredients, quantity, use-by date etc.), nutrition and health claims rules (authorisation procedures), food additives, flavourings and enzymes regulations, as well as specific requirements on the addition of vitamins, minerals and other substances to foods.

In addition to general food legislation, certain sports nutrition products may be subject to other particular pieces of legislation. Depending on the marketing of a sports nutrition product, it could come within the scope of the Food Supplements Directive or the Fortified Foods Regulation – each containing specific compositional and labelling requirements. A sports nutrition product could even fall under the Novel Foods Regulation if a new food/ingredient is put on the EU market that has not been used before 5th May 1997.

EU legislation is being transposed, enforced and, where needed or deemed opportune, complemented at national level. In the UK for example, Trading Standards visit manufacturing and retail facilities to ensure that all of these requirements have been adhered to.

What changes are to be expected?

In the EU, the European Commission published its Farm to Fork Strategy (F2F), a flagship initiative focused on promoting sustainability and healthier diets and the biggest review of the current food legislation adopted as part of the European Green Deal. Some of the measures stemming from the F2F include a proposal for a harmonised mandatory front-of-pack nutrition labelling for sports nutrition products and the setting of nutrient profiles, that will restrict the use of health and nutrition claims on foods high in fats, salt or sugar.

Similar developments are expected in the UK, where the Government has published a strategy to tackle obesity and is currently looking to set up advertising and promotion restrictions for foods high in salts, fats and sugars (HFSS).

If you want to know how these developments may impact your business, and what ESSNA is doing to support members, please email laura@essna.com.

You can find ESSNA’ manifesto for the future of sports and active nutrition here, and our position on nutrition labelling and nutrient profiles here.

General Food Law

  • General principles of food law
  • Additives Regulation
  • Flavouring Regulation
  • Enzymes Regulation
  • Contaminants Regulation
  • Food Information to Consumers Regulation
  • Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation
  • European Commission’s report on Food intended for sportspeople

Specific Legislation

  • Fortified Foods Regulation
  • Foods for Specific Groups (weight reduction food)
  • Food Supplements Directive
  • Novel Foods

Medicines Legislation

Medicines are regulated in the EU by Directive 2001/83/EC on the Community code relating to medicinal products for human use. As mentioned above, this Directive defines a ‘medicinal product’ as:

Any substance or combination of substances presented as having properties for treating or preventing disease in human beings.

Any substance or combination of substances which may be used in or administered to human beings either with a view to restoring, correcting or modifying physiological functions by exerting a pharmacological, immunological or metabolic action, or to making a medical diagnosis.

The general principle established by that regulation is that no medicinal product may be placed on the market of a Member State unless an authorisation has been issued by the competent authorities of that Member State or by the European Medicines Agency. The authorisation is valid for five years and is renewable.

In case of doubt – when it is uncertain whether a product falls under food or medicines law – borderline situations are solved by relevant competent authorities.

It is also worth noting here that certain products may fall under a simplified registration procedure established by the Traditional Herbal Medicinal Products Directive. This procedure is intended for herbal medicinal products with a long tradition, provided that there is sufficient evidence of the medicinal use of the product throughout a period of at least 30 years, including at least 15 years in the Community.

Useful Links

World Anti-Doping Agency

European Commission – DG SANTE

European Food Safety Authority

European Parliament – Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee (ENVI) 

Council of the European Union

Court of Justice of the European Union

World Health Organisation

Member State competent authorities