As the market for fitness foods grows, are more and more of us succumbing to advertising hype rather than understanding proven benefits?

The health and fitness industry in the UK is today thought to be worth in the region of £5 billion a year in 2015. With gyms and fitness clubs fighting for our business, sports brands battling to clothe us and equipment manufacturers demanding that we try the latest machine or contraption, there has never been a more bewildering array of messages for the man and woman on the street.

Perhaps the most confusing aspect of all is the fitness supplement and food sector. With thousands of products on the market all promising to help us gain muscle, strip fat, load on energy or just pack in nutrition, how does one decide what to choose? The secret lies in developing a better understanding of what certain ingredients can do for the body and how the label on the reverse of packaging can reveal a lot more than the slogans and images on the front.

What are fitness snacks?

Fitness snacks are products branded and marketed to indicate they are beneficial to fitness levels and health. It is important to remember, however, that these snacks claiming to boost performance or make physiological gains can not do so in isolation and their calorie content should always be considered within the parameters of a broader diet plan.

The problem with fitness foods?

A recent study suggests we are more likely to indulge more and exercise less when snacks are marketed as 'health' products. While society's awareness of the dangers of chocolate bars and other sugary snacks has grown, the use of the term 'fitness snacks' leads many consumers to believe that health snacks are less calorific - something that is not always the case.

Overconsumption

Consumption of fitness-branded foods has been found to be higher for individuals trying to lose weight. Due to the clever - but potentially misleading) branding, individuals are encouraged to believe there is no conflict between eating fitness snacks and achieving weight loss goals. This marketing is referred to as the ‘health halo’ whereby people tend to consume more of a food if it has a healthy sounding or looking label.

Impact on exercise

Research has shown that individuals looking to lose weight were less physically active after consuming fitness food. Often individuals saw eating this ‘healthier’ snack as an alternative to exercise, regardless of the actual calorie and nutrient content of the food. Even if individuals did maintain their physical activity levels, this failed to balance the effects of the extra calories consumed through snacking.

Calorie Overload

Fitness foods are often designed to give consumers a boost of energy prior to or following exercise. This means they are often calorific, so not ideal for people who are looking to control their weight based on food intake.

Snacks marketed as an aid to fitness provide a boost in energy in the form of sugars and carbohydrates, which may indeed benefit short-term athletic performance. Without exercise, however, these snacks would eventually be stored as fat in the body.

Unfortunately, there is no regulation on the use of fitness cues in product branding as there is for nutritional information and health claims.

How should fitness snacks be consumed?

Check the nutritional labels on packaging to ensure that you are always aware exactly what you are eating rather than falling victim to the use of clever advertising and product packaging. Fitness snacks count as much towards your daily calorie intake as any other foodstuff and they should never replace a well balanced diet containing fruit and vegetables.

Fitness snacks should never be considered as an alternative to exercise. The benefits of regularly raising one's heart rate and testing the cardiovascular system cannot be replicated by eating.

For those struggling to achieve their weight loss goals through a balanced diet and regular exercise, it is always advisable to consult a health professional rather than turning to unknown fitness snack solutions. Pharmacists are well positioned to prescribe appropriate treatments for weight management issues. Through medications such as Xenical, which works by reducing the amount of fat absorbed during digestion, patients are able to better control their weight issues and reach target weight.