European Union: Draft Commission Directive on Foods Intended to Meet the Expenditure of Intense Muscular Effort ("Sports Foods")

Last Updated: 26 August 2004
Article by Ilona Prynne and Katrina Lajunen

Originally published June 2004

The European Commission is currently consulting Member States on a draft Commission Directive which would set out rules on foodstuffs intended to meet the expenditure of intense muscular effort, especially for sports people ("Sports Foods").


Council Directive 89/398/EEC established a general regulatory framework for foodstuffs intended for particular nutritional uses or "Parnuts" foods. Parnuts foods are clearly distinguishable from foods for normal consumption owing to their special composition or manufacturing process. Directive 89/398 provides that Parnuts foods must be suitable for their claimed nutritional purposes and marketed in such a way as to indicate their suitability for these purposes.

While Directive 89/398 laid down general rules for the composition, marketing and labelling requirements of Parnuts foods, it also provided for specific Directives to be adopted covering quality, hygiene, labelling, composition and additives for a number of particular types of Parnuts foods. Specific Directives have already been adopted for infant formulae and follow-on formulae (Directive 91/321) (although there is a current proposal to amend and recast this Directive - see above), processed cereal-based foods and baby foods for infants and young children (Directive 96/5), foods intended for use in energy restricted diets for weight reduction (Directive 96/8); and dietary foods for special medical purposes (Directive 1999/21).

The Commission has prepared a draft specific Directive covering Sports Foods. The draft Directive is a working document and therefore may change.


The aim of the draft Directive is to create a high level of consumer protection by ensuring that foods that are marketed on the basis that they address nutritional requirements associated with the expenditure of intense muscular effort are safe for use, are labelled clearly and adequately and provide guidance on healthy consumption.

The draft Directive is largely based on the findings of the Scientific Committee on Food ("SCF"), which conducted an extensive review of Sports Foods. At the time of the review, which began in 1998, the following types of foods were available on the market for sports people: rehydration drinks; energy drinks, powders and tablets; protein concentrates; supplements with specific vitamins, minerals and trace elements; supplements containing substances such as choline, antioxidants and creatine; and sports bars and meal replacement products.

The SCF review assessed four groups of products as follows:

  • Carbohydrate-rich energy foods - the SCF concluded that these are useful in situations where an athlete has a limited period of time for recovery between bouts of prolonged physical activity.
  • Carbohydrate-electrolyte solutions - the SCF noted that drinks containing carbohydrates and electrolytes compare favourably to water in terms of improving performance during prolonged physical activity. However the optimum carbohydrate concentration depends on a number of factors. The SCF proposed an energy range of 80-350 kilocalories per litre with at least 75% of energy provided by carbohydrates. It also proposed a minimum level of sodium to stimulate uptake of water and carbohydrates.
  • Protein and protein components - the SCF noted that the increased requirement for protein during exercise, especially for exercise that requires endurance, might not be met if the total energy intake was comparatively low. The SCF made various recommendations for the protein content of protein concentrates and protein enriched foods.
  • Supplements containing essential nutrients or other food components - the SCF noted that providing an athlete had an adequate dietary intake there would be no need for additional micronutrients. It further observed that scientific evidence supporting nutrient intakes beyond the recommended daily allowance was inconsistent or lacking.


The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) compiles and maintains a list of substances which are regulated or prohibited for athletes participating in particular sports or in sporting tournaments such as the Olympics. The list is published in January each year but is also updated at different times of the year if this becomes necessary. The European Commission has indicated that ideally, all foods covered by the draft Directive, especially foods marketed to athletes, should not contain products that are on the WADA prohibited list. However, the consequential need to impose a Europe-wide ban on substances on the WADA list has presented practical difficulties for the Commission. In particular it is not possible to legally introduce a prohibition in EU legislation that relates to a list that is not under EU legislative control. In addition, the Commission does not currently think that it would be possible to compile its own list of prohibited substances. It is, therefore, actively seeking views from the Member States as to how such a ban could be introduced.


The intention is to lay down compositional and labelling rules for Sports Foods. It also provides that information should be given about the energy value and principal nutrients found in such foods.

The draft Directive divides foods into four categories which are roughly analogous to the four categories reviewed by the SCF. The four categories are:

  • carbohydrate-rich energy foods;
  • carbohydrate-electrolyte solutions;
  • protein concentrates; and
  • protein-enriched foods.

The draft Directive would require that the composition of Sports Foods should be based on sound nutritional principles and that their use in accordance with a manufacturer's instructions should be safe and beneficial.


All products that are regulated by the draft Directive would have to be described as "dietary food for physical activity" or "dietary drink for physical activity". If the product is designed to meet the nutritional requirements of a particular physical activity, then this activity could be included in the name of the product. Where the physical activity is associated with a sport, then the name of the sport could be indicated in association with the product's name.


In addition to existing requirements set out in the EU's general food labelling Directive (2000/13), as currently drafted, the draft Directive would subject Sports Foods to the following additional labelling requirements:

  • the available energy would need to be expressed in kj and kcal and the content of protein, carbohydrate and fat, expressed in numerical form per 100g or per 100ml of product as sold and, where appropriate per 100g or 100ml of product ready for use in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions;
  • for protein-based products, information on the origin and nature of the protein and/or protein hydrolysates contained in the product;
  • for creatine and products with added creatine, detailed instructions on use and advice that warns consumers not to take over 3g of creatine per day;
  • where appropriate, information on the osmolality or the osmolarity of the product.

Labelling would also be required to include instructions on the appropriate preparation, use and storage of the product after opening.


Foods covered by the draft Directive would also be required to comply with the compositional criteria that are set out in the Annex of the draft Directive. As currently drafted, the main compositional requirements for the four types of products covered are as follows:

  • Carbohydrate rich energy food products - at least 70% of the total energy should come from carbohydrates. In the case of drinks, the carbohydrate concentration should be at least 10% of weight by volume and metabolisable carbohydrates should provide at least 75% of the total energy.
  • Carbohydrate-Electrolyte Solutions - the energy content shall be at least 340 kl/l (80 kcal/lk) and not greater than 1488 kl/l (350 kcal/l). Metabolisable carbohydrates must provide at least 75% of the total energy.
  • Protein Concentrates - at least 70% of dry matter should be protein and the net protein utilisation should be at least 70%.
  • Protein Enriched Foods - at least 25% of the total energy must come from protein and the Net Protein Utilisation should be at least 70%.


The draft Directive is at an early stage and is being amended following comments from the Member States. The Commission is still receiving comments from Member States on labelling and composition issues as well as the categories of foods to be included in the proposal. It is anticipated that a revised working document will be circulated to the Member States' experts after the summer. A second meeting of Member States' experts will then be organised to discuss the draft Directive further.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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