Demand for sports-nutrition products is broadening. No longer fueled by bodybuilders and competitive athletes alone, the global market for sports-performance foods, beverages and supplements is forecast to grow at a 9.7% compound annual rate through 2025—driven increasingly by purchases from recreational athletes and “everyday” consumers.

This spells opportunity for potatoes. Competitive athletes and weekend warriors alike rate potatoes highly for their sustained energy, good supply of potassium and ability to help fuel everyday activities. In fact, the more active consumers learn about potatoes, the more they support potatoes’ performance power. Year over year, there’s a rising percentage of consumers who agree that potatoes are good as part of weight management, provide sustained energy and are simply “healthy for you.” 

The takeaway lesson: Athletes of all types are hungry for healthy new ways to enjoy potatoes. Product developers have plenty of options for delivering on their desires.

Raise the bar

Formulators could incorporate dehydrated potato flakes into baked, shelf-stable savory hash brown bars. In addition to supplying bulk and replacing the wheat, oat, rice or tapioca flours that typically appear in sports bars, potato flakes hydrate rapidly, bind moisture and improve baking performance—bringing the texture closer to a soft, chewy muffin-like ideal that consumers crave.

How? During production, potato flakes are precooked to gelatinize their starch, making that starch more soluble, and allowing it to hold moisture better than wheat flour, rice flour or cornstarch. Precooking also partially unfolds and solubilizes the potato’s protein, exposing yet more water-binding sites.

This water-binding capacity is especially useful in bars with high levels of added protein, which tends to grab limited moisture and dry out the bar over time. Dehydrated potato flakes, flours and shreds compete with protein for available moisture, too, extending the bar’s appealing texture and shelf life.

Dehydrated potato shreds also signal visually and texturally that this isn’t just an energy bar, but a hash brown bar—an exciting treat that makes fueling fun. 

Dehydrated potato shreds lend structural cohesion and water-binding capacity to shelf-stable, cold-set whole-grain plant-based potato bars, too. From a processing standpoint, they’re lightweight and easy to store, and they scale, blend and perform well during production.

Best of all, dehydrated potato shreds provide a versatile, clean-label, neutral-tasting, gluten-free base that accommodates sweet or savory profiles. 

In sum, potatoes are familiar, yet highly functional whole-food additions to gluten-free, vegan, plant-powered bars that win with athletes.

Potato poppers for pep

Competitive endurance athletes are familiar with lightly seasoned potatoes offered as on-the-go fuel at aid stations. They’re easy to eat and tasty, and they provide the electrolytes and energy that endurance athletes need.

By packaging boiled and lightly seasoned whole, halved or quartered marble-sized potatoes in stick packs or pouches, product developers turn these race-day staples into on-the-go snacks that supply potassium, vitamins C and B6 and fiber as well as clean energy.

Bite-sized snacks of this nature make for manageable feeding during events or training, and consumers recognize potatoes as whole foods with plant-based and gluten-free credentials. Even parents can feel good packing potato poppers into their children’s soccer or swim bags.

Formulators can use a variety of potatoes to add color to their poppable mix, and/or frozen diced potatoes could work in a variation on the concept. With a mild, neutral flavor, potatoes suit a variety of seasoning profiles, from salt and pepper to soy sauce, curry and more.

Potato “sugar” for gels and beverages

Perhaps the most innovative way to use potatoes in sports nutrition is as potato sugar: a novel plant-based sugar alternative made by treating dehydrated potato flakes with the enzyme amylase.

Amylase converts the potatoes’ starch to sugar, yielding a slurry that’s smooth and mildly sweet. Drying converts the slurry to a powder ideal for use in neutral-pH applications or products that benefit from sugar’s energy but not its sweetness—like a savory energy gel.

When used in energy gels, potatoes contribute several advantages. First, a potato-based energy gel is one-of-a-kind: No other gel uses a whole food as its naturally occurring electrolyte and carbohydrate source. One 2019 randomized controlled cycling-time trial found that whole potatoes are as effective as commercial sports gels at fueling exercise and can be incorporated into sports fueling strategies as an alternative to processed gels.

As an energy gel base, potatoes are also neutral and minimally sweet, giving formulators flavoring flexibility. And because the gel’s viscosity is adjustable, formulators can tilt it toward a dilution level that suits its audience. With the market for sports gels projected to grow at a CAGR of 7.8% globally through 2027, it’s a space worth watching.

So is the energy beverage space, which is set to hit $30.21 billion by 2024. Many current energy-beverage consumers are shifting their loyalties toward products with natural sweeteners, and this is where potato sugar comes in again.

When made with this novel ingredient, a hot-fill, shelf-stable sports beverage can become a hydration option as unique as the potato gel, thanks to its mix of complex carbohydrates and simple sugars and its naturally occurring potassium that helps keep muscles in prime operating condition. Natural and lightly sweetened, it’s an easy-to-drink innovation that’ll capture both serious competitors’ and recreational athletes’ attention while quenching their thirst.

And it’s further proof that when it comes to active nutrition, potatoes are peak performers.

Rachel Lynch is global marketing manager at Potatoes USA, Denver. Potatoes USA is the marketing organization for the 2,500 commercial potato growers operating in the United States. We promote five main potato products: fresh table-stock potatoes, fresh chipping potatoes, seed potatoes, frozen potato products and dehydrated potato products.

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2.    Potatoes USA. Consumer Attitudes and Usage Study, 2019 (page 20).

3.    Salvador, A. F., Mckenna, C. F., Alamilla, R. A., Cloud, R. M. T., Keeble, A. R., Miltko, A., … Burd, N. A. (2019). Potato ingestion is as effective as carbohydrate gels to support prolonged cycling performance. Journal of Applied Physiology. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00567.2019

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