Prokit’s 2021 Predictions
2020 was a year like no other in health, wellness and sport. We saw gyms close, events grind to a halt, fan-less games, and the Olympics postponed. But many persevered – getting on bikes, hitting the trails, shattering FKTs, and outfitting their home gyms like no time in history.
We asked a few of the most respected pros, coaches, doctors and health industry insiders to forecast what could be in store in 2021 on everything from the return to mass participation events to what’s on the horizon in health, tech and nutrition.
Table of Contents
The endurance sports predictions from Chris Carmichael, Founder and CEO of CTS; Ted King, former world tour pro and king of gravel; Rebecca Rusch, ultra endurance pro athlete, entrepreneur, event host and Emmy winner; and outdoor industry veteran Peter Abraham.
In-Person Events, Please!
- Peter Abraham – Endurance events (marathons, gravel races, 10Ks, etc.) will come roaring back after the pandemic ends and people feel comfortable in groups. Athletes, like everyone else, are desperate for community and real human contact. An early indicator is the recent sell out, in minutes, of the @sbtgrvl event in Steamboat Springs, Colorado – tentatively scheduled for August, 2021.
- Chris Carmichael – I think everyone in the events, coaching, and camps/tours industry is anticipating a lot of pent-up demand because so many activities were cancelled in 2020. People have spent a long year dreaming about the trips they want to take, goals they want to accomplish, and experiences they want to have with friends. Events and camp/tours are going to come roaring back.
- Ted King – With the return of warm weather sometime in 2021, the antsy enthusiasm to slowly return to gravel events will naturally occur. In the meantime, as riders regain their confidence to get back to mass events, there will be more and more gravel riders exploring even further off the beaten path.
- Rebecca Rusch – People want to do events. Although we weren’t able to physically gather for Rebecca’s Private Idaho in 2020, we still held an ACTUAL cycling fundraiser event for over 400 riders in 11+ countries – Giddy Up Challenge raised over $130,000 for Covid-19 relief! 2020 has really caused us all to take stock on what’s important to us. Our intentions and needs are crystallized. We may travel less, but ride more. And that’s a good thing!
More People on Bikes, and Outdoors!
- Peter Abraham – Traditional running & cycling events have been on the decline for the last 6-8 years. This will change in 2021, as millions of people have taken up outdoor activities during the pandemic. Strava’s 2020 year end report shows huge gains in participation for both sports and an even bigger explosion (three times 2019) for outdoor walking. While the style and flavor of events may change after the pandemic, participation numbers will be huge.
- Chris Carmichael – The pandemic led to a boom in sales of outdoor gear, including, but not limited to, bicycles. A lot of people were introduced or reintroduced to outdoor activities, and they jumped in with both feet. Many have fallen in love with one or more new sports, and we’re seeing a tremendous thirst for knowledge because there’s both an influx of beginners and experienced athletes taking their performance up a level. That’s going to continue in 2021.
- Ted King – Taking a step back, gravel bikes have been the tool that have moved mainstream cyclists off of paved roads, and it’s been the catalyst for people who previously wouldn’t even be interested in riding a bike to hop aboard two-wheels and explore the wild blue yonder.
- Rebecca Rusch – A key part of a hybrid, global, and digital format is providing education – people want to grow and evolve. Everyone wants to learn more about exploring on their bikes. We all want to feel connection, so even with the expansion of the digital world, the human element is crucial. Being able to connect in-person and digitally is going to expand our reach, grow our communities and bring our events to a global stage.
What’s next for Gyms and Coaching?
- Peter Abraham – Indoor training will now mostly happen at home and not in gyms. Zwift, Peloton, Strava, Tonal and dozens of other virtual training platforms have boomed during the pandemic. Expect continued growth in this category while traditional gyms & boutique fitness studios struggle to come back.
- Chris Carmichael – I’m already seeing people coming into personal coaching after spending several months on virtual platforms and working with automated training plans. They have made progress, but crave the connection with a human being and professional. The virtual platforms and AI-powered training plans have their place, but I think they will prove to be an onramp for people into personal coaching, rather than a replacement for coaches.
- Peter Abraham – Diversity and inclusion (BIPOC, women, LGBTQ) will be the biggest cultural trend in the traditionally white world of endurance sports. Expect running, cycling and even rowing to begin reflecting more accurately the diversity of America. The process has already started with, for example, an HBCU school starting a cycling team and more coverage of sports diversity in mainstream media. But intentional onramps need to be built to facilitate this transition.
- Ted King – So many bikes these days have loads of eyeholes and places to mount extra cages for lugging around extra water or gear. Additionally, we live in the golden age of hip handlebar and frame bags. 2021 will be the year people actually start putting them to use towards bikepacking adventures of all types. From credit card camping (lug an extra pair of bibs but stay in a hotel/motel) to bikepacking races seeing record setting numbers, the sport of bikepacking and hyper-distance events will begin its boom.
- Peter Abraham – Smart events of all kinds will have gotten their digital & virtual game together during the pandemic so that they can execute hybrid events starting next year. The addition of a virtual event to a live event will allow people anywhere in the world to take part in, for instance, the New York City Marathon, or the Western States 100, etc. The recent London Marathon, rescheduled as an elite-only event from its usual April date, signed up 45,000 runners for a virtual version.
- Rebecca Rusch – Events are no longer either/or, virtual or in person, remote or local – they are now both! This hybrid concept, like we developed for our 2020 RPI Challenge, taught us that community can be built and sustained digitally. Of course we all love and miss being in person – the digital aspect wasn’t a temporary replacement, but rather an expansion and a way to connect globally.
The Medical Perspective
The Physical: COVID vaccine
Dr. Megan Roche, Co-Author of The Happy Runner, National Champion Trail Runner
Given the established safety profile and potential for vaccination requirements at upcoming sporting events such as the Olympics, many athletes will be united in receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. What should they know?
Understanding the reactogenicity–the physical responses that occur following vaccination–can help athletes structure training and competition during vaccination. Let’s take a very brief look at the New England Journal of Medicine article summarizing the Pfizer/BioNTech Phase 2/3 vaccine data for reference. A more extensive summary of this information is available on the Some Work, All Play podcast E27.
The trial involved 43,448 participants receiving an injection, half with the vaccine (2 doses, 21 days apart) and half with a placebo. In this trial, the reactogenicity was not high and serious adverse events were similar across the vaccine and placebo group. The most common symptoms were short-lived: pain at injection site, fatigue, headache, and fever.
So what does vaccination mean for athletes around competition? Given that there are no studies to date in athletes, we can only hypothesize based on the Pfizer study. (1) If possible, it may be wise to avoid scheduling the first or second dose of the vaccine within 5-7 days of competition for optimal athletic performance. (2) It may be helpful to avoid strenuous training in the two days before and after vaccination to allow for recovery and strong immune response. (3) Given the current data, it seems clear that athletes should be able to transition back to full training after a few days of caution.
The Mental: Appreciation and Renewal
Dr. Emily Kraus, Stanford Sports Med Physician with focus on bone health, running medicine and the female athlete
For the athlete who’s ever had an injury, do you remember your first days back to sport –that first post-injury run, ride, or swim? You may remember the weakness and loss of fitness, but, perhaps more vividly, you remember the excitement and renewed appreciation for the sport — a rekindled fire that had dimmed over the months or years of consistent, relentless training. If the injury is severe enough, you may have developed a better understanding of your body, both its potential and limits, and the importance of recovery, sleep, nutrition, emotional well-being, and patience.
2020 introduced us all to the injury of all injuries – an injury we didn’t see coming, but has sidelined us all for far longer than we expected. The pandemic has led to pain and suffering in the world far beyond a typical sports injury, but it has the potential to rekindle a fire in people – similar to an athlete’s comeback.
I see 2021 as a year of rekindling and appreciation for sport and life. When I see athletes return from an injury, the ones who thrive are the ones who learned and grew from their time away from sport – whether it be better fueling strategies, more strength training, more rest days, a meditation practice, or a healthier relationship with the sport. The list goes on and on. It’s not too late to learn from this unusual year, and 2021 will undoubtedly be full of its own challenges. I believe we’ll be mentally stronger from 2020 with a new fire and energy to chase goals smarter than ever before. Just don’t call it a comeback…yet.
Health and Nutrition
Trending Toward Plants
Dr. Michael Greger, NutritionFacts.org founder and author of How Not to Die
McDonald’s will join Burger King, Hardee’s, White Castle, and Carl’s Jr in offering a plant-based burger. The reason switching to plant-based meats, milks, and eggs is so important has to do preventing the next pandemic. According to the CDC, the leading candidate for the next pandemic is a bird flu virus known as H7N9, which is a hundred times deadlier than COVID-19. Reforming the way we raise domestic animals for food may help forestall the next killer flu. The reality is, factory farms are a public health menace. Singapore just became to first country to approve cultivated meat. Hopefully in 2021 we’ll see these trends continue to take off! Read Dr. Greger’s full predictions
Five Predictions in Health
Anne Guzman, sports nutritionist and former pro cyclist
- Relative Energy Deficiency in sport will become a major area of education among top sporting organizations. Elite athletes will be a driving force, speaking about their experiences with RED-S as part of the initiative to educate. More research on RED-S in males will come to fruition, shining more light on the fact that this is not a syndrome only related to female athletes. Coaches will be trained to recognize RED-S worldwide by places like Prokit.
- Sport psychology will become normalized as more athletes speak up about their struggles with mental health. The importance of an athlete having quality relationships with others as well as interests outside of their sport will be highlighted as an important factor to their overall mental well being.
- Virtual cycling competitions and platforms like Zwift will continue to grow and become a separate sport from traditional cycling. Strava innovates based on the demand of online cycling and builds in a nutrition platform.
- Creatine will become mainstream, reaching outside of the athlete’s domain. Research on creatine’s effects on brain health, including mental health and concussions/TBIs will blow up. Creatine will become a staple in many people’s cupboards and be found in more protein powders. It will be blatantly marketed to the elderly population to reduce sarcopenia. Someone makes a sport-specific coffee with creatine.
- Advances in food – Vegetarian and plant-based meats (proteins) will blow up in market share. Research will put vegetarian/insect protein vs animal head-to-head looking at muscle protein synthesis. Insect protein will boom. Olive oil will have a rebirth as a health food based on research related to its impact on our microbiome and short chain fatty acids. Frozen produce will be sold with accompanying sauces and easy recipes. Companies rush to create the best quick vegetable “kits.” Instapot will start selling pre-made meals to drop in the pot and they will be delivered to your door.
Big Picture Shifts in Media, Tech and Social
Prokit co-founder David Swain
- Everyone has a podcast. The dramatic increase in mainstream listening and better tools for podcast creators resulted in a boom similar to the early days of blogging. We’re reaching a point of saturation in many categories where many of the big names have been interviewed countless times, making it increasingly difficult to stand out unless you bring an existing and/or deeply engaged audience, are an exceptionally talented storyteller, or have the reach and tools of a parent company.
- More consolidation in media. Iconic brands will sadly continue to go under, or fold into parent companies that repackage or bundle their readership. Only the best will survive. Repackaging will prove difficult to do well.
- Pressure on subscription-based media to stand out due to dramatic increase in supply and new formats. Just like everyone has a podcast, many now have a Substack newsletter or Patreon-like tool to monetize their work. Increased options and supply will cause topics to become even more niche as creators try to carve out an area where they can add unique value. Consumers will be overwhelmed, forcing newsletter consolidation, and much better curation to improve discovery.
- Tech competition heats up as biggest players double down to continue momentum from pandemic. Peloton now has a $36B market cap, which investor @vennare points out is “a number on par with the value of the entire US fitness industry in 2019.” Strava raised $110M and has grown its community to 2 million users per month. Apple made its move with Fitness+. Zwift raised a whopping $450M. Lululemon acquired Mirror for $500M, and smart gym Tonal raised another $110M, while wearable Whoop raised another $100M. Unlimited classes, better tech, vastly more data, and better tools that do similar things lead to offerings that will increasingly overlap in 2021. Companies who have built and nurture a community and brand that stand for something bigger than their tech will have staying power.
- Online noise causes people to seek niche communities that mirror real life. The dominant social network and media environments, and increased screen time because of the pandemic, will cause an accelerated search for spaces that match your passions. Some of this will continue within existing spaces like Facebook Groups and Reddit communities. But a big part will happen within vertical networks like Strava, smaller communities like Prokit, or hyper-specific communities like running clubs or @girlgonegravel. It would be surprising to not see TikTok, Instagram, YouTube and Snap pursue a groups-like space within their products given the demand.
Follow the contributors on Prokit:
- Ted King @iamtedking
- Rebecca Rusch @rebeccarusch
- Dr. Emily Kraus @ekraus
- Dr. Megan Roche @meganroche
- Dr. Michael Greger @nutritionfacts-org
- Peter Abraham @peterabraham
- Anne Guzman @anneguzman
- David Swain@swain
Read the experts full 2021 Predictions: