Where Supplements Fit In

Protein powder, supplements, and creatine, oh my!

You have probably heard of many different products you can take to enhance your health and athletic performance. These are usually expensive and often do not offer any benefits that you aren't already getting from food.

Here are some facts about the common supplements:

Vitamin and mineral Supplements

  • If you are getting a healthy diet, these do not add any extra benefit;
  • They will not give you energy, since energy comes from calories;
  • The vitamins in the pills are absorbed differently in the body than vitamins in food, so they will not reduce stress. There is also no good evidence they will boost your immune system (but eating whole fresh veggies and fruit will!);
  • We often think "if some is good, more is better". But, getting too high amounts of certain vitamins and minerals can be dangerous. For example:
    • Large amounts of vitamin C can cause upset stomach;
    • Too much iron causes constipation and very high levels can be toxic;
    • More than 4000 IU (international units) a day of Vitamin D can be toxic;
    • Supplements with too much vitamin E and A can increase the risk of certain cancers;
    • High amounts of folate can increase the growth of tumor cells.
  • They can interact with other prescription medications you are taking;
  • Fish oils are only helpful if you don't eat a lot of fish. Do not take fish liver oil because it has too much vitamin A.


  • Supplements are meant to go with a healthy diet, not replace it. If you take them, it is still important to eat healthy balanced meals.
  • Certain people will need to take supplements. Talk to a doctor or registered dietitian before taking any vitamin or mineral supplements and follow their instructions.

 Protein Powders

There are no advantages of using these, since the average Canadian diet includes more than enough protein;

  • There are often sugars, artificial sweeteners, and additives added to the powders which are not good for your health;
  • After exercise, your body needs more than just protein. There are plenty of snacks you can eat that have the right balance of protein, fat, and carbohydrates. For example:
    • Yogurt, granola, and berries
    • An apple and milk or fortified soy beverage
    • A hardboiled egg and sliced up veggies
    • Nut or seed butter on whole wheat toast
    • A banana with nut or seed butter
    • Hummus and pita
    • An apple and cheese slices
    • Tuna on whole wheat bread


  • This is not recommended for anyone under age 18;
  • Your body produces creatine naturally in meat, poultry, and fish. This means you likely have enough in your body already;
  • Creatine supplements have been shown to be moderately beneficial in sports where you use short bursts of energy (eg. sprinting, hockey, weight lifting);
  • If you are thinking of using these supplements, speak to a doctor or registered dietitian before starting.

Branched Chain Amino Acids (B C double A's)

  • These include the amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine;
  • These amino acids are in all foods that contain protein (for example meat, poultry, eggs, soy products, and lentils etc.);
  • Since the average Canadian diet includes lots of protein, there is no need to take these extra amino acids.

The best way to make sure you are performing to the best of your ability is to eat plenty of fresh healthy foods, drink lots of water, and get enough rest.

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