Sports Nutrition: Facts on Sports Supplements

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Many athletes want to improve how well they play sports. Eating a healthy diet based on Canada’s Food Guide is one of the best ways to help you play sports at your best, but can sports supplements help? Read on to learn about five sports supplements and whether they can help you improve your performance.

Protein powder



Sports bars


Protein powder

Protein powder is one of the most popular sports supplements for athletes and people who want to gain muscle mass. However, getting enough protein can easily be done by eating protein-rich foods. Extra protein from protein powders is rarely needed. Protein powders can be costly and do not have any benefits over a balanced diet.

What are the advantages of eating protein-rich foods?

Protein-rich foods provide vitamins and minerals and other nutrients that are good for your health. Aim for a diet that provides protein-rich foods like milk, yogurt, lean meat, fish, chicken, legumes, soy products, nuts and seeds.

If I do use protein powders what should I look for on the label?

  • Look for a protein powder that has a mix of protein sources. Some proteins are digested more quickly than others. Find a protein powder that has whey (milk), casein (milk) or soy protein.  
  • If you are using protein powder after an intense weight-training, sport or endurance workout, choose one with only whey protein. Whey protein is absorbed more quickly than casein or soy. It is a good way to quickly repair your muscles.
  • Try to avoid extra fats, sugars and artificial sweeteners in protein powders.

How much protein powder should I use?

Use about 20 grams of protein powder right after your sports activity. This will help the most to increase your strength and muscle mass.

If you do not use a protein powder, eat about 20 grams of protein after your sport activity. This is about:

  • 2 cups of milk
  • ½ a cup of cooked meat
  • 175 grams of yogurt, ¼ cup of nuts and 1 hardboiled egg
  • 1 cup of soy beverage, 1 slice of bread and 2 Tbsp of peanut butter

Remember, more protein powder is not better. Too many calories whether from protein powders or food may lead to weight gain.


Creatine is naturally made by our kidneys and liver. It is carried throughout the body in the blood and provides energy to your muscles. 

Your body makes most of the creatine you need, but it is also found in meat, poultry and fish. Creatine supplements have a much higher dose than what is found in foods.

Can creatine supplements help me play sports better?

Creatine has been shown to improve how well a person can play sports that require short bursts of energy. You may benefit from creatine supplements if you do activities like:

  • Running or biking sprints
  • Team sports like hockey, football and basketball that require short power bursts
  • Weight-lifting and strength-training

If you participate in endurance sports like long-distance running, creatine may not give you a lot of benefit.

Are creatine supplements safe?

Research on creatine supplements have not shown any health risks in healthy adults when taken in recommended amounts. However, the effect of long-term use of creatine supplements is not known.

How much creatine should I use?

As with all supplements, getting more than you need is not helpful. The amount of creatine that is shown to help with sport performance is:

  • 15 to 25 grams per day for 5 to 7 days as the starting dose
  • 2 to 5 grams per day afterwards for the next few months 

What do I look for on the package?

Look for a creatine supplement that contains creatine monohydrate.  This is the form of creatine that has been studied the most and is the recommended type to use. Creatine monohydrate combined with a carbohydrate (like dextrose or other sugars) is best absorbed by your muscles.

If you are buying a creatine supplement, look for a natural product number (NPN) or drug identification number (DIN). These numbers tell you if the product has been reviewed by Health Canada and is safe to use. 

Creatine supplements are not recommended for anyone under 18 years of age as well as pregnant or breastfeeding women. Speak to a health professional before taking creatine supplements. Always read and follow the instructions on the package when taking creatine.


Caffeine is a natural ingredient that acts as a stimulant (increases alertness).  Caffeine is found in coffee, tea, some pops, some energy drinks and sports bars.

Can caffeine help me play sports better?

Maybe. Caffeine helps you feel alert and may help you to play sports more intensely.

Can caffeine harm my performance?

Yes. For some people, caffeine has side effects that can impact how well you can perform a sport. For people who are very sensitive to caffeine, too much caffeine can cause:

  • trouble sleeping
  • irritability
  • nervousness
  • rapid heart rate
  • headaches

Caffeine can be found in energy drinks in very high amounts. Be careful that you don’t get too much caffeine when drinking these products. 

If I use caffeine, how much is safe?

If you choose to use products with caffeine, stay within Health Canada’s recommended limits:

  • For adults: No more than 400 milligrams (mg) per day (equal to about 3 cups of coffee)  
  • Pregnant and breastfeeding women: No more than 300 mg of caffeine per day (equal to just over 2 cups of coffee)

Sports bars

Sports bars can be a good choice if you need some energy before you play a sport. They can also help you repair your muscles after playing a sport.

However, it is not necessary to use sports bars. You can get the energy you need from food before you play a sport.

If I use sports bars, what should I look for on the label?

Read the ingredients

  • Look for ingredients like whole grains, soy, casein (milk) or whey (milk) protein, dried fruit and nuts
  • Try to avoid artificial sweeteners such as sucralose since you need carbohydrate (sugar) for energy
  • Avoid sports bars that have trans fats. The words “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” in the ingredient list means trans fat
  • Look for at least 10 grams of protein per bar
  • Look for lower fat and fibre if you are eating a sports bar before playing a sport


Glucosamine sulfate is a substance found in the fluid around your joints.  Supplements containing glucosamine sulfate may come from natural sources such as shellfish or they can be made in a laboratory.

Can glucosamine prevent joint damage? 

Some athletes take glucosamine supplements in the hopes of preventing or reversing joint damage caused by intense sports or very long sports sessions. Unfortunately research does not show that using glucosamine will prevent or reverse “wear and tear” on the joints.

Is glucosamine safe?

Glucosamine sulfate is likely safe when you take it as directed. Read labels carefully if you have a shellfish allergy. Some glucosamine brands may contain shellfish ingredients.

Speak to your health professional before starting a glucosamine supplement so that he or she can help you decide what is right for you.

Bottom line 

Eating a healthy diet based on Canada’s Food Guide is one of the best ways to help you play sports at your best. If you choose to use a sports supplement like protein powder, creatine, caffeine, sports bars or glucosamine, speak to a health professional.

You may also be interested in

Sports Nutrition: Facts on Hydration

Sports Nutrition: Facts on Sports Drinks

Sports Nutrition: Facts on Vitamins and Minerals

Sport Nutrition: Facts on Carbohydrate, Fat and Protein



Last Update – January 29, 2019

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