Do training and dietary supplements go hand in hand?

To function at your optimal level, you require a certain amount of nutrients—vitamins, minerals, fats and proteins—on a daily basis. For some sports that require a greater output of energy, larger amounts of nutrients may be needed.

Although nutrients are found naturally in foods, you can take dietary supplements to help with intense athletic training or to compensate for nutrient deficiencies in your diet.

These supplements are available in several different forms:

  • Medicinal herb-based preparations
  • Vitamins and minerals, such as calcium or vitamin C
  • Probiotics
  • Amino acids and essential fatty acids (such as glutamine)
  • Protein powders (often added to dairy products and smoothies)
  • Fat burners or weight loss products
  • Synthesized nutrients of all kinds

Do we really need them?

Unless you’ve taken it upon yourself to look like the athlete you idolize—hey, one can always dream—training and dietary supplements are most likely not an essential combination. All necessary nutrients are usually obtained through a varied and balanced diet.

However, some high-performance athletes, or regular people who train intensively, sometimes take supplements as a way to optimize their programs and to fulfill their increased nutritional requirements. For example, athletes and very active individuals may require up to 50 per cent more protein than people who are sedentary or who don’t work out often.

These athletes may opt for protein drinks that contain between 200and 300grams of protein per portion. However, the protein requirements of the average athlete are not as high.

What are the risks?

Combining training and dietary supplements isn’t risk free. Because supplements are neither medication nor food, they aren’t regulated. Their ingredients and sources are not as tightly controlled, and their effects and side effects may be uncertain.

Most supplements strive to meet the standards of the recent Natural Health Products Regulations, however they have not all been approved by Health Canada even if they are sold legally.

  • Because of a lack of scientific studies, the effects of most of these products are unclear, as are the consequences of any interactions with other substances or medications or for people with particular health sensitivities.
  • Excessive use of some supplements, such as protein drinks, can cause serious cardiac or digestive problems.
  • Other side-effects can occur if some of these supplements are taken in excessive amounts during training. For example, too large a quantity of protein in the blood can overload the kidneys.

Take some precautions

If you believe that training and dietary supplements go hand in hand, and you choose to integrate supplements into your program, make sure that the product you’re taking has a natural product number (NPD or DIN-HM). This number confirms that the labelling meets norms and that the product is effective if it is consumed according to the directions. The number should be printed right on the product. You can also refer to Health Canada’s bank of approved products.

Do training and dietary supplements go hand in hand?
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