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How common is protein powder, creatine in Canada?

The use of legal performance-enhancing drugs and substances has detrimental effects on the mental and sometimes physical health of young people in Canada, according to a new study.

Some concerning side effects on young people include mental health issues like eating disorders and physical side effects like hospitalization, according to the study published in the National Library of Medicine in December 2022.

In some cases, legal appearance and performance-enhancing drugs (APEDs) have been contaminated with stimulants or are mislabeled, according to the study, which can lead to other adverse effects.

The study is one of the first of its kind in Canada to document the prevalence of use of muscle-building or weight-loss supplements and substances among young people. Using previous research conducted in the United States, this study was able to establish links between the increased use of legal supplements and the impacts that young Canadians may experience.

Knowing the risks associated with EPADs and the lack of awareness, an expert pleads with Health Canada for stricter regulations.

APEDs are defined as any drug or substance used to “enhance not only appearance and athletic performance, but also cognitive and sexual performance.”

Over a 12-month period, a majority of young Canadians reported consuming substances such as caffeine, protein bars, whey protein powder and creatine monohydrate.

Although these “over-the-counter” products sold legally are vetted by Health Canada, the impacts these substances may have on the health of young people, especially men and boys, are of growing concern, according to the study.


In interviews conducted in November and December 2021, researchers asked participants if they had used any of the following EPADs in the past 12 months:

  • amino acids or branched chain amino acids (BCAAs);
  • caffeine;
  • creatine monohydrate;
  • diuretics or diuretics (such as furosemide [Lasix] hydrochlorothiazide, spironolactone);
  • energy drinks (eg, Monster, NOS);
  • pre-workout drinks or powders (such as Bang!, Jack3D, Cellucor C4, JYM);
  • probiotics;
  • protein bars;
  • “weight gain”; And
  • whey protein powders or protein shakes.

These substances are used to change or maintain a person’s weight and shape and improve overall sports performance, according to the study.

A number of EPADs are considered legal in Canada, but should not be confused with illegal anabolic androgenic steroids, which use the male hormone testosterone to increase muscle capacity.

Health Canada considers EPADs to be “natural health products”.

“Whey protein actually makes it easier to ingest enough protein for muscle growth,” Kyle Ganson, the study’s lead researcher, said in a March 6 presentation. “You use powders and different protein shakes, in order to just increase the number of grams of protein that one can consume in a day, which obviously increases the aid in muscle growth.”

Ganson says that due to the concentrated nature of the product, people can consume more protein than if they ate protein-rich foods like chicken.

“Creatine is a naturally occurring substance in our bodies,” Ganson said. “It improves physical performance and muscle growth.”

Amino acids come in pill or powder form and are used to repair muscle and reduce fatigue, Ganson explained.

Other APEDs include weight loss products like diet pills and diuretics.

“Diet pills would somehow help reduce appetite or increase fat burning abilities,” Ganson said. “Along with diuretics or water pills, it helps rid the body of salt and water to reduce the appearance of weight one might have.”

Products like pre-workout and BCAAs, which usually come in powder form, contain a combination of amino acids that help the body recover from physical activity. Pre-workout contains caffeine and BCAA products are usually taken after exercise.


The 10 different EPADs were common among survey respondents.

Using data from the Canadian Adolescent Health Behavior Study, 2,731 young people were analyzed on the prevalence and frequency of use of certain EPADs. People between the ages of 16 and 30 from all 13 provinces and territories responded to the survey.

Some effects of muscle building and weight loss supplements include “problem alcohol-related behaviors, such as excessive alcohol consumption, future use of anabolic androgenic steroids, delinquency, intimate partner violence, risky sexual behaviors, muscle dysmorphism and symptoms of eating disorders, disability, and death,” the study read.

The most commonly used EPAD was caffeine, with 71.3% of respondents reporting having consumed it in the past 12 months, followed by protein bars (63.4%) and whey protein powders or shakes (63.4%). .1%).

“Most people start with whey protein and then move on to creatine,” Ganson said. “Whey protein is considered the first step for many young people trying to build muscle mass, while creatine is often the next step.”

More than a third (34.6%) used energy drinks, 25.5% consumed creatine, and just under a quarter (24.5%) used pre-workout drinks or BCAAs (21, 3%).

The least common products were “weight gainers” (4.5%), which are high calorie products, and diuretics (2.3%).

About half of the respondents indicated that they wanted to gain weight or muscle (52.8%), showing the increased use of muscle-building EPADs. A majority of the sample (62.2%) also said they had done strength training in the past 12 months.

“There were gender differences in the prevalence of EPAD use,” the study says.

More than three-quarters (80%) of young Canadian men who responded consume whey protein powder or protein shakes. About 75% of men and boys reported consuming caffeine and about 50.3% reported using creatine monohydrate.

Use of all EPADs is “significantly higher” for men and boys compared to women or transgender/gender non-conforming participants, with the exception of diuretics and probiotics, which both women and girls used any further.

Despite the increased use of EPADs among men and boys, the study also notes that a “significant proportion” of girls and women (50%) use whey protein. Nearly 10% reported creatine and 15% use BCAAs.

“Taken together, these findings likely underscore new pressures on girls and women to adhere to the fit and toned body ideal,” the study explains.

The study blames the body ideals of different genders for why the two use APEDs differently.

“With respect to sociodemographic predictors of EPAD use, overall, compared to girls and women, boys and men had a higher likelihood of EPADs marketed to increase performance, weight and muscle mass,” the study says.


Due to the common use of EPADs and the lesser-known impacts of continued use, Ganson says Health Canada may implement a number of pre- and post-market regulations.

Before a product is available to the public, Ganson suggests that EPADs should have an age restriction in place to reduce the number of young Canadians using the substances.

Like tobacco and alcohol, Ganson suggests these products should also be subject to additional taxes to deter young Canadians from consuming these products.

“If we increase funds through taxation, then we can fund research prevention intervention efforts to understand what’s happening in the long term and educate young people,” he said.

In addition to deterring use, Ganson thinks these products shouldn’t be so readily available and could be behind a pharmacist’s counter, allowing consumers to interact with someone who understands the effects.

Ganson hopes Health Canada will engage in more pre-market testing, better regulation of ads promoting the use of EPADs, and better product impact advisories.

“Creating more transparency (and) being more clear about some of these products and their concerns about them is very important,” Ganson said.

Once the product is available to the public, Ganson wants Health Canada to do more testing to ensure the products are free of contamination, more training and better monitoring for adverse side effects.

CTVNews.ca contacted Health Canada to understand its position on Ganson’s recommendations.

A spokesperson told CTVNews.ca in an email: “There is some degree of risk associated with the use of any health product. extensive pre-market review and ongoing post-market evaluation of the safety, efficacy and quality of the health product. »

The federal health agency went on to say that it assesses the benefits and risks of all products it approves and monitors adverse effects.

“Through the Health Products and Food Branch Inspectorate, Health Canada is responsible for health product compliance, surveillance and enforcement activities such as industry inspection and product investigations,” the spokesperson said.


Here is a list of resources and hotlines dedicated to supporting people:

The National Eating Disorders Clearinghouse provides resources and referrals to support those directly or indirectly affected by eating disorders.

Toll Free: 1-866-633-4220

Kids Help Phone offers free, anonymous and confidential professional telephone counseling and online counseling, available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for children and youth 20 and under.


Besoin D’aide

The Canada Suicide Prevention Helpline is available for those who are or know someone who is in immediate crisis or has concerns related to suicide.

1-833-456-4566 (24/7)

1-866-277-3553 in Quebec (24/7)

Text 45645 (4 p.m. – midnight ET). Text messaging charges apply. French text support is currently unavailable.

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Not all news on the site expresses the point of view of the site, but we transmit this news automatically and translate it through programmatic technology on the site and not from a human editor.
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