Supplement Series Part 2: A Focus on Protein Powder, Creatine & Pre-workout

Last week, I introduced you to the first of three posts about nutrition supplements. For more information on the background, regulation and safety of supplementation, click here (link). Today, I’m going to focus on evaluating three supplements: protein powder, creatine and pre-workout. I see and get asked a lot about these in my job as a dietitian and also as a group exercise instructor. I am frequently in the fitness environment, whether it be instructing, giving wellness presentations or individual counseling sessions, or just working out myself, and I know there is a lot of misinformation out there. So let’s get into it to see whether these products actually work and are worth your money!

Protein Powder

Reason people use it-believed to enhance muscle growth and improve strength


  • Convenient
  • Replenishes muscle glycogen stores
  • May reduce muscle soreness and inflammation


  • Protein powder is not better for muscle development compared to real food
  • May contain excessive amounts of protein or “funky” ingredients
  • May not be made from “high-quality” protein (i.e. whey protein)

Overall thoughts- Protein powder does what it is supposed to do: it repairs muscle fibers and replenishes glycogen stores lost through exercise. However, “real” foods high in protein (i.e. meats dairy, beans, etc.) are just as beneficial and offer additional nutritional benefit including vitamins, minerals and fiber. So, if you can, just eat a protein-rich snack or meal after a workout. However, if this is impossible, a protein shake is a good, easy option. Whey protein is best, or if you are vegetarian, choose a high-quality plant-based product. As always, read the labels and make sure you can pronounce most of the ingredients.



Reason people use it-creatine is an amino acid naturally produced by the body. It is thought to enhance workout performance and increase muscle mass


  • Some studies show improvement in performance and muscle mass when consumed in amounts of 20-25g/day


  • Those with naturally high body creatine levels do not benefit from additional creatine supplementation
  • Long-term use may cause down-regulation of natural creatine synthesis

Overall thoughts-Taking additional creatine may be beneficial if your goal is muscle growth. However, more research is needed to conclude this. At the current time, there is still controversy surrounding it and not enough evidence to absolutely prove that it works. If you do decide to take it, ingest only 20-25g at one time.



Reason people use it- Basically an energy drink, it is believed to improve workout performance


  • Placebo effect


  • No research indicating additional enhanced performance compared to placebo

Overall thoughts-Taking pre-workout results in purely a placebo effect and there are no studies indicating improved workout performance. In support of this, one study* compared two groups of college males, measuring their lean body mass (muscle) and workout performance. One group consumed a pre-workout beverage 15 minutes before a weight-lifting session while the other group drank a placebo. Lean body mass and workout performance significantly improved in BOTH groups. This indicates that there is no additional benefit to consuming pre-workout. In fact, they oftentimes contain a slue of warnings and funky ingredients that may be harmful in the long run.

*Kudrna R, Moodie N, McCartney M, Bustamante J, Fry A, Gallagher P. The Effect of a Multi-Ingredient High Caffeine Pre-Exercise Supplement on Strength Power and Body Composision in 8 Weeks of Resistance Training. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 2011 Mar 1;25:S112.


Next week I will discuss whether or not you actually need supplements, and if so, how to choose the best and safest one!


2 thoughts on “Supplement Series Part 2: A Focus on Protein Powder, Creatine & Pre-workout

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