A fat fact: You don't need boost to shape up

BARRE CAMPBELL -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 7:14 AM ET

Even in the land of back bacon and beer, we love dietary supplements.

Canadians spend big bucks on these pills, drinks and powders, hoping for the slim and trim look.

The industry brings in an estimated whopping $100 million each year. In the U.S., annual sales regularly top the $1-billion mark.

Supplements are easy to find. They're legal. And most of them do good, not bad.

Your local grocery store probably has some on a shelf, not far from the milk, bread and eggs. Protein powders, so-called "fat burners" and creatine are among the available products. Available to anyone.

Even kids. Kids who shouldn't be using them. Or at least should be careful about what they're putting into their stomachs.

'GETTING RICH'

"By and large, somebody's getting rich," says Ottawa registered dietician Marilyn Booth. "For most of these (products), there is no good evidence that they are of any benefit."

Booth says proper nutrition leads to good health.

And she say that doesn't include loading up on protein as many people believe, especially those working with weights to gain muscle.

Any decent diet plan with high-protein foods -- like chicken breast and tuna -- should give most people a sufficient amount for their exercise routine.

Too much protein, in fact, can make the kidneys work harder which, in turn, could lead to damage.

But that isn't the message coming from the companies that produce the get-buff-quick supplements.

Pick up a copy of a fitness or bodybuilding magazine, and you'll see ads pushing high-protein powders, drinks and pills that supposedly will enhance muscle growth and magically make fat disappear.

But do they work?

Many experts believe it's more of mind over matter.

Says Phil Jewell, the strength and conditioning coach of the Ottawa Renegades: "If a kid came to me and asked if he should spend $100 on protein or $100 on a good personal trainer, I'd say the trainer every time.

"I compare it to golf where people are more apt to spend a couple of hundred bucks on expensive clubs instead of spending the same money on lessons."

Jewell believes supplements can help athletes if they're taken under supervision of a trainer.

But the problem, Jewell says, is people don't know what they're taking, or the ways supplements can benefit health when taken correctly.

It's all about marketing. Take this pill and watch the fat melt away.

Kids are especially vulnerable.

"A lot of the messages in these ads are filled with half-truths," said Jewell. "Society is always looking for the easy way out, and this is something these companies are selling."

Products containing ephedrine, a stimulant of the nervous system and heart, were widely available until their recent ban in Canada and the U.S. Sold under brand names such as Hydroxycut, Xenadrine and Ripped Fuel, these items were bought for weight loss.

Full-page ads in magazines make bold promises: Increased energy for longer workouts, and rapid flab loss when combined with increased exercise. Before and after photos supposedly transformed users from fat to fit -- fat burners.

But few bothered to read the fine print.

Ephedrine can bring side effects such as nervousness, increased heart rate, headaches, insomnia and spikes in blood pressure.

SEVERE STROKES

Some have suffered severe strokes.

Others have died.

But only the high-profile deaths of two pro athletes provoked government action against these supplements.

Corey Stringer, a 335-lb. Minnesota Vikings lineman, died from heatstroke during training camp. He had been taking ephedrine.

Pitcher Steve Bechler died following a spring training workout with the Baltimore Orioles two years ago. He had been taking Xenadrine to lose weight.

The same companies that sold products containing this stimulant now have "ephedrine-free" versions of the same pills selling under the same brand names.

But the small print, which includes a disclaimer that kids under 18 should stay clear, warns of similar dangers as the products containing ephedrine.

Ephedrine sales are banned in the U.S., but the products are still available in Canada, although not at mainstream chain nutrition stores or at grocery marts.

"People should look at who's recommending to take this stuff," says Booth.

"If the guy is going to gain financially, then maybe you should get a second opinion."


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