Throughout time, humans have had a fascination with being excellent at what they do, and athletics have been no exception. Many substances exist, and many have been criticized and analyzed for their safety, legality, and morality for athletes. With the banning of steroids from competitive sports, and the implementation of random drug testing in most sports, most athletes, professional, recreational, and would-be professionals are hoping to gain an edge.
More recently, one such edge has been discovered, and it has found itself in locker rooms across the country, in the hands of these athletes, and all the while, and probably more importantly, in the media’s direct line of fire. Although legal, creatine has it’s proponents and it’s opponents, through this paper, I’ll discuss some of the factors that make creatine such a hot topic in sports and the health industry. To understand why people use creatine, we must first understand what it is. Creatine is a naturally occurring nutrient that is found in the body (Sahelian, 2000).
It is also found in meat and fish, usually at a concentration of about 4 grams of creatine per kilogram (Sahelian, 2000). As a general fact, we consume around 1 gram per day from out daily diet. Vegetarians have a much lower intake of creatine than most meat eaters, and will usually have a noted reaction to creatine supplementation due to this fact (Sahelian, 2000). To apply creatine to the muscle building process, we must understand what it does. When we use our muscle everyday for any activity, we use oxygen to make energy.
This energy is created by breaking down a chemical that exists in our body known as adenosine triphosphate (ATP), into another chemical, adenosine diphosphate (ADP), but using oxygen to make energy is a very slow process (Sahelian, 2000). This is the part of the process where creatine makes itself known. Current studies show that creatine supplementation can increase the amount of creatine in muscles, which in turn, speeds up the ATP refueling process (Murphy, 2000). This enhances performance by producing more energy for brief, high-intensity exercise such as sprinting, and allowing for more strenuous workouts (Gutfeld, 1997).
All of these factors are crucial to athletes who are searching for their legal “magic bullet”. Creatine was first discovered by a French scientist in 1832 (Bamberger, 1998). This scientist discovered a naturally occurring organic compound that could be produced by the kidneys, liver, and pancreas. The compound was named “creatine”, the Greek word for flesh (Bamberger, 1998). It has been found that most people consume 1 gram per day, along with naturally producing 1 gram (Bamberger, 1998).
In 1981, the potential medical benefits of creatine were published in the New England Journal of Medicine in, seven years later, two Swedish doctors, Paul Greenhaff, and Eric Hultman, recorded performance-enhancing effects of creatine in athletic subjects, and their results were published in the journal Clinical Science in 1992 (Bamberger, 1998). Most of the current creatine “buzz” surfaced and intensified after the 1992 Olympics when several athletes such as runner/sprinter Michael Johnson, reported using creatine to prepare themselves for the games.
In more current trends, exact numbers regarding athletes who use creatine do not exist, but when Brady Anderson, a professional baseball player and creatine user/endorser began supplementation, he was one of very few who knew about the product, but numbers suggest now that approximately 50% of all NFL players use creatine (Bamberger, 1998). Creatine is most commonly used by athletes of all kinds, namely recreational, high school, college, and the more scrutinized professional athletes. These athletes use creatine because of what creatine supplementation does.
The reliable and valid research studies support the benefits of creatine supplementation. Mainly, that it can have a positive impact on the following aspects, 1) Expediting recovery between workouts, 2) increase the amount of exercise that can be performed during workouts, 3) increase muscle size and strength, 4) improve anaerobic power and endurance, and 5) increase body weight (Arapoff and Riley, 1998). These are all very attractive and positive factors that an athlete would love to be able to attain legally, not compromising their safety with illegal substances such as steroids, but through essentially, natural and relatively safe means.
Luring to some users are reports that results are quick and consistent, along with increased muscle mass, and a prolonged pump during strength training (Sahelian, 2000). Although touted and highly regarded among some professional strength trainers, there are some that are skeptical. For instance, the San Francisco 49er’s, have an estimated three quarters of the team using creatine, while the Tampa Bay Buccaneers strength coach will not allow creatine in the Bucs’ locker room (Bamberger, 1998).
The creatine economy is booming, Experimental and Applied Sciences, have a stranglehold on the creatine market, since they were instrumental in it’s introduction to the sports supplement arena, they have such athletes as Shannon Sharpe as a paid user/endorser in EAS apparel at public appearances, and this is a great way for them to increase exposure and their marketability, along with having a phenomenal skyrocket in sales (Suggs, 1998). There is a simple explanation for the explosion of creatine, it’s effective, legal, in most cases affordable, and it works.
It helps muscles get bigger and stronger faster, which is the basis of the strength-training regimen of some athletes. The IOC or International Olympic Committee has not banned creatine, and actually considers it a food, since it cannot realistically be placed in the same categories of substances such as anabolic steroids, this provided the ruling that it should not be banned (Nutrition Forum, 1999). The form that is most likely and most commonly consumed is that of creatine monohydrate in a white powder form, it comes in a canister or tub, and can be purchased at stores such as General Nutrition Centers (GNC).
A canister of the EAS creatine has a price of roughly $60 (Bamberger, 1998). Creatine is usually ingested in dosages of around 3 to 5 grams per day, and is recommended to be preceded by a loading phase that consists of ingesting up to 20 grams a day of the powder daily for 5 days (Gutfeld, 1997). This ensures that the muscles are efficiently saturated with creatine. After this loading phase, a reduction to the 3-5 gram a day dose, is recommended. Any more than what is recommended will be excreted through the urine. Also, recommendations include ingesting the creatine with a liquid that is high in carbohydrates.
It is believed that the high glycemic index will shuttle creatine into the muscle very quickly, and have a higher absorption rate (Gutfeld, 1997). Also, users and researches alike recommend checking the supplement is of high purity. Most manufacturers will provide a laboratory analysis upon request (Gutfeld, 1997). Some users question, what the best time of day to take creatine is, but reports show that any time of day is acceptable, but most users chose to take it in the time preceding their workout (Sahelian, 2000).
There have been cases of non-responders to creatine, but the reason is not known at this time (Sahelian, 2000). Some reported side effects of creatine include, loose stools, which can occur with relatively small doses such as approximately 4 grams (Sahelian, 2000). Higher doses have side effects such as nausea, upset stomach, dizziness, weakness, and doses in the 20 gram and above category have seen side effects such as kidney damage (Sahelian, 2000).
The reported feelings of dehydration can be diffused by consuming large quantities of water, more than a gallon a day (Bamberger, 1998). The result that is noted as most siginificant is that of weight gain. This can be definitely a negative or positive aspect, considering which sport the athlete is training for. For any sport where bulking up is required creatine would provide an advantage, but any athlete trying to lose or maintain weight will be offset by creatines reported effects.
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), has issued a statement that although creatine is an effective aid in performance enhancement, there have not been nearly as many field studies as there have been laboratory studies conducted, also, the ACSM notes that the jury is still out on the safety and effectiveness of long term creatine use (Rose, 1998). Since there have been no studies conducted about the long term safety of creatine, it is not currently recommended to supplement for long periods of time, rather cycle creatine use, by stopping or significantly reducing usage for a month’s time (Sahelian, 2000).
Although the long term consequences of creatine are not known at this time, it has, to this point, proven to be safer than any illegal performance-enhancing aid, such as anabolic steroids. Creatine supplemenation through a powder is also a viable way to obtain the amount necessary to provide results. To obtain the recommended dosage through our diet alone, one would have to consume anywhere from 5 to 25 pounds of meat daily (Gutfeld, 1997). Someday, maybe creatine research will conclude that it really is nature’s very own steroid.