Monday, January 17, 2011

Creatine: A Muscle Builder?

Last night I was talking with a high school baseball player and he asked me several questions about a popular supplement out there called creatine. He told me that many football players he knows use it, as well as other friends who just want to “get ripped.” It is tempting, to be sure, to take something that claims to amp up the size and strength of muscles after training beyond what a hard workout and good recovery nutrition will do.

Fact of the matter is many athletes, no matter what the sport, seek out risky ways to increase muscle and enhance performance, as well as appearance. The increasing pressure in our sports society today to succeed—at a younger age and in more competitive arenas, fuels the interest and drives competitive athletes to throw caution to the wind. Trying to gain that competitive edge encourages athletes of all ages to try anything to stake their place in the sport of their choice. The risks and dangers that come along with this type of attitude in athletics “success at any cost”-- has now become a huge concern. High school use of creatine and supplements that contain performance
enhancing drugs is on the rise." Unfortunately, these products saturate the market today, are easily available and not tested for safety, potency or purity. They also come without clear instructions for safe use, precautions to help in preventing abuse and without any long term studies demonstrating safety. Buyer beware—what you don’t know could hurt you!

So what exactly is creatine? Creatine (creatine monohydrate) is a popular supplement because it has been deemed safe with short term use by many studies, though it is not effective for every athlete. Creatine helps fuel muscles in short duration, high intensity activities like sprinting and strength training by enhancing anaerobic power and anaerobic endurance. This might help some athletes push themselves harder and longer, which may lead to greater gains in muscle size and strength. Once the muscle is saturated with creatine the rest is excreted from the body, so more is not better. And a significant down side to creatine is it causes the muscle cell to hold water. Large amounts of creatine will increase fluid in the cells, resulting in a puffiness that contributes to the over-all muscle “gain” that occurs. The weight gain that happens with creatine use negatively affects speed, agility, and balance needed for peak sports performance. Some athletes also experience digestive distress and stomach upset when taking creatine.

An easy way to stock muscles with creatine and avoid all the nasty side effects is to include foods high in creatine like lamb, beef, pork, veal and fish in the daily diet. Just don’t overcook them—you’ll lose the creatine! Eating just 16 oz. of a variety of these high protein foods throughout the day will help provide the creatine needed to saturate the muscles. Good recovery, with enough carbohydrate and protein, is also a very effective muscle builder. So ditch the supplements! Food works better than supplements, so include these foods as a part of your muscle building routine, along with good recovery nutrition.

Warning: The American Academy of Sports Medicine, along with the American Academy of Pediatrics clearly states that creatine, though a legal supplement today, should not be used by anyone less than 18 years of age. Long term effects have not been studied and are not known. Collegiate teams, trainers and coaches are strictly prohibited from supplying it or any other supplements to their student athletes.

Kim Larson, RD, CD
Total Health
Sports Nutrition Consultant

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