Some athletes think that "winning is
everything," and take large doses of nutritional supplements to get
an edge over their opponents. But many athletes have at least toyed with
the idea of using this popular supplement. Creatine is the most popular sports
supplement and many athletes, both professional and amateur, including some children and adolescents,
take creatine supplements to try to increase strength and improve sports
performance. There seems to be a lot of miss-information available on the internet and elsewhere.
History of Creatine
Creatine was discovered in 1835 when a French scientist named Chevreul discovered a
component of skeletal muscle that he later named creatine after the Greek word for flesh, or Kreas. Therefore,
although creatine may seem like something new, the scientific community has recognized it as a natural
constituent of muscle for nearly two centuries.
Our first indication that muscle creatine content is necessary for muscular
activity came with the observation that wild animals contain disproportionately more (about 10-times more)
creatine than animals kept in captivity. Near the turn of the century the first studies examining the effects of
creatine feeding were conducted. It was noticed that not all the creatine fed to subjects could be recovered in the
urine, indicating that the body, i.e. skeletal muscle, was retaining some of the ingested creatine. In fact, skeletal
muscle, as well as being the largest sink for dietary creatine, is also the richest natural source of the
nutrient. Thus, whenever we take a bite of steak (skeletal muscle) creatine is made available to our muscles for
absorption. It is now estimated that most of non-vegetarians receive approximately one gram of creatine
each day in our diets.
The most commonly used form of synthetic creatine is the monohydrate salt,
creatine monohydrate. Creatine monohydrate is simply a molecule of creatine accompanied by a molecule of water.
The first study that clearly demonstrated an effect of creatine monohydrate in humans was conducted in the lab of
Dr. Eric Hultman of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden. This study found that ingesting 20 grams of creatine
monohydrate daily for 4-5 days increased muscle creatine content by approximately 20%. An increase in muscle
creatine content of this magnitude is more than sufficient to notice an enhancement in exercise performance during
explosive bouts of exercise. Therefore, exercise tasks that benefit most from creatine supplementation are
sprinting events of less than 10 seconds duration and repetitive maximal effort movements. Oh, by the way, the
year this pivotal study appeared was 1992, the same year creatine made its controversial public debut in the
Barcelona Summer Olympics. During these games the success of the British track team was allegedly partially due to
the use of creatine; partly scandal and partly truth.
Unknown health risks
Doctors are still studying the benefits and
risks of using creatine supplements. They don’t know the long-term health effects, especially in bodies that are still growing.
Because of unknown health risks, children
and adolescents under age 18 and women who are pregnant or nursing should never take creatine supplements.
People with kidney problems should also not
take creatine supplements. No matter what your age or health condition,
always see your doctor for advice before taking creatine supplements.
Easy to get, widespread use
Creatine supplements come in a wide variety of
brand names and products and are available over-the-counter at vitamin,
drug and grocery stores and on the Internet. Creatine Monohydrate is a
white, odorless crystalline powder, clear and colorless in solution. Use of creatine supplements
is widespread and expected to rise. Since 1995 sales of Creatine have
grown by 730%. Most of the people who use them are:
Male, although some are female.
In power sports (i.e., football, wrestling,
hockey and bodybuilding), although some are in every sport.
At all levels of performance – from
professional to amateur, college, high school and middle school. A
recent study of middle and high school students aged 10-18 by the
American Academy of Pediatrics found creatine use in all grades 6-12. About 5.6 percent of all study participants and 44 percent of
athletes who are seniors in high school admitted taking creatine.
Another study by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association found an
estimated one million young people aged 12-17 have taken performance-enhancing sports supplements. Use of supplements was
reported by 5 percent of participants.
About Creatine and Creatine Supplements
Creatine is a source of energy for muscle
contraction. The body produces its own creatine in the liver, kidneys
and pancreas. You also get it in your diet when you eat meat or fish.
(Vegetarians may have less creatine.) The body stores most of the
creatine in skeletal muscle to use when you exercise. The rest goes in
the heart, brain and other tissues.
Although people respond differently, taking
creatine supplements may increase the amount of creatine in muscles.
Muscles may be able to generate more energy
or generate energy at a faster rate.
Some people think taking creatine
supplements along with training may improve performance for quick
bursts of intense energy, such as sprinting and weightlifting.
Vegetarians and other people with lower amounts
of natural creatine may see more of a difference from taking creatine
supplements. There may be a "saturation point" that limits how
much creatine muscles can store.
Supplements Not Always Safe
Although creatine is a "natural"
product, it is not always safe to take creatine supplements.
Creatine has not been evaluated by the FDA for safety,
effectiveness, or purity. All potential risks and/or advantages of creatine may not be
known. Additionally, there are no regulated manufacturing standards in place for these
compounds. There have been instances where herbal/health supplements have been sold which
were contaminated with toxic metals or other drugs. Herbal/health supplements should be
purchased from a reliable source to minimize the risk of contamination.
According to a recent Mayo Clinic study,
many young athletes who take creatine supplements rely upon the
advice of friends, not doctors. Some do not know how much creatine
they are taking and may take more than they should.
People who take creatine supplements may gain
weight caused by muscles holding water. Other side effects of long-term
use include muscle cramps, stomach cramps, dehydration, diarrhea, nausea and seizures.
It may be dangerous to take creatine supplements while undergoing
dehydration (i.e., for wrestling competition) or if you are trying to
Stop taking creatine and seek emergency medical
attention or notify your doctor immediately if you experience:
No one knows what may happen to important
organ systems like the heart, brain, kidneys, liver and reproductive
organs if you take creatine supplements.
An allergic reaction (difficulty breathing;
closing of your throat; swelling of your lips, tongue, or face; or hives)
No one knows what may happen if you combine
creatine supplements with over-the-counter medications, prescription drugs, vitamins, etc.
Since it has the effect of
fluid retention in muscle, it might increase blood pressure in the
same way high sodium levels do, but this has not been established or
refuted. Also, it is expensive.
There are some anecdotal reports of other side
effects, including kidney and liver damage, muscle cramps during exercise in
the heat and increased number of muscle strains and pulls.
A recent survey by Blue Cross
and Blue Shield Association's Healthy Competition Foundation found
that 96% of the youths who used supplements were aware of the health
risks. Be well informed about any supplement you choose to take and
periodically check to see if any further studies have found any significant negative effects.
Medical researchers are studying the safety and
effectiveness of creatine supplements. They also are studying if
creatine supplements may help to treat diseases that cause muscles to
shrink and fail, such as heart failure/disease, muscular/neuromuscular
diseases, and stroke.
With the knowledge that many
(mostly male) gymnasts do use CM, here is some information you might
find handy. First, of course, read the label and any additional leaflets
that come with your brand of creatine monohydrate.
supplements markedly increases these levels in the muscles.
People who supplement may take anywhere from 10 to 20 grams
per day for periods ranging from 4 to 6 days. This regimen
is termed "creatine loading"; it can raise muscle
creatine and phosphocreatine concentrations by more than 20%.
The benefits of
supplementation on performance are limited to specific types
of activities. Preliminary information suggests that high-
intensity, short duration or stop and go activities may
benefit from creatine supplementation. Some examples include
weight training, baseball, sprinting, throwing, jumping,
football, and soccer. However, only people with low levels
of muscle creatine will benefit from creatine supplementation.
In contrast to
high-intensity or anaerobic activities, creatine supplementation does not improve, and may even worsen,
endurance performance. One study found that marathon runners
had poorer performances after creatine loading.
creatine, talk to your doctor, pharmacist, or health care
professional if you have any other medical conditions,
allergies, or if you take other medicines or other herbal/health supplements. Creatine may not be recommended
in some situations.
Usually, the use of creatine is
split into a loading and maintenance phase. During the loading phase,
large quantities of creatine monohydrate are taken. Because the creatine
only slowly disappears from the body, a maintenance phase in which less
creatine is taken will still provide the body with adequate levels of
Some studies support creatine cycling and others do
not. There are a couple of different "cycling" strategies you can try: 1.
Stay on creatine all the time, but reload once every six weeks; 2. Load for a week, stay in
your maintenance phase for six weeks, then stop taking creatine completely for a couple
of weeks. Repeat.
It is recommended to drink lots of
water while on the creatine. Powder form is generally preferred over
capsules. Most users recommend a loading phase when first starting with
CM. For 5 to 7 days, take a teaspoon (approx. 5 grams) 5 times per day.
After that go on maintenance at 5 grams twice per day.
Note: It is discouraged to use
caffeine while on creatine; while creatine makes your muscles hold
water, caffeine will do the opposite, thereby reducing the effects of
the creatine intake.
Though some sources
report otherwise, it is generally recommended that you not mix creatine with citrus
juice. Orange, grapefruit, cranberry, in fact, most fruit juices have
been most recently found to neutralize the activity of creatine
monohydrate. The reason is the waste product creatine develops. Many
users put creatine on your tongue and drink it down with grapefruit juice.
If you have taken creatine this way in the past, stop it now! You are
not getting creatine, you're getting waste product.
Do mix creatine monohydrate with
warm water -- in a glass. This is the only way to ensure you're getting
the full benefits of creatine in its dry form. Creatine does not have to
dissolve to be effective.
Do be sure to drink a full eight
ounce glass of good water 8 times a day. Creatine pulls water from other
parts of the body to perform its work in cell volumization of the
muscle. This is what makes the muscle larger and firmer. Replenish your
H2O! It has been reported that creatine may be more effective
if taken with carbohydrates.
Creatine (creatine monohydrate) is generally used in the U.S. as a sports
supplement. Most studies have shown it to improve performance during
high-intensity exercise of short duration, such as weight lifting and
sprinting. Creatine is produced in the body and is also available from
meat in the diet, including poultry and fish. The activity of creatine is
related to its role in the production of energy in muscle.
When creatine is metabolized in the body, it creates a waste product
called "creatinine" which is normally removed from the body by
the kidneys. (The amount of creatinine in the blood is often used
diagnostically to evaluate kidney functioning). Creatinine may also be
found in impure creatine supplements due to improper manufacturing or
breakdown prior to use. Another manufacturing by-product, dicyandiamide,
may also be found in impure creatine supplements. While creatinine and
dicyandiamide in small amounts are not known to pose a safety risk, they
are not useful to the body and must be eliminated through the kidneys.
Better quality creatine products should be free of these impurities.
Consequently, manufacturers often make a point of claiming their creatine
products to be "100% pure," "99% pure," or
"Dicyandiamide Free." Purity is particularly important for
creatine supplements because doses are relatively large — exceeding 20
grams per day (approximately four teaspoons of creatine powder) in some
A consumer testing facility, as part of its mission to independently evaluate products
that affect health, wellness, and nutrition, purchased many of the leading
creatine dietary supplements sold in the U.S. and tested their quality.
Testing & Results:
In June 2000, the consumer testing facility purchased a total of 13 brands of dietary
supplements containing creatine monohydrate. These were tested to determine whether 1)
they possessed 100% of the claimed weight of creatine and 2) lacked
contamination from creatine or dicyandiamide according to claims made by the products.
Eleven of the 13 brands passed this testing. One of the two products that
did not pass testing was found to contain less than the labeled amount of
creatine. The other product that did not pass failed to meet its claim of
being free of the impurity dicyandiamide.
And how about this -- Creatine has shown that it also increases brain
power in vegetarians. It does not seem to have the same
effect in meat eaters.
Finally, if you are interested in
this supplement, continue your research. Creatine is among the most
researched supplements on the market with nearly 30,000 studies maintained in the database of the National Library
of Medicine conducted throughout the world -- including research done with people (clinical), on animals, and in
test tubes (in vitro). Currently, though we do not advocate its
use, we believe, that it seems to have minimal negative effects when taken properly.
You should use your own judgment. If you choose to use creatine please follow the dosing religiously -- don't get
carried away. We recommend that you continue to seek out any new information that comes about.
Here's another source -- for you
to continue your education about creatine: WebMD
Also see: http://examine.com/supplements/Creatine/#main_rubric