Megamuscles with Creatine?
My 17-year-old son is a healthy high school athlete who participates in football, basketball, and tennis. Weight lifting is a standard part of each team's training. The coaches are now recommending that the student athletes take creatine to enhance the muscles that are being strengthened. Is creatine safe? Does it do any good? Thank you!
Creatine is an important compound in muscle tissue that your body uses to form a very high-energy molecule called adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP fuels the muscles when they're engaged in short-duration, high-intensity exercise. When your son is lifting weights or running, his muscles turn to creatine to replenish their supply of ATP. When the supply of ATP depletes, he'll feel fatigued.
Creatine occurs naturally in meat and fish, or you can buy it as a synthetic supplement. Various studies have looked at the influence of creatine on performance. I found one very small study (of just nine men) published in the American Journal of Physiology that found that creatine supplements boosted the body's ability to restore ATP levels and thus enhance exercise performance. Other studies seem to show an increase in the amount of work done in the first few short, high-effort bursts of activity. None of these studies can be called definitive, however.
So far, creatine use is considered legal in athletic competitions. Colin Jackson, the British holder of the 110-meter hurdles world record, says he uses 20 grams daily.
I think creatine's probably safe, but I'm not convinced of its usefulness. Plus, it's expensive. It seems to be another of those fad supplements that marketers are pitching alongside the hormones DHEA and melatonin to confer long life and inexhaustible energy. People always seem to be looking for miracle pills and supplements that will transform them into superstars. The creatine peddlers promise instant energy, more muscle strength, greater endurance, and less fatigue.
With a healthy diet and a dedication to training, your son probably doesn't need any dietary supplementation to allow him to become the best athlete he can be. I think he'd be better off working from the assumption that he's already got all the resources he needs within himself. If you do decide to go ahead and buy the creatine, here are some cautions:
Don't mix it with fruit juice. This seems to react with the supplement and transform it into creatinine, a metabolic waste product.
Don't overuse creatine. People usually start with high amounts over the first few days to load up the muscles, but after that, the body can only use 2 to 3 grams each day.
Creatine draws on water from other parts of the body to help the muscles do their work. Whenever you're physically active, drink plenty of water: an 8-ounce glass, eight times a day.
Finally, results published recently in the American Journal of Physiology indicate that athletes who do take creatine supplements should also increase consumption of carbohydrates (like bread and pasta); the study noted that these findings were particularly helpful in combination sprinting/aerobic sports such as basketball or hockey.