Mississauga homemaker, Susan Hrenchuk, overheard her 17-year-old
son talking to his friends about taking creatine to boost
his athletic performance, she was concerned. Her son quoted
an ad that boasted creatine nutritional supplements are
"nature's muscle builders." Susan knew creatine wasn't
a steroid or an herbal agent, such as the recently banned
ephedra, but was it safe and effective?
"Creatine is found in foods such
as chicken, fish and meat, and is part of most people's
diets," explains Dr Andrew Pike of the Ottawa Heart
Institute and medical advisor at the Canadian Centre
for Ethics in Sport (CCES). "The effect of creatine
on exercise is well established. It can help in the
regeneration of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) from adenosine
diphosphate (ADP). That's important in rapid sequences
of muscular activity."
GOOD CUPPA CREATINE
Creatine supplements gained worldwide attention during
the 1992 Barcelona Summer Games when two creatine-taking
British sprinters, Linford Christie and Sally Gunnell,
won gold medals. That year, a report in Clinical
Science showed the supplements could increase creatine
levels in muscles. Since then, several studies have
shown that creatine enhances activities such as weightlifting,
sprinting, and rowing that require short periods of
intense power and strength.
"Creatine will not help everyone
in every situation," cautions Dr Pike. "It is osmotically
active, so it tends to cause muscles to swell and retain
water. It adds body weight and might hinder performance
of some activities."
"Creatine in supplements is isolated from meat extracts,"
says Professor Joe Schwarcz, PhD, Director of the McGill
University Office for Science and Society. "We ingest
roughly one to two grams a day in a typical diet, although
vegetarians may consume less," adds Dr Schwarcz. "The
supplement dosage is 20 grams a day, taken in four five-gram
doses to saturate tissues, followed by two to five grams
daily to maintain saturation."
Creatine supplements are perfectly
legal in Canada, and eager athletes can saunter into
any of our nation's many pharmacies or fitness shops
and procure a 120g bottle for about $20. But just because
the supplements are readily available, it doesn't mean
those considering creatine should throw caution to the
wind. There have been reports of contamination, in some
rare cases, with toxic metals and small amounts of androstenedione.
"Although there have been no consistent serious side
effects noted in healthy individuals, there have been
reports of dizziness, skin rash, diarrhea, anxiety,
migraine, muscle pain and irregular heartbeat," warns
Dr Schwarcz. "Certainly anyone suffering from kidney
problems should stay away from creatine."
"Creatine supplementation is acceptable
to sports' governing bodies and there's no way to tell
if creatine in an athlete's blood came from a supplement
or from a steak," says Dr Schwarcz. "Oral creatine can
lead to modest improvement in repetitive, high intensity
activities that last less than half a minute. Mild side
effects have been reported, and anyone suffering from
kidney problems should stay away from it."
"Longterm effects from creatine
supplement use are largely unknown," adds Dr Pike. "A
solid nutritional foundation is essential for successful
athletic performance, and that doesn't mean that you
have to go out and purchase all sorts of nutritional