Supplements may upset the body's delicate balance

Creatine popular, but its effects are unknown

The quest to push the body and spirit to greater athletic performance has been intricately woven into our societal fabric for millennia. It's our innate desire to run far, jump high and sprint fast that continues to propel us to extraordinary physical feats.

Witness the world records set at the London Marathon a week ago both in the men's (Khalid Khannouchi, 2:05:38) and women's division (Paula Radcliffe, 2:18:58). These accomplishments have been described as the single greatest day in marathoning history.

But just as records are made so they will be broken, and it's only a matter of time before another athlete surpasses these records.

Research has provided insight into how the body responds to the stimulus of training, particularly in sports performance. Becoming a high level athlete is the result of meshing intense training, adequate recovery and balanced nutrition. It's a delicate balance that an athlete is constantly refining.


What makes an athlete superior is a multitude of factors both physical and mental. While research has shed light on human performance, research has also delved into improving performance indirectly through ergogenic aids.

One of the latest over-the-counter supplements to hit the market is creatine, a naturally occurring amino acid in the body. Touted as a miracle muscle builder, proponents claim the supplement can safely add lean muscle mass and in the process improve performance.

Medical professionals and sports trainers, however, are divided over the safety of using the supplement. Fueled by sports superstar endorsements, thousands of athletes -- high school and college athletes included -- are gobbling down creatine supplements without knowing its effectiveness and its safety.

Physiologically, creatine in the form of phosphocreatine is an important store of energy in muscle cells. During intense exercise lasting 20-30 seconds, phosphocreatine is broken down to creatine and phosphate and the energy released is used to regenerate the primary source of energy, adenosine triphosphate (ATP).

It's a refined niche that creatine is designed to help. "Creatine supplementation are for those events that require explosive, powerful movements," said Jon Giese, a personal trainer manager at the Rochester Athletic Club. "Gymnasts, sprinters, pro athletes such as football players are the individuals who would supposedly benefit."

Research indicates that creatine improves one's ability to sustain greater training quality, muscular responsiveness and increased intensity. Although Giese acknowledges that enough creditable clinically based research has been conducted, much of it remains inconclusive. "I don't use it nor do I prescribe it," he said.

For some individuals Giese said that taking creatine may act as a catalyst to train harder although by no means should it be taken irresponsibly. Creatine is not for weekend warriors, he said.

While creatine is gaining more mainstream acceptance -- the Olympics allow athletes to use it -- there are still many unanswered questions. Also, the FDA urges cautions since long-term effects of creatine usage are still unknown.

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