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The Truth about Creatine

by george

5 Nov, 2009

 

THE TRUTH ABOUT CREATINE

Although creatine was discovered in 1912 by researchers at Harvard University, it was until much later that an effort was made to isolate it and sell it as a supplement.

Today, world-wide sales of creatine in its various forms are at an all-time high. Not only are creatine-based supplements the best selling supplements as a category, but the range of supplements containing creatine is massive and continues to grow. The reason is easy to understand – it works and it is safe to use.

However, despite a weight of scientific evidence in favour of creatine’s safety and efficacy, many people continue to question its safety despite their concerns having no basis in science.  As always, a small amount of misinformation, particularly if it is sufficiently sensational, can have a rapid and sweeping effect.  This is what has happened with creatine.  One of the most common claims have been that of muscle cramps and dehydration.  Even renal failure has been mentioned amongst the ills to be caused by creatine.  I recently heard fears of bones becoming brittle through the use of creatine.

Owing to this misinformation, traced in some cases to school masters and coaches, some institutions have banned the use of creatine and done their best to discourage its use, insodoing, appearing to endorse the above alarmist stories.

It is important to take the initiative immediately and halt this spread of misinformation once and for all.  Our purpose here is to help people make informed decisions about creatine, by looking at the science rather than accepting uninformed opinions.

Understanding Creatine

Creatine is manufactured by the body from three different amino acids: Arginine, methionine and glycine.  It starts life in the liver and is circulated to muscle tissue throughout the body.  It can also be found in foods such as meat and fish.  The typical content of creatine in meat would be about 4g per kg.  Most people take in about 1g per day from dietary sources and a further gram is synthesized by the body from other amino acids.

When supplemental creatine is added to the athlete’s diet, he or she benefits in the following ways: after creatine is taken it bonds with a phosphate group to form creatine phosphate.  CP (creatine phosphate) can then donate a phosphate molecule to ADP (adenosine di-phosphate) to form ATP (adenosine tri-phosphate).  ATP is the energy medium of the cell and is used to perform nearly all cellular functions.  It’s presence is vital for muscle contraction.  By adding creatine the user increases ATP production, in turn enhancing performance and reducing fatigue, especially in intense, short duration and explosive activities such as weightlifting and sprinting.

Another advantage of creatine consumption is its impact as a muscle hydrator, pulling fluid (which of course, contains nutrients drawn from dietary sources) into the cells.  Nitrogen ions flood the cell and this increases protein synthesis.  An increase in protein synthesis allows athletes to recover from exercise faster and in turn grow more muscle.  http://www.ncaa.org/news/1996/961028/active/3338n02.html

Its quite easy to follow, therefore, that creatine supplementation is beneficial to athletes who engage in high intensity sports that require quick bursts of energy or power (a combination of strength and speed).

Side Effects

The most popular complaints that arise about creatine usage are as follows:

The “lack of long-term studies” on possible side effects.  They claim that since creatine is a new supplement there is no way to tell whether it is safe for long term use. This statement is misleading as creatine has been known of for nearly a century, although it is only recently since it became popular.  In fact, it has been readily available in the UK since the early 80s.  Again, it stands to reason that if long term problems been a consequence of its use, they would certainly have arisen by now.  And by use, we can safely add the concept of “abuse” considering that creatine was and has been widely available without limitation for nearly 30 years.  Considering that athletes using it would have been profoundly impressed, there would have been at least a number of them that would have used a lot more than recommended or necessary.  Yet all of them are here today, alive and well.   It’s also fair to say that if creatine had the potential to cause negative long term side effects, there would be indicators in the shorter term.  In actual fact, there have been several studies on the use of creatine that concluded that long term creatine use has no side effects. (Poortmans, Jacques R. and Marc Francaux. Long-term Oral Creatine Supplementation Does not Impair Renal Function in Healthy Athletes. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 31 (1999): 1108-1111.

Schilling, Brian K., et al. Creatine Supplementation and Health Variables: a Retrospective Study. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 33 (2001): 183-186 ).

Cramping, muscle fatigue dehydration

One of the most frequent suggestions that have arisen is that the use of creatine causes dehydration and muscle cramps in users.  Suggestions have emerged that creatine is the cause of frequent cramping and pulled muscles, both during and following exercise.

Coaches and trainers maintain that although they have no scientific proof, creatine must be the reason beause it is the only thing that has changed.  These are only anecdotal reports.  There is no scientific evidence to support these claims yet, seemingly, claimants make no effort to consider other causes.  The cause of muscle cramps and dehydration are both due to inadequate water consumption, not creatine supplementation. There is scientific evidence to verify that creatine does not cause dehydration or muscle cramps among college athletes.

In the United States, a number of controlled studies have been carried out involving university student athletes by the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (AAHPERD) which demonstrated creatine safety.

The first study evaluated side effects arising from creatine supplementation on Division I-A football players during 3-a-day practices. The second was similar, the only difference being that Division I-A baseball players were studied during the autumn collegiate baseball.

Both studies concluded that there were “no perceived side-effects or health-status problems associated with creatine supplementation” in the athletes during the time period in which they were examined.(Kreider et. al. Perceived Fatigue Associated With Creatine Supplementation During the Fall Collegiate Baseball Series of Division I Players. Journal of Athletic Training. April-June 2001 v31 i2 pS 83. &  Greenwood et. al. Perceived Health Status and Side-Effects Associated With Creatine Supplemenation of Division I-A Football Players During 3-a-Day Training. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport. March 2001 v72 i1 pA-29).

In order to discredit studies such as these, opponents of creatine supplementation state that they are short-term assessments and cannot determine how creatine supplementation affects dehydration and muscle cramping in athletes over a long period of time. As always, there is scientific evidence to dismiss their argument. A recent study examined the relationship between adverse health effects and long-term creatine supplementation in athletes. The researchers concluded that there “were no differences in incidences of cramps, muscle injury, or side effects between athletes and control subjects (Schilling, Brian K., et al. Creatine Supplementation and Health Variables: a Retrospective Study. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 33 (2001): 183-186).

Renal (Kidney) Stress

Opponents of creatine supplementation also like to state that creatine is hard on the kidneys and can cause kidney damage with long term use. As usual, there is no scientific evidence to back up their claims. There is scientific evidence to disprove these claims however. A new study examined whether or not oral creatine supplementation affected the kidneys of athletes over short-, medium-, and long-term periods of supplementation. The researchers concluded that “no detrimental effects on athletes’ kidney functions from short-, medium-, or long-term use of this supplement (Poortmans, Jacques R. and Marc Francaux. Long-term Oral Creatine Supplementation Does not Impair Renal Function in Healthy Athletes. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 31 (1999): 1108-1111).” A doctoral student, Jeff Volek, conducting research at the Centre for Sports Medicine at Pennsylvania State University recently completed a study that found no negative side effects to creatine use states, “because it is a naturally occurring compound, side effects are not as likely… and it has been proven to be readily handled by the kidneys”.

It works (therefore it’s gives the user an unfair advantage)

Creatine is naturally occurring in good nutrition.  That ought to be a reasonable starting point for any rational discussion on creatine.  If good nutrition gives an athlete an advantage, is that advantage automatically an unfair one?

Opponents of creatine will always look for any reason to discredit it. Some challengers claim that creatine may give athletes an unfair advantage. Once again this is a ludicrous claim. Creatine is available to anyone and is very affordable (a 90-day supply can be found for as little as R200 in supplements stores across the country).   Using the same view that creatine may provide an unfair advantage to athletes using it, one would have to evaluate whether vitamins provide an unfair advantage to athletes who use them.  Should athletes thus be discouraged from supplementing with vitamins? Of course not. Creatine should not be treated any differently. Unfortunately, it is because of preposterous claims such as these that the NCAA (The National Collegiate Athletics Association) in the USA has banned the distribution of creatine (within its member bodies) stating that there are a number of schools that have more money than others and can provide items that others can’t.  This absurd state of affairs can be read about here:  NCAA Clamps Down on Supplements (New NCAA rule disallowing creatine distribution draws criticism). Momentum Media. August/ September 2000. http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/am/am1205/bbsupplements.htm

It seems that because some institutions have more money than others and may be able to provide their athletes with creatine where other universities/colleges cannot, one must ask whether the NCAA should not then ban or limit the spending on training equipment and facilities that those institutions are allowed to buy? Following the NCAA’s logic, because superior training equipment provides an unfair advantage to institutions with more money, should they not ban or limit the amount or quality of training equipment an institution can buy? Of course they don’t.  Creatine however seems to be treated differently because of the delusions that surround it.

Conclusion

Increasingly since 1980, and in particular over recent years, creatine has become known as an effective and safe supplement that benefits athletes who are looking to increase strength, size, and power. Its safety and effectiveness has been supported in numerous peer-reviewed studies and by many experts in the field of sports nutrition. Unfortunately, unfounded statements regarding creatine’s safety, made by people looking to stir up controversy have caused the spread of misinformation throughout the country, even leading to otherwise reputable organisations banning or considering the banning on distribution of creatine. Hopefully, in the near future, this persistent misinformation will be replaced by scientific reasoning and allow people to make informed decisions regarding creatine.

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5 Responses to “The Truth about Creatine”

  1. Dacia Reffett on March 6th, 2010

    thank you, Keep up the Good work 🙂

  2. Victor Grobler on July 2nd, 2010

    Excellent article. I have heard many of the above claims of negative side-effects, most of which from people who heard it “from a guy who knows a guy who used it.”

    If this article could reach a larger audience, I’m sure it would make a much needed impact on people’s opinion on creatine.

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  4. Sunny on February 17th, 2017

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  5. Misty on February 17th, 2017

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