Magical Ways to Get in Shape Faster Are Unsafe: Creatine
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Magical Ways to Get in Shape Faster Are Unsafe: Creatine

Creatine is a natural compound, but scientists are not sure of the substance's possible health benefits or detriments.

The commercials that claim fitness is just an easy phone call and purchase away are ironically exploiting the singular characteristic that keeps us out of shape: laziness. I have been involved in competitive running for 9 consecutive years, and I have never seen a sustainable method of getting in shape without putting out the effort to get there. I have, however, seen a number of very bad methods of trying to get ahead of the game, and the implications of their results are detailed below.

When I started running, I also joined a weight training class to try and bulk up some. I was a 115 pound distance athlete, and I was a virtual fairy compared to the majority of the guys in the weight room, which were usually football players between 180 and 300 pounds. Yet, I began to notice a pattern, as I kept close watch on the 1-repetition max (the most weight that you can lift in one attempt for various exercises) of a number of the players. Some of them stayed steady and improved slowly, while some of the others improved at a similar rate and then jumped up at random points during the semester. After hanging around the weight room for enough time, I eventually began to discover that these football players and other athletes were not improving their strength naturally. A plethora of overheard conversations eventually made me understand that these men were getting stronger by taking creatine.

Creatine is a natural compund utilized in the body's energy cycle (it is linked to the ATP energy process). It can be metabolized from meats, and it is utilized by the body for explosive, high-intensity energy movements. Recently, athletes have begun to use it to increase their performance. Understandably, none of the major athletic organizations, including the NCAA or the IOC (the International Olympic Committee, the governing body of the Olympics) have banned its use, because it is a natural compound, and because the health effects or detriments are not proven.

There are several reasons to use caution when employing creatine to improve your fitness level. First, creatine is part of the health supplement community and is not regulated by the FDA, which means it can contain anything or just calories and protein (this is probably the biggest concern for NCAA athletes that need to be drug-tested with regularity). Second, the long-term health effects are hotly debated (some claim it does nothing, while many others state that it can harm the liver and kidneys, or even cause your energy level to fall apart when you come off of creatine). Third, creatine is only for activities that are characterized by short bursts of high-intensity exercise, which means it is extremely bad for aerobic athletes (chemically, creatine rarely fits into the aerobic energy equation except for the anaerobic portions of exercise). Fourth, studies have shown that an increasingly high ratio of creatine is passed through the urine with higher doses, suggesting that athletes attempting to capitalize on this product are throwing their money down the toilet in more ways than one.

When contemplating using various products to increase your strength or speed, you should ask yourself: do you really want to be the guinea pig human tester that determines whether or not these products are safe for human consumption? In the end, the greatest long-term rewards of exercise come from putting the workouts in, and this dedication is also the best thing for your body. Medical science has proven that drastic and rapid changes are always hard on your body, and while creatine's health effects have not been proven as yet, it is probably not a coincidence that every recent user of creatine I met in the highly physical environment of Basic Training frequently ran hotter than normal and found themselves dangerously dehydrated.


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Comments (5)

I was thinking about using Creatine next month, now I did changed my mind.



I was thinking about using Creatine next month, now I did changed my mind.


Mark Faulkner

A few comments on this...

1. When Dustin says "they weren't improving their strength naturally" they were using creatine...that is a significant misstatement. Creatine is a natural compound and weightlifting is not an unnatural way to gain muscle...and creatine supplementation helps provide the body with the nutrients it needs to perform and recover when lifting for strength gains.

2. He warns about supplementing with creatine BUT the body only produces about half the creatine our metabolic processes need to replenish ATP...the rest HAS to be supplemented from outside sources. It's supposed to come from our diet but the average American diet, even among athletes, whether aerobic or anaerobic, is often low in creatine-rich foods...therefore creatine supplementation is very important to fuel the generation of ATP (the body's universal energy molecule needed for all cells to function and recover).

3. He is correct in stating the one must choose a supplement carefully since this industry is not well regulated, but a pure or tested creatine product, dosed properly, will provide safe and healthy performance enhancement.

4. He indicates that it has little value for endurance or aerobic athletes (says it's "extremely bad")...not true. Creatine does especially help anaerobic activity but it is also extremely important in cellular recovery from ANY activity.

5. He indicates a high rate of creatine simply passes out the urine...true for many creatine forms that have poor bio-availability and therefore excrete the majority of a large dose...although it is not excreted as simply creatine but rather a bio-processed form of creatine. However, some creatine conjugations are VERY efficient and are dosed at low levels so they do not suffer this problem...although increases in creatine metabolites (after use by the body) will naturally be present in the urine. This is not a health concern.

6. With regard to dehydration and over-heating, I spoke recently with several exercise enthusiasts / weight lifters who all had similar complaints of dehydration, headaches, elevated blood pressure, and muscle cramps. A quick review of the ingredient list of their creatine supplement (they were all taking similar products) revealed a high dose of creatine monohydrate...which has cramping and fluid re-distribution / dehydration tendencies (vs. for example, creatine HCl which is taken in low doses and doesn't have the same side effects, although anyone engaged in strenuous exercise should drink more than they think...about 50-50 water and electrolyte sports drinks). Also, their products had a long list of other compounds including high doses of psycho-motor stimulants and other somewhat veiled ingredients/doses that appear to be responsible for having a significant effect on both cardiovascular and neuro-chemical systems. When they "deselected" their supplements and instead chose products with reasonable and targeted and easily understood ingredients and dosing, both their performance and their side-effects experiences were improved.

7. I wouldn't take a lot of stock in Dustin's observations at Basic Training (but thank you, sincerely, for serving the country) because you state you are a light(er) weight competitive distance runner and and therefore there is no way you would be a good measure against which to judge the average person in basic who is carrying more weight and not used to the regimen of running that Basic's no surprise they would over-heat or be gasping much more than Dustin.

To summarize, creatine, when chosen in an effectively conjugated form and dosed properly, is very safe and VERY efficacious for strength, endurance, and recovery of ANY athlete.

Good luck.

Simon, I'm glad you found this information useful!

Mark, aside from your lopsided portrayal of the infromation, you also failed to present any sources whatsoever. The facts I presented are evidence of research coming from the following: While I acknowledged that the effects of creatine are currently hotly debated and cited academic .edu sources, you made unilateral statements that made it sound like creatine has been proven safe. In the future, a Factoid with .edu sources supporting your line of reasoning would make a far more effective rebuttal than your approach of harsh words. I look forward to your article!