Notions of bigger muscles and a six-pack stomach lead many students to take muscle-enhancing supplements to enhance their workout performance, but many athletes and physicians question whether the supplements are effective.
“I heard creatine built muscle faster and helped endurance,” said Kinesiology senior Erik Brabo, who said he took creatine when it first became popular about five and a half years ago. “I thought it allowed me to work out longer and lift more weight. It just kind of numbs the brain to the effect of what you”re doing to your muscle.”
Athletes, trainers and researchers are also still trying to determine the long-term effects of creatine, a naturally occurring anabolic substance in the body that is involved in storing and converting food into a usable form of energy.
“No one really knows what happens if you take it long-term,” said orthopedic surgeon James Carpenter. “There is some evidence that it can increase performance in some individuals, but if you eat a pretty good diet, you don”t need to eat any more.”
Carpenter said some studies show supplemental use of creatine can increase body weight by a few pounds, but it doesn”t increase muscle. It is most effective in providing quick energy bursts for non-endurance activities such as sprinting, rowing and football, he said.
“People think it”s going to make them bigger, but it”s really just water weight,” said men”s track and field team member Ike Okenwa, who is highly discouraged from using creatine as a supplement. “Our team did a lot of research and there is just not enough on the long term effects.”
Though not banned by the NCAA, many coaches and trainers still turn their athletes away from taking creatine supplements, which former University football team physician Edward Wojtys said can lead to severe dehydration, muscle cramping, kidney failure and, in extreme cases, death.
“I always say, you should use your own body stuff,” said men”s track and field assistant coach Ricardo Deligny. “I”d love to say to my shot putters, “Here, take creatine to help you get stronger,” but I don”t.”
Athletic staff members recommend athletes to tell them if they are taking creatine and then direct them to talk to a nutritionist and a trainer.
“We leave it up to the professionals to make the recommendations,” Deligny said. “All in all, we don”t recommend them to use any hard core stuff even though it is not banned.”
“Even though it looks like its benign, there are no long term studies. The honest answer is, nobody knows enough,” Wojtys said, who is also the director of the University”s MedSport clinic. “I know athletes who have used it with no problem, but there is reason for concern.”
Many medical professionals expressed concern over the breakdown of what is actually in store-bought creatine supplements.
“A lot of different companies make and sell creatine, and you don”t know what you”re getting,” Carpenter said. “Some are mixed with caffeine and ephedrine, which can get you in trouble if you”re an athlete.”
Ephedrine is banned by NCAA regulations.
Nutrition stores, including the General Nutrition Center, boast a variety of creatine supplements made by different companies. All claim their product may cause an increase in muscle mass and lead to longer workouts with a quicker recovery time for muscle fibers.
Some people do see small differences in their workout, like Hugh Chung, a freshman in the School of Public Health.
“It”s a minimal difference. It”s basically just a small increase in the number of reps,” Chung said.
“For the average person, it won”t make them look better or feel stronger. They”ll just get rid of it,” Carpenter said. “The energy bursts don”t allow you to lift longer.”
Deligny, though he does believe that creatine can help strengthen muscle and allow an athlete to quickly put on size, still suggests only using more studied supplements like magnesium and calcium to help decrease muscle cramping and replenish lost nutrients.
“Just pop a Centrum in your mouth,” he said.