Ever since Mark McGwire set a new record for the most home runs in a season, rumors have been flying about a dietary supplement known as creatine. Few people know exactly what it is, but creatine fanatics can be found everywhere--even on high school campuses.

WHAT IS IT?

Creatine comes in many varieties, but the one most commonly used for enhancing athletic performance is Creatine Monohydrate. Creatine is an organic compound found naturally in muscle cells. We obtain a small amount of it in our diet from meat and fish products.
Creatine increases energy in the muscles by making ATP molecules available (ATP is the molecule in which chemical energy is stored). Thus, it is reported that higher creatine levels increase strength by increasing ATP availability.
While about 20% of users report no results, most athletes agree that creatine helps them bulk up. However, before you run out and buy a bottle of creatine, make sure to take a look at both sides of the story.

SIDE EFFECTS

Creatine supplementation causes the muscles to retain water. Thus, users may experience a gain of as many as five pounds in the first few weeks. Users may also become dehydrated since the muscles are using up water needed by other body systems, so cramping and other discomfort associated with dehydration are to be expected with creatine use. Wrestlers and other athletes who deliberately cut water weight need to be especially careful when taking creatine.
Some scientists have raised concerns about more serious side effects, including stress on the kidneys and increased blood pressure. Studies have suggested that creatine increases the growth rate of tumor cells. Although certain athletes have used creatine as a nutritional supplement since the 1960s, no studies have been done concerning use of creatine for longer than a year. Therefore, we as consumers have no way of knowing what side effects will result from long-term use. In addition, some studies have demonstrated positive side effects of creatine, such as lowering of triglyceride levels.

OTHER CONSIDERATIONS

Before you go to the gym and stock up on creatine, there are a few basic considerations you should think about. First, can you afford it? A month's supply of creatine could cost anywhere from $10 to $40. And remember, when you stop taking supplements, your body's creatine levels will return to normal, so your strength may decline. Second, is creatine legal in your sport? The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association does not have a rule against creatine, but your high school might restrict its use. In general, make sure you weigh the potential benefits of creatine supplementation against any potential problems.

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