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By Dr. Joe Brownholtz, University of Miami Sports Nut
Published: Fall 1998
Editor’s Note: Bigger Faster Stronger has officially stopped endorsing and selling Creatine (Please read page 38). However, we will continue publishing information on creatine both pro and con. Dr. Joe Brownholtz has some valid points that may be useful to both coach and athlete.
More athletes are using creatine today than ever before and the industry is growing by leaps and bounds. Sales from creatine have risen from 30 million in 1995 to an expected 180 million this year. The reason is simple, creatine accelerates muscle growth and it is safe. The time has now come to separate speculation, conjecture and anecdotal reports from reliable scientific data and listen to those who use it and to those who have the expertise in the field of exercise science. Many high profile athletes use creatine and swear by it. Baseball notables include: Mark McGuire, Mike Piazza, Ken Caminini, and Scott Hatterberg. Says Hatterberg, "I do not know all the scientific background, but what I do know is that with creatine, my workouts are longer and I recover quicker." Rob Zatechka, offensive lineman for the New York Giants, has been using creatine since he was a senior in high school. "It increases my capacity for work" he says. For instance, if you bench press 300 pounds six times, on creatine you can do it 9 or 10 times. Exercise scientists have been examining the ergogenic effect of creatine for almost a decade, and have concluded that it has performance enhancing properties. This is how it works. The fuel source for high intensity short term activities like baseball, football, long jump, shot put, sprints, and weight training, is creatine phosphate. It is readily available in our muscles for about 10 seconds. However, it is in very short supply. Creatine supplementation increases the creatine phosphate levels and enable the athlete to do more work. When this work increase occurs in the weight room, the result is faster growth in less time, something every athlete wants. None of the criticized allegations listed in the blue box has any scientific proof. The FDA made the following statement after careful scrutiny, "it does not appear that the deaths of the college wrestlers was in any way related to creatine." Their deaths were more than likely caused by the dangerous dehydration procedures they were undergoing. The cramping issue is also without documentation. Speculation and anecdotal information from coaches and trainers suggests a relationship between cramps and creatine. However, they have never examined this theory, nor is there any physiological rationale for creatine to cause dehydration. As common as cramping is, no one knows what causes it. There are theories but no hard evidence suggesting the cause. One explanation is the "dehydration theory": Its premise is that not replacing the fluids lost through perspiration causes cramps. Theory number two is "an imbalance in electrolytes". If too much sodium is lost through perspiration, it causes an imbalance with potassium resulting in cramping. The "environmental theory" states that exercising in extreme heat or humidity can lead to an electrolyte imbalance already mentioned above. Again, there are many theories, but no documented evidence. So if we do not know what causes cramps, and, we know there is no physiological reason creatine can cause dehydration, we can dismiss the notion that creatine causes muscle cramps. Does creatine affect the function of the liver and kidneys? This has been and is currently being studied by three well known and highly respected researchers, Dr. Bill Kraemer, Dr. Rick Kreider, and Mr. Mike Stone to date, no undesirable side effects have been found. Kreider studied the effects of creatine on college football players and reported "no impact on tests of liver or kidney function." Kraemer examined active college students at Penn State after a heavy work out. He also found no side effects from the use of creatine. He examined hormone levels, blood profiles and muscle biopsies. Participants also filled out questionnaires regarding any side effects such as cramping, diarrhea, nausea. None were reported. Not only has Kraemer thoroughly examined creatine, he also used it when he was a competitive athlete as did his 17-year-old daughter when she played high school tennis and his 15-year-old son when he was weight lifting. Again, no adverse side affects. Creatine does have one well-documented side effect. It causes an increase in muscle mass. When taken as prescribed it has the capacity to increase body weight by as much as seven pounds in five days. Are there any long term effects? The long term effect of creatine has never been studied. However, creatine has been used in the past and without incident. Athletes in the 1940s and 1950s used it until steroids became available. They switched to steroids because they got results much faster. The Eskimos ingest up to four grams of creatine per day through their high consumption of meat and fish, twice that of Americans, and, have not had any documented ill effects. How much time is considered long term? Is it 5 years, 10 years, or 50 years? The FDA has been studying creatine since it exploded onto the sports scene in 1992. Dr. Mike Stone from Appalachian State University, a leader in the field of Muscle Physiology, has been studying athletes who have been taking creatine for as long as six years. To date, there are no reports of kidney, heart or liver problems. Since there is no documented evidence that creatine is a health hazard, the benefits of accelerated muscle development using creatine, far outweigh at least one alternative - using anabolic steroids. For those concerned about sending the wrong message to young adults, consider this; it is a great service to young people to let them know there is a viable alternative to using anabolic steroids.
Creatine is criticized for the following
1. It could have been a cause in the death of three college wrestlers who died trying to “make weight.”
2. It caused muscle cramping due to water retention and dehydration.
3. Creatine has an adverse effect on liver and kidney function.
4. It is lacking in long term research.
5. To a lesser degree of concern, creatine causes stomach upset, diarrhea and nausea.
Dr. Joe Brownholtz, University of Miami Sports Nutrition Specialist