Ergogenic Aids: the good, bad and the ugly — that what’s being revealed as we take a closer look at some of these pricey and promising supplements that are popular among health nuts today. Covered by packaging, featuring men with rippling abs and women with fake breasts, most supplements have dirt just piling up underneath them.
On the contrary, one of the most popular supplements on the market today, creatine, seems to be cruising through research journals with nothing but a few case studies holding it back. (FYI: a case study is a detailed analysis of a person as a model or example).
Creatine is an organic compound produced by the body (endogenously) at about 1 gram per day. Creatine as a supplement phosphocreatine (PCr) is taken at about 20 grams per day. In addition to this, more creatine can be obtained (exogenously) from foods like meat, poultry and fish. The supplement creatine when taken properly increases levels of creatine in the muscles, enhances short-term power and aids in recovery from intense exercise like weight training.
The argument against creatine is that it simply adds water weight. One researcher in Sports Medicine suggested “that this increase in bodyweight … is likely to be attributable to body water retention, since a 0.6L decline in urinary volume was observed after creatine ingestion.” This study and similar studies suggest that the increase in body mass, which comes from supplementing creatine into a diet could be water weight and at least 55 percent of it can be regarded as water weight based on the urine testing.
Whether it is from water retention or muscle, gains are seen within days of taking this supplement. The immediate gain from muscle is great because it leads to an increase in power production, training recovery, and overall strength gains. The immediate water retention in the muscles is extremely dangerous because it can lead to dehydration and muscle cramping. That is why it is so important for creatine users to make sure they stay properly hydrated.
Complications caused by creatine are sporadic and hard to pinpoint. Bulk reports of digestive problems seem to be the most common, and after observing how creatine is produced it makes sense that a product like this would be hard to digest.
Creatine is taken directly from animal tissue (mainly cows). Sarcosine (sodium salt) and cyanamide, which is used as a fertilizer and weed killer, are used during its production. This leads to the creation of dicyandiamide and contamination from dihydrotriazines. Humans can not digest compounds so creatine then has to go through a decontamination process. This complicated and far from fool proof method of production may explain why some people have gastrointestinal and renal complications when using creatine products. Nonetheless, people are using it and are seeing results.
Reports of de-conditioning or weight loss occurring quickly once creatine use is over. The body undergoes a small deflation– like effect. This does not mean that all strength and size gains are lost — not by any means. But creatine does cause some degree of water retention, therefore once you stop using it water loss is bound to occur. With no pattern of harmful side effects to show for, creatine seems to be doing its job. As far as long-term effects, no one knows. The longest study to date on creatine has been a mere 21 months.
When contemplating incorporating this popular powder into a diet, it’s important to ask if it will be easy to live with the effects. Creatine is ideal short term, for competitions or big events, maybe even to help jumpstart a new workout plan; but it’s not something to become dependent on. Quick results fade just as fast as they come, sometimes faster. It’s impossible to build a body of rock with water; it just won’t hold up.
Next week: Ephedrine and other popular weight loss pills.
Dayna Davidson is the group and fitness supervisor at the Campus Recreation Center and is a senior majoring in wellness andleadership with a minor in professional writing. She can be contacted for questions or comments at TalkHealth@hotmail.com