made the headlines years ago when high profile athletes like Major
League Baseball player Mark McGwire admitted using it. That was before
McGwire moved onto bigger and better things, leaving creatine as the
supplement of choice for young up-and-coming athletes and weight-room
Found on the shelves
of neighbourhood nutrition stores, creatine is also produced naturally
in the body, and is found in meat and fish.
Athletes interested in
boosting short-term energy supplement their natural creatine stores
with a commercially prepared powder or liquid. Similar to the process
of carb-loading, where endurance athletes saturate their muscles
with carbs to enhance aerobic endurance, creatine-loading is reputed
to benefit activities that take less than 90 seconds to complete
(the 100-metre sprint, for example), as well as speed recovery between
short, intense bursts of speed.
Despite its popularity,
many researchers are hesitant to unequivocally endorse creatine
as a performance-enhancing substance.
The results of laboratory
field tests have been mixed, with sprinters showing some benefits
but tennis players and swimmers very little.
This lack of consensus
in the scientific community, despite a wealth of studies testing
its effects, has kept the supplement from being banned by the International
Olympic Committee, or any other sporting organization, as a performance-enhancing
Still, some organizations,
like the American College of Sports Medicine, state that creatine
supplements can be used to enhance exercise performance on tasks
that involve short periods of extremely powerful anaerobic activity.
So while the debate continues,
there is considerable data to suggest creatine is most effective
as a training aid, not a performance booster.
Brouillette didn't notice
any increase in speed during his timed sprints after he began supplementing
his creatine levels. Nor did he find an advantage out on the playing
field. What he did notice was weight gain and a more muscular build.
"I got bigger and
a little stronger," he said.
Weight lifters who consume
creatine boast about its results. Like Brouillette, they appreciate
the weight gain and the muscular physique credited to its use.
The added muscle mass
is generally credited to two factors: an increase in water retention;
and the increased ability to work out longer and recover more quickly
between sets. So, theoretically, creatine supplements allow athletes
to work harder in the weight room than those who do without.
The standard protocol
for creatine use calls for a five-day loading phase of 20 grams
a day. Athletes generally continue to supplement after the loading
phase is over in hopes of maintaining its benefits.
Brouillette started with
the traditional loading phase and now works on a cycle of three
months on/two months off. He takes five grams of creatine before
his workout and five grams after. On non-weight-training days, he
takes only five grams.
It's a regime he decided
upon after reading articles in fitness and bodybuilding magazines
and talking to his trainer, but is slightly above the recommended
maintenance dose of two to five grams a day.
Many athletes increase
their consumption of creatine in the belief that more is better.
But augmenting the dose won't result in more strength, speed, power
or muscle mass. Any amount beyond what the muscles can absorb is
excreted by the body.
The effects of long-term
creatine use are unknown. To date there is no research suggesting
potential health risks from regular use. Claims of muscle cramping,
decreased resistance to heat stress and stomach upset haven't been
his creatine in a glass of juice, which helps in its absorption.
He estimates he spends $30 a month on creatine powder and is happy
with the results.
"It helps me keep
my weight up at 210 pounds, which is where I want it."
Before running out and
buying creatine, athletes need to understand that despite its proven
benefits, creatine is no substitute for hard work. No powder can
replace the results of a proper diet and a well-designed training
program. And because weight gain is a side effect of its use, athletes
for whom added musclemass hampers performance, like swimmers and
runners, might want to think twice before using it.
But for athletes like
Brouillette, who are looking for a competitive edge, creatine is
both safe and effective when taken responsibly.