Lauren Rabaino

Dear Sarah Bailey,

I have been working out for a couple of years and I have been drinking protein shakes and such after working out to help build mass. I have heard other guys talking about using creatine, but have also heard it can have its disadvantages. What’s the deal? If I have any chance of asking out a mega-hottie like you, should I invest in this creatine business?

Jake Dimiceli
Aeronautical engineering graduate student

I have also heard of people using this substance and had a few questions of my own. I looked into this topic for you to expose the risks of using this “muscle booster.” For those of you that aren’t familiar with creatine, it is a substance often taken as a supplement to increase muscle mass in body builders. Most supplement labels claim that creatine is converted to phosphocreatine, which is important for short energy bursts such as sprinting and weight lifting and that depletion of phosphocreatine can result in muscle fatigue. The high nitrogen load excreted as urea can cause fluid imbalance, leading to dehydration.

One teaspoon of powder contains 5 grams of creatine monohydrate. The recommended daily dose is 1 to 2 teaspoons dissolved in 8 ounces of water. Manufacturers suggest a five- to seven-day loading phase with an intake of 10 to 20 grams (two to four scoops) daily to fill up the muscle. The maintenance phase is recommended before or immediately following a workout. This practice is claimed to increase creatine muscle stores by 20 to 50 percent. Not everyone agrees that a loading phase is necessary, and there are products out there that claim a maintenance phase is not required for their product.

The body’s pool of creatine can be replenished either from food, supplements or through synthesis from amino acids. Dietary sources include beef, tuna, cod, salmon, herring and pork. The normal dietary intake of creatine is 1 to 2 grams per day, although vegetarians may consume less.

Human muscle seems to have an upper limit of creatine storage. Athletes with high creatine stores don’t appear to benefit from supplementation, whereas individuals with the lowest levels, such as vegetarians, have the most pronounced increases following supplementation. Without the use of a supplement, the body can replenish muscle creatine at the rate of about 2 grams per day. Although creatine is a natural component of food, the amount of food required to supersaturate the muscle may not be possible.

It may be beneficial to avoid caffeine if taking creatine supplements. Creatine may negatively interact when taken in combination with acetaminophen (Tylenol) or alcohol. One study has shown that caffeine diminished strength gains seen with creatine use. Creatine is not subjected to FDA testing, and the purity and hygienic condition of commercial creatine products may be questionable. A 1998 FDA report listed 32 adverse reactions that had been reported to FDA. These included seizure, vomiting, diarrhea, anxiety, myopathy, cardiac arrhythmia, deep vein thromboses and death. I do not normally seek any of these qualities when I look for guys, especially death.

Creatine may also reduce the effectiveness of vitamins A, D, E and K. Diets very high in protein can put a strain on the liver and kidneys. Many commonly noted side-effects from regular creatine users include water weight gain, cramping and bloating. It’s possible that the weight gained during creatine use could be due to water retention instead of actual muscle mass. Also watch out for the added sugar in many creatine powdered supplements. Several popular products, such as Cell-Tech, contain up to 75 grams of sugar in one serving. That’s equivalent to about two cans of soda!

The recommended daily allowance for protein is .8 grams per kilogram, which roughly translates to 60 grams of protein for a 165-pound person. The typical American eats 150 to 170 percent of his or her protein needs in diets high in meat. Studies have been conducted to see the effectiveness of protein supplementation and they found that even groups that had doubled the daily requirements for protein did not gain muscle any faster than the group that consumed the recommended amount. If adequate amounts of protein are consumed through the diet, excess protein will be stored as fat, especially in the abdominal area. A little extra protein for most people won’t do much harm, so feel free to have a protein bar now and then. Make sure you don’t overdo it to avoid stomach trouble, dehydration, and damage to your liver and kidneys.

Sarah Bailey is a nutrition senior, a Mustang Daily nutrition columnist and a member of PULSE. E-mail your questions to her at slbailey@calpoly.edu.

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