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Creatine Said to Boost Performance - And It’s Legal

May 8, 1993

LONDON (AP) _ Studies indicate it can improve stamina, energy and athletic performance. Runners and rowers say they have received a boost from it. Olympic athletes have used it in training.

Steroid? Stimulant?

You won’t find it on any banned list. This stuff is perfectly legal.

Creatine, a substance occurring naturally in human muscle and present in fish and meat, is being hailed as a ″wonder food″ - the biggest breakthrough in nutrition-related performance enhancement since the advent of carbohydrate loading in the 1960s.

While some officials express skepticism and caution, researchers in Britain and Sweden assert that supplements of creatine can improve performance by as much as 5 percent without violating any rules or posing any health risks.

″It’s no different than carbohydrate loading,″ said Swedish researcher Eric Hultman, who has been carrying out studies on creatine for more than 20 years. ″I hope it can be used instead of drugs. I hope it can be a good alternative to drugs.″

Creatine recently went on sale in tablet form under the brand name Ergomax, currently available in Britain and several other European countries. Manufacturers said it could be on the market soon in the United States as a ″food nutritional supplement,″ pending approval by the Food and Drug Administration.

Hultman and his colleagues said they found that creatine supplements can increase the store of energy in the muscles, maximizing performance in short- burst activities and reducing fatigue and recovery time.

″It won’t increase performance above that which can be produced naturally under normal conditions,″ said Paul Greenhaff, a British researcher from Nottingham who works closely with Hultman. ″What it will do is increase the rate of recovery so you can obtain optimal performance for a longer period of time. It offsets the development of fatigue.″

The studies indicate the supplements mainly benefit people with lower levels of creatine in their bodies. Those with high levels show little if any improvement.

″In the worst circumstance, creatine could have no effect,″ Greenhaff said. ″In the best circumstance, you can have a 5 percent increase in the amount of work you can sustain.″

Roger Harris, a physiologist at the Animal Health Trust in Newmarket who has worked with Hultman since the 1970s, said creatine could have an impact on world records.

″If you happen to be a world record-holder, one can only assume you will do better,″ he said. ″It will be exciting to see this.″

Several British Olympic athletes used creatine in training for last summer’s Barcelona Games, including 100-meter gold medalist Linford Christie, women’s 400-meter hurdles champion Sally Gunnell and 110-meter hurdler Colin Jackson.

The Cambridge University rowing team used Ergomax during training for three months before defeating heavily-favored Oxford in the Boat Race in March.

Alan Wells, the 100-meter champion at the 1980 Moscow Olympics, has experimented with Ergomax for several months. He is one of the product’s biggest advocates.

″It’s uncanny,″ Wells said. ″You do a hard (training) session, and the next day you can still do a hard session. Your levels of energy are much higher and more prolonged. For someone coming up to his 41st birthday, I’ve never felt like this in the last 10 years.″

The International Amateur Athletic Federation, the world governing body for track and field, has found nothing wrong with taking creatine.

″This is a naturally occurring product which we get with normal food,″ said Prof. Arne Ljungqvist, chairman of the IAAF medical commission. ″You wouldn’t classify sugar-taking as doping, would you? If people want to take vitamins in pills instead of in food, they do it. It’s the same thing here. We feel there is no reason to intervene.″

The British track federation takes a cautious view.

″There is a general concern that the line is getting closer and closer between proscribed and prescribed supplements and drugs,″ said federation spokesman Tony Ward. ″It requires close monitoring.″

Michele Verroken, head of the doping control unit at the British Sports Council, said evidence that creatine improves performance is not conclusive and that more research needs to be done. She also warned that elevated doses of creatine could cause potential health dangers.

″We don’t know how much the body will allow in when you take it by oral means,″ she said.

In clinical studies, athletes took daily doses of 20 to 30 grams of creatine for several days. But officials suggest much smaller doses for general use; the recommended dosage of Ergomax is two one-gram tablets a day.

″One gram of creatine is like a raw eight-ounce steak,″ said Steven Jennings, managing director of AMS Ltd., which manufactures Ergomax. ″On two grams a day, there’s no way at all that any of these athletes are putting themselves in danger of side effects. Some people in their normal diet are taking more than two grams of creatine a day.″

The main concern is that athletes will take excessively high levels of the product on the flawed assumption that the more they use the more they will improve.

″I do worry about unregulated administration,″ Harris said. ″If the rumor gets around that someone is taking 30 grams a day, an athlete will say, ‘Why don’t I take 40?’ Who’s to stop it?″

One possible deterrent is the cost. A one-month supply of 64 Ergomax tablets currently sells in Britain for 40 pounds (dlrs 63).

″It makes it almost prohibitive for an athlete to take too much,″ Jennings said.

Is it ethical for athletes to use creatine for the same reason they would take illegal drugs?

Supporters say it’s no different from stoking up on carboydrates, training at altitude or using state-of-the-art running shoes.

″This is the way sports is going,″ Jennings said. ″It’s very competitive. You’re never going to stop athletes from trying to improve performance.″

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