Dear Doc: I’m a bodybuilder who doesn’t use steroids. I work out nearly every day – upper body one day, lower body the next. I lift. I do aerobics. I stretch. I even do yoga.
But I’m not pleased with my bod. I want more muscles, so I started taking creatine. It’s “guaranteed to make muscles gigantic,” or at least that’s what it says on the jar.
Does it work? Is it safe? Would you take it? – Bodybuilding Brett
Dear BB: Creatine is an amino acid that supplies muscles with energy, especially the short-term max-effort energy needed for such activities as sprinting or flying around the halfpipe like those snowboarders you saw at the Olympics.
From an evolutionary point of view, creatine was needed to flee from someone who was attacking you. The body makes creatine naturally, but you also can consume more by eating beef, pork, poultry and fish. There are no veggie sources of the stuff.
Now, is there science behind the claims that it creates bigger biceps? A bit. Some studies show that lifters, mostly younger guys, do lift more if they take creatine. Most of the buzz is an anecdotal – the “Gee, look at my pecs; you should try it, too” kind of thing.
If you’re going to take any supplement, the best way to assure potency without contamination is to see what an independent lab says. My go-to site for this is consumerlab.org. It’s a noncommercial site that tests supplements and vitamins.
Yes, seeing the information will cost you, but if you believe in supporting independent research that’s beneficial to you and others, then join. A one-year membership costs less than going on a date to a movie and getting pizza and a Coke when you’re out.
Here’s what they found: Creatine in pills and powders were just as the manufacturers said they were, in the right amount. But the liquid creatine they tested didn’t have what the label said it did. It failed the test.
So if you’re chugging the liquid stuff, you’re paying for a placebo, a worthless product. Muscle-building products are not cheap. I priced some Weider brand creatine powder online and found it at $30 a jar. If you’re spending that much, you certainly want to know you’re getting your money’s worth.
But there’s more to testing than just potency. There’s also the issue of contamination. Who thinks about that when buying a supplement? Most people don’t.
And now, I’m going to shock you (at least it shocked me). Some bodybuilding supplements contain an anti-breast cancer drug called Tamoxifen. Are you surprised? I certainly was.
I bet you’re asking why this would be put into a supplement. Pecs, my friend. Pecs.
Bodybuilders love big pectoral muscles, but hate breasts. Tamoxifen blocks the estrogenic effect of muscle-building steroids. Scientists found that some “natural” supplements, including one called Esto-Supress, included this drug.
My spin: Creatine is safe if you take a brand that’s safe. Before you shell out the cash for a supplement, make sure it’s pure and safe. Paying a reputable lab to keep you informed prevents you from getting a pig in poke.