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Spring is always a season for growth. This year, Major League Baseball has given us a different view of growth -- the enlarged muscles of its athletes.

People have long been trying to find ways to improve their athletic performance. Advancements in science have brought performance-enhancing drugs to the forefront of this quest, giving some athletes a competitive edge but also endangering their lives.

There are many types of drugs available to boost performance. Some, like creatin phosphate, are found at your corner drug store, gym or health store and are being used by amateur athletes. Others, like the anabolic steriods Major League Baseball players now talk about injecting into their bodies, are illegal without a prescription.

How does the average Joe in the gym decipher all the information about performance-enhancing substances?

Dr. John Leddy, associate director of UB Sports Medicine, gives some insight.

How do performance-enhancing substances work?

Anabolic steroids are a manmade version of testosterone, which boosts the body's ability to manufacture muscle mass. It can be ingested in pill form, given with an injection, or rubbed on in a cream form.

Athletes will also use steroids to help recover from injuries. However, there is no conclusive evidence that taking steroids will speed up the healing process.

Creatin phosphate increases the ability of the muscle to produce contractions with less fatigue. This allows you to perform short bursts of exercise, like what takes place in weightlifting, with more intensity.

By increasing your muscle energy, you can train harder, and possibly gain more muscle mass. There is no evidence that creatin can benefit aerobic exercise.

What are the dangers of using these substances?

Anabolic steroids has been linked to cancer, cardiovascular disease, muscle-tendon injury, affects on reproductive organs, personality changes, and addiction.

There is no data yet available on the long-term effects of using creatin phosphate. However, there is concern over possible negative affects on the kidneys. What we do know about creatin phosphate is that it can cause dehydration, which can also lead to heat illness.

Can the average person benefit from taking these substances?

Just taking these substances will not promote muscle growth. You need to be performing intense workouts to reap the maximum benfits.

Steroids are illegal without prescription, and the risk of serious side effects make them dangerous to be used by the average person.

Creatin phosphate, easily available, is a very popular supplement among weightlifters and athletes at all levels. Making sure that you stay properly hydrated, and following proper dosing guidelines are important. It is debatable whether gaining muscle mass or strength will translate into improved athletic performance.

It's important to understand that because creatin phosphate is not regulated by the FDA, its quality is not guaranteed.

Smart Fitness is a new monthly feature written by local sports-medicine experts. E-mail fitness questions to