The Supplements Section
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Creatine is a nonessential amino acid well known by body builders and other athletes for its ability to build muscle and decrease body fat. Because this amino acid strengthens the muscles, it is also used to improve athletic endurance, strengthen the heart muscle, and treat neuromuscular disorders.
Creatine is manufactured in the liver and kidneys, and transported in the blood to the muscles; in fact, 95 percent of the body’s creatine is located in muscle tissue. Creatine is also needed to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a substance that creates energy in muscle tissue. Supplementing with creatine increases overall ATP levels in the muscles, and thus increases the amount of energy available during workouts. Creatine supplements may be especially helpful to athletes that need to up their muscular endurance for short, intense activities, such as sprinting and weight lifting.
Soviet scientists first reported that creatine supplements improved athletic performance in the 1970s. Creatine supplementation became increasingly popular among professional athletes in the 1990s, especially when most athletic associations banned the use of anabolic steroids. Today is estimated that approximately 25 percent of professional baseball players and up to 50 percent of professional football players take creatine supplements, and many high school athletes report using it as well.
Creatine may help treat conditions associated with a weakened heart muscle, such as congestive heart failure and secondary heart attack. Research indicates it also protects the heart by lowering overall cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Preliminary studies have shown that creatine might benefit those suffering from other disorders caused by loss of muscular strength, such as muscular dystrophy, Lou Gherigs disease (now more commonly called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis [ALS]), McArdle’s disease, and myasthenia gravis.
Creatine is a non-essential amino acid, which means the body manufactures its own supply of this substance. It is also present in high-protein foods, such as meat, fish, and dairy products, but it would be difficult to get the amount needed to greatly enhance muscle strength and endurance from diet alone. Creatine supplements come in capsule, tablet, and powder forms. The usual dose is 20 to 25 grams a day for a week, and 2 to 5 grams a day after that for maintenance. Studies have shown that taking creatine with carbohydrates may increase its absorption, so many sports energy drinks promoting athletic stamina and endurance contain creatine as an active ingredient.
Creatine can cause water retention, which is hard on the kidneys; theoretically, overdosing with this substance could lead to kidney failure, so those with kidney disease should avoid this supplement. If you want to supplement with creatine, it couldn’t hurt to proceed with caution, and follow the lead of most serious athletes, who take creatine only two weeks out of each month. You’ll avoid unwanted water retention and greatly lower the risk of kidney failure.
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