I wrote this article for my school’s newspaper, The Spectrum, with help from two classmates, Jake Liker and Emily Rahhal, and wanted to share it with you. I hope you enjoy it:

Getting hit by a 200-pound linebacker stinks. It hurts. It’s embarrassing, and there are only two ways to prevent it from happening: 1) get bigger or 2) give up football. Mark* didn’t want to do the latter, so he turned to creatine to help him accomplish the former.

“A lot of the guys I’m playing against are seniors and juniors, and they’re all older and bigger and faster than me,” Mark said.

Mark, along with one of his friends, decided creatine was the easiest way to improve their game. He went to a Vitamin Shoppe and easily picked some up.

“There’s not many major risks right now. I’ve done all the research on it,” Mark said.

Mark needed to get bigger, so he turned to creatine to help him accomplish his goal.
Mark needed to get bigger, so he turned to creatine to help him accomplish his goal.

Creatine is a naturally occurring chemical found in the human body, primarily in muscles, that works as a protein for the body. HW Strength and Conditioning coach Mike Tromello explained that it is most effectively consumed through high protein meats such as chicken and fish. It is used as a supplement for other athletic reasons.

“The idea of using creatine is to allow for more repeated bursts of energy in training, such as performing repeated sprints, or multiple reps with heavy weights,” head physician for UCLA athletics and president of the American Society for Sports Medicine Dr. John DiFiori said in an e-mail. “Theoretically, this would allow for more gains with training, which would translate into better performance for sprints, weightlifting and other activities that require repeated bursts of power.”

Ironically, according to biology teacher Sandra Wolchok, a possible side effect of creatine is fatigue and weight gain, traits that are undesirable to an athlete looking to enhance their performance. Many other possible side effects include kidney failure and damaged muscle if used in improper dosage, according to DiFiori.

Wolchok explained that there are no studies that prove creatine is safe or effective on children 18 years or younger.

“There hasn’t been a lot of research done [on creatine] with teenagers. So, right there, you are  kind of doing an untested experiment. And that’s always a little risky because what if you find out, there are pretty bad side effects that we didn’t know about?” Wolchok said.

Creatine manufacturing companies such as Health Sources sell creatine as a muscle development and bodybuilding supplement. What companies fail to mention in advertisments is what their creatine supplements contain. Wolchock and Tromello agreed that since creatine does not need FDA approval, many commercially sold creatine supplements could contain unhealthy ingredients and harmful chemicals including mercury and lead.

Creatine can be purchased at pretty much any vitamin store.
Creatine can be purchased at pretty much any vitamin store.

“I have caught athletes with [creatine], Tromello said. “I’ll grab it, and I’ll look at it, and I’ll know it’s not good. I know creatine [supplement brands] that are good. I know creatine [brands] that are healthy.”

Creatine, in addition to not needing FDA approval, is not classified as a steroid, according to Wolchok. This technicality creates a gray area regarding where it is allowed.

The International Olympic Committee, National Collegiate Athletic Association, and professional sports all allow the use of creatine, though the NCAA has banned the use of school funds to provide creatine.

The CIF council, however, has discouraged the use of creatine. The CIF rulebook directly addresses substances and enhancers in rule 14: “To safeguard the health of athletes and the integrity of the sport, school sports programs must actively prohibit the use of alcohol, tobacco, drugs and performance enhancing substances, as well as demand compliance with all laws and regulations, including those related to gambling and the use of drugs.”

One of Mark’s friends, Carl*, found himself caught in the aforementioned gray area once he began using creatine.

“I don’t think [my use of creatine] was unfair because it wasn’t technically against the rules. I wasn’t cheating. I was just taking different means or paths to accomplish my goal faster than what others might do,” Carl said.

According to Tromello, Harvard-Westlake follows all of the CIF’s suggestions regarding supplement use. Tromello explained that coaches are prohibited from giving creatine to students as well as recommending it, though it is out of the school’s control if students decide to use the supplement at home. Punishment for student users is nonexistent.

“We just tell them to stop taking it; that’s all we say,” Tromello said. “If kids are going to take it without us knowing, then that’s their problem…We can only suggest and recommend. If parents call us [about allowing their kids to use supplements], we’ll give them suggestions.”

Unfortunately, there are many possible dangerous side effects that come with using creatine. To prevent dehydration, a common side effect of creatine use according to Wolchock, users must drink water. Mark had to drink lots of it; gallons upon gallons upon gallons. The tradeoff was worth it for him; he got his weight up to 185 pounds in a matter of days, and while he didn’t have tree trunk biceps, he was plenty big enough to keep up with 200-pound players in practice and the Mission League. Most importantly, though,  he wasn’t losing weight.

Creatine_neutral

“The reason I used  [creatine] during the season is I was working out so much with so much cardio that there was no way I could replace the calories I was burning,” Mark said. “So I  just kept losing weight, which is just not great for the sport I play… Because I’m not a very big person anyways, [creatine] helps me get my weight up, and it helps me be able to compete with the guys who weigh 200-pounds.”

After the season ended, Mark stopped using creatine and almost immediately dropped his weight back down to where he was during the preseason.

Because this grey area still exists, creatine is easily usable. Mark’s personal success with creatine has lead him to believe that he’ll use it again if he feels he needs to.

“Right now and [during] this summer, I’m working on more natural ways [to get bigger],” Mark said. “Just eating better and just trying to get bigger naturally because creatine just makes fake weight; it only works for a little while. But if it does get to a point where I just have to get bigger [quickly] then yeah, I’ll use it again.”


 

* Names have been changed to preserve anonymity.

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