A Primary Look at Creatine and Considerations of Steroids and Protein

By Matt Poe, MS


This paper will answer three questions.

1.    Is creatine legal?
2.    Does creatine really work?
3.    Is creatine safe?


I would like to talk about the gray market area of legal performance enhancing drugs with respect to creatine. What if there was a drug you could take that guaranteed increased energy and strength? Not only that, but it came in an easy-to-swallow capsule, it could safely and naturally increase your level of testosterone, which is the most potent of muscle building hormones, and it would be perfectly legal to buy and relatively inexpensive.

The sellers of creatine and androstenedione make these sorts of claims although there are very few long term studies of the effectiveness or safety of these drugs. Nevertheless, retailers can’t keep them on the shelves. Their popularity has been aided by high profile athletes like Mark McGwire, who is both a user and a recent phenomenon, though the drugs themselves are not. Both drugs are chemicals naturally produced in the body and found in minute amounts in food, mostly red meat. But that is where most of the similarities end.

For many years, the world’s foremost studies of creatine and its effect on athletic performance were carried out in secrecy by communist Eastern-bloc countries. But after the fall of Communism, the training and experimental drugs used on Soviet and East German Olympic athletes was revealed. Aside from exposing the truth about illegal anabolic steroid use, there was the discovery of a vitamin called creatine, which was quickly introduced to the United States and marketed as an ergogenic, or energy-enhancing supplement.

However, studies began to indicate that the Soviets may have been wrong about creatine as a vitamin. United States research showed that creatine was not really a vitamin, but a synthesized blend of certain amino acids (2). These amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. The benefit creatine provides is increased energy for quick, anaerobic bursts of activity, such as are required in weightlifting. Athletes taking creatine can do more repetitions and sets of exercises than they could without it. Essentially, it speeds up the process of adding strength and size to the muscles by intensifying the workout. It has been compared to the way a marathon runner might saturate his muscles with carbohydrates before a race to provide endurance except that creatine strictly helps in anaerobic activities like muscle contractions.

Creatine is made in small amounts by the body, and aids a substance called adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which controls all types of muscle contractions, from bench pressing 400 pounds to blinking an eye. To contract a muscle, the ATP molecule releases one of the three phosphate groups. Creatine comes into play by attaching to the free-floating phosphate and reforming into ATP. Thus, energy is provided until the creatine in the muscle is depleted. Thus, the effect of a creatine supplement is to provide the muscles with more creatine than the body can produce on its own and thus increase energy. Furthermore, creatine allows the muscles to retain more water. The advantage of this is that the muscles, which are 75% water to begin with, will work more efficiently and recover from the abuses of weightlifting more quickly. For bodybuilders, an added plus is that the water will make the muscle appear larger.

1. Is creatine legal?

Very little is known about the long-term effects of using creatine, but it has not been shown to be in anyway unsafe in the short term. Studies in animals where creatine is removed from the muscles have shown that the muscle quickly atrophies and weakens, signaling that creatine may be an essential chemical in muscular usage. One side effect of supplementation, however, is that the body, not used to such large quantities of creatine in the muscle, shuts down its own natural production of creatine. Such an effect is also seen when testosterone is artificially taken to build muscle through the use of anabolic steroids, often to disastrous consequences. Whether or not such a stoppage of creatine production is permanent or harmful is unknown.

While creatine is a supplement that only provides more energy to aid in workouts, androstenedione is designed to actually build muscle tissue by raising the body’s level of testosterone. Androstenedione is a precursor molecule to testosterone, which means it is a step along the biological chain that produces testosterone. In fact, it is the last step before testosterone is produced with the only difference being a single hydrogen atom.

Theoretically, when androstenedione is digested, the liver adds that atom of hydrogen and produces testosterone. Unlike anabolic steroids, which one can use intravenously to pump the body full of as much testosterone is desired, when testosterone is produced through digestion, the body can control the amount produced. For this reason, sellers of androstenedione claim there is no danger of getting too much testosterone and experiencing the side effects of anabolic steroids, which include loss of hair, outbreaks of acne on the body, and impotence, to name a few.

But what is often left unsaid in advertisements for the drug is that there is no guarantee androstenedione will be converted to testosterone because it is also a precursor molecule for the female hormone, estrogen. Which hormone androstenedione eventually becomes depends on many factors and is not entirely understood. One important variable, however, is a person’s percentage of body fat. The danger for men who take the drug in an effort to lose fat while building muscle may be the effect of producing estrogen instead since a high percentage of body fat increases the likelihood that androstenedione will convert to estrogen. Not only will estrogen not increase muscle size, but it could lead to the growth of mammary tissue and female sexual characteristics.

Studies of androstenedione, which date as far back as 1935 (1), have shown, in some cases, to do what its sellers claim, that is boost the level of testosterone. In men, it can raise levels by 300% and in women, up to 600%. However, the effect is short-lived with testosterone levels returning to normal in about an hour. In the 1970’s, East German athletes attempted to use this short burst of testosterone to their advantage, by taking androstenedione in a nasal spray shortly before an event. Any subsequent drug testing, therefore, would show their testosterone levels to be normal. This apparently had no benefit on the athletes’ performance, however, and many of them simply complained of sinus-headaches.

In fact, throughout its life span of over 60 years, no study has shown androstenedione to be of any benefit to athletic performance. Numerous precursor molecules have come and gone as fads in the dieting and supplementation industry. One reason many are unconvinced about their effectiveness is that another basic precursor molecule to testosterone is readily available in the American diet. It is called cholesterol. Dr. Michael Colgan, author of the book Optimum Sports Nutrition writes, "I see a lot of fat folk who eat enough cholesterol to stuff a mattress. But it has no effect on their testosterone or muscle, because multiple body controls prevent it." A well-respected scientist in the field of nutrition, Colgan likens precursor molecules to no more than dietary snake oil.

Even though its benefits are suspect, most professional sports ban the use of androstenedione. Major League Baseball, of course, is one exception, having opted for a comprehensive study of the drug. This drug is currently being completed by scientists at Harvard (3), before making it illegal. Until then, many people will think Mark McGwire’s record of 70 home runs is tainted due to his use of androstenedione. McGwire, who hit more than 50 home runs a few seasons ago, before he ever heard of the drug, dismisses such criticism by asking why all the guys at Gold’s Gym don’t hit 70.

Androstenedione, on the other hand, has not shown the effective results of creatine, and the risk of increasing the body’s level of testosterone has caused many to write it off as a legal steroid. The nation’s leading health food chain, General Nutrition Centers, does not sell Androstenedione citing safety concerns. Other stores and gyms do sell it, however, and it is readily available on the world wide web.

The most comprehensive study on the drug is currently underway, but until it is complete, many young athletes may start taking androstenedione in hopes of becoming the next Mark McGwire. And McGwire himself may have set his sights on a new goal, such as beating new records such as Hank Aaron’s 755 career home runs. In truth, the mechanics of baseball do not always make the biggest and strongest players the best. The latest fad to hit the sports nutrition industry may have mixed results before making you a success. This is a difficult question to determine if it is legal. Yes, creatine is legal, but should it be. The area is gray.
2. Does it really work?

Yes,creatine does work, but you have to work hard for it to give the user results. Also, creatine is like many other legal supplements, it might work over time with doing the proper exercise. One of the primary things an athlete will do is put supplements into their body.

These supplements range from protein shakes to illegal anabolic steroids. Some sports supplements are incredibly safe and effective, yet others work for a while and then fizzle out, while others still work well but do more damage than good in the long run. In the past athletes had to turn to such things as anabolic steroids or blood doping. Blood doping is the process of taking out blood and adding oxygen to it and putting it back into the body in order to increase a person’s endurance. However, these procedures have many drawbacks. Mainly, they are illegal.

An athlete may be suspended from playing their perspective sport for using them. They have many long terms and short term side effects. Many supplements are as simple as packaged energy and others require a strict exercise and eating regimen.
The first and most basic sports supplements are protein weight gainers. This normally comes in the form of powder and works best when mixed with milk. The main reason for taking extra protein is to gain weight and muscle mass. In today's athletics, whether it is high school, college, or professional, the athletes are getting bigger and stronger. Protein works the best when the athlete is on a strict work out regimen.

Many sports supplements are a combination of herbs and proteins. A popular supplement of this sort is called Heat. Heat has many different ingredients in it that allow the athlete to experience more energy by creating more heat. This allows the athletes' body to work more efficiently and therefore work faster, stronger, and longer. This is very important in the sports world because it is becoming harder and harder to compete at an unsupplemented level. Athletes want every advantage that he or she can receive. Now there is a substance that can give an athlete the edge that they desire. One of the most popular and effective sports supplements on the market today is Pure creatine Monohydrate.

Creatine was first introduced to the US in 1993 by a supplement company called Experimental and Applied Sciences (1). Since that time it has become one of the most demanded items on the market. The creatine that is bought in stores duplicates the natural creatine that is produced by the kidney, liver, and pancreas. Creatine Monohydrate has been proven to significantly enhance athletic performance in the areas of power, strength, and muscle mass. Creatine is found naturally in the body and in foods, it is likely that it will not be removed from sports any time soon. Creatine is a nutrient that is found in many foods. It is most highly concentrated in lean red meat. A half-pound of red meat contains about two grams of creatine. Every human body also produces creatine in very small amounts, though some people produce more than others. Creatine is necessary for proper cell functions and cell reproduction, it is also a primary storage for energy in muscles.

How does Creatine work? When somebody is exercising, his or her muscles demand energy. The energy that the muscle gets is called adenosine triphosphate (ATP). As the muscles keep contracting, the ATP is turned into adenosine diphosphate (ADP). ADP causes your muscles to fatigue. Creatine Phosphate helps to convert ADP into ATP when the ATP is gone. In doing this, the athlete has better endurance during his of her workout or event.

Creatine producers and users claim it to have many advantages, such as increased endurance, increased overall work potential, increased speed of muscular action, and the potential to further increase muscle mass. Creatine also accelerates protein synthesis. If all this were true, it would be easy to see why athletes are turning to creatine for an edge on their competition. But are these claims real? Is their scientific proof of what creatine does? Yes, since creatine came onto the supplement market it has been tested extensively. Research in human sports science indicates that if you supplement a normal diet with creatine it will increase the creatine content in the muscles.

The Texas A&M football program, experimented by putting only a few of their players on creatine in 1994, and as a result by 1995 they put their whole team on creatine (2). The facts don't lie creatine has definite advantages. Since studies on creatine loading have only been going on for less than a decade, it is still unknown what long-term effects will have. Several small short- term side effects include dehydration, diarrhea, and muscle cramping. Also, creatine might not be able to help a person in their sport. For example, creatine does not always benefit an athlete who participates in an aerobic sport such as swimming, and long distance running.

From a long distance runner's point of view, creatine would be bad to take (3). Creatine causes an athlete to retain water, causing them to gain weight. The Athletes that will receive the most benefit from creatine are athletes in power and performance sports such as football and wrestling. Though even with wrestling creatine can be dangerous because of the weight gaining factor, so more effective use my be during the off-season. For such sports as football, creatine can be very useful in gaining strength and size, while maintaining or increasing speed and endurance.
3. Is it safe?

Creatine is safe and very effective for anybody, especially if you've never used it before.  It is not an anabolic steroid and does not require cycling to avoid side effects. It is generally considered safe when taken within the recommended doses under 10-15 grams daily with a carbohydrate source for better absorption, and assuming the person stays well hydrated while using it, at least 6-8 glasses of fluid daily. There are no age limitations as to when you can start taking it nor for how long, though I would recommend limiting its use to under 40 years old when renal function may begin to decrease.

Protein powder, creatine, and even Anabolic Steroids (AAS) are all around us. Pretty much every athlete, even at this school, takes or has tried one or more of these supplements. Protein powder and creatine are legal and steroids are illegal unless you have a prescription. The one thing everyone should know that if you take creatine or steroids then you have to work out for them to be effective. Taking creatine or steroids without working out is not only dumb, but it is very unhealthy. Even though protein powder and creatine don’t have that many side effects they do have some, while steroids definitely have some major side effects.
There are four main types of protein powder: Egg, soy, whey and rice.

Whey protein powder is the most used. Protein powder for the most part is a safe thing to take, but some kids don’t know when to stop taking the protein. Just like water and other things too much of a good thing is a bad thing. High levels of protein intake can lead to dehydration, kidney damage, and increased excretion of calcium, which puts your kidneys at risk for kidney stones. Generally the amount of total protein a person should take a day is for every pound you weigh, you take one gram of protein. So if you weigh 150 lbs then your protein intake should be around 150 grams.

Besides protein powder, which could be technically a food, creatine is by far the most successful and most used supplement in history (1). Creatine will draw water into the muscle bellies of the body and this gives you more leverage when lifting, which allows you to lift more weight. Creatine will give you more explosiveness and allow you to push yourself harder and longer. Another anonymous student said that their biceps went from 14 inches to 16 inches in a short period of time when using creatine. If you take creatine then you have to workout otherwise the short-term energy creatine provides will be wasted and then it is a complete waste of your money. With hundreds of studies done on creatine, all show that creatine is a pretty safe supplement and very effective.

Steroids will provide sort of the same results as creatine, but probably better results. According to Alan Bowyer of the Anti-steroid National Assembly Tour about one in 20 student athletes have tried or are trying AAS (3). Steroids also deliver other useful effects like muscle cell growth and increased red blood cell production as well as a water bloat. Steroids increase lean muscle mass, strength, and ability to train longer and harder. But of course there are side effects along with the usual testicle shrinking for guys and mustaches for girls, steroids also cause liver tumors, jaundice, fluid retention, and high blood pressure.

One of the most dangerous side effects of steroids is “roid rage.” (1) Everybody pretty much knows that most professional wrestlers take steroids. In one case WWE star Chris Benoit was suspected of going on a “roid rage” and killed his wife and young kid before hanging himself. Benoit is not the only person to go on “roid rage” and harm the people around him. In a study done by the straight dope website, two out of 50 men injected with steroids for six weeks became very angry and basically experienced “roid rage”. Even if only fewer than four percent of steroid users can experience “roid rage” that still means that thousands of steroid users can go crazy and not only harm themselves, but people around them.

So is it worth it to take all of these supplements? That’s up to you. As long as you take creatine and protein powder in the right amount of doses, they are very good supplements to take to get a bigger boost in the weight room. Steroids on the other hand are touchy subject. They work very well for people in the hospitals who need them and they do help in the weight room. Is it worth the risk though? Once again that’s up to you. Just remember that using steroids without a prescription is illegal and you could go to jail.

So I would not recommend taking steroids do to all of the bad side effects including “roid rage” and it being illegal, but as long as it is proven to work very well in muscle and strength growth then it will never be gone and there is nothing to do about it. Creatine is used by hundreds of thousands of weight trainers across the globe, purely because it helps build their muscles. Creatine does increase muscle size and strength although strenuous workouts are necessary to see good results. The supplement helps you do more reps, and lift more weights when training, although if you do not put the hard work in it is pointless.

It has been said that after at least two months after taking creatine you will see positive results in your muscle size and the weights that you can lift and most of all it continues to be a safe product.




1. Dempsey, Rania L. Does oral creatine supplementation improve strength? A meta-analysis - Original Research. Available at: http://findarticles.com/articles/mi_m0689.

2. Rania L. Dempsey, Michael R. Mazzone, Linda N. Meuer. Does oral creatine supplementation improve strength? A meta-analysis - Original Research Journal of Family Practice, Nov, 2002 by Rania L. Dempsey, Michael R. Mazzone, Linda N. Meuer

3. Hanneo, Dr. Nora. Overtraining in Athletes Paparohttp://www.la84foundation.org/

4. PubMed database  (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/)

5. MeSH  databse (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/mesh)

6. Med Line Plus (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/databases.html)