In recent years there has been a lot of discussion in the about performance enhancing substances. We have learned that several of our sports celebrities were using steroids, pre-steroids, stimulants, and other substances. It’s easy to understand why people would be distressed over this.
First, many people think of it it as unsportsmanlike. Athletes are using these substances to give themselves an advantage over their competition.
Second, many of these substances have unsafe side effects. The hazards of steroids are infamous. Stimulants have their own group of harmful side effects.
Third, it sets a bad example for young people. Young athletes observe their sports heroes using these substances and come to think that they should take them too, disregardless of the health consequences.
Some people have classified creatine with these substances, but I think that is an error. In this article I’ll talk about the legality of creatine, and how it’s different from other performance enhancing substances.
Creatine Is Not A Prohibited Substance
Creatine has not been banned by the NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL, NCAA, or International Olympic Committee. The NCAA prohibits associated schools from distributing creatine, but doesn’t ban athletes from using it. I am aware of no sports governing body that has banned the use of creatine.
Creatine Is Food
In the U.S., creatine is categorized as a dietary supplement, not a drug. It’s treated as a food, and doesn’t have to meet the drug requirements of the FDA.
Unlike other supplements, creatine is naturally found in food. Meat is the main dietary source. If you ate a lot of meat (for example, a pound of pork a day) you could get quantities of creatine to akin to using a supplement. The chairman of the International Olympic Committee’s medical commission, Prince Alexandre de Merode, has said:
“Creatine is food, and there is no reason to ban it. We don’t tell people that they can’t eat eggs or bread. You can’t exaggerate, because it’s not comparable to steroids.”.
Creatine Doesn’t Give You An Unfair Advantage
Unlike steroids, you can not get artificially high levels in your body. Your muscles can only hold a limited quantity of creatine, and any extra you take gets removed by your liver and kidneys. Each person has a limit to how much creatine their muscles can hold, and there is no known way to alter that.
Depending on what you eat, you may already be close to the maximal level. People who consume a lot of meat already have elevated levels of creatine. Vegetarians tend to observe more benefit from supplementation because they do not obtain much creatine in their diet.
Many supplements are high-priced. The argument can be made that their use is unfair because only wealthy athletes can afford them. Creatine is very low-cost. You can obtain a year’s supply for below $20.
Creatine Hasn’t Been Shown To Have Dangerous Side Effects
Creatine has numerous anecdotal reports of side effects, but none have been seen in research. Even the most usually discussed side effect, cramping, has not been observed in studies. Top researchers of creatine think that creatine is safe for long term use, when using the recommended dosing. Side effects are most frequently reported when using quantities greater than the recommended dose. Be intelligent. Use a small dose (2.5 to 5g per day) one month on, one month off, and you will likely never experience side effects.
Creatine Cannot Be Tested For
Even if sports associations wished to ban creatine use, testing for it would be difficult. Eating a lot of meat would give you similar blood levels to using a supplement. The IOC’s sub-commission on doping has expressed that testing would be problematic, because it could punish athlete’s who have naturally high levels of creatine.