I was recently watching an interview with the great Gary Player, who was talking about the use of performance enhancing drugs in golf. He went on to list several drugs that he suspected were being used, and included in this was creatine. I have always been under the impression that creatine was ok. I have also discovered that creatine has been banned at the Arsenal football club, on the U.S gymnastics team and in France. I live and work in the UK and have seen for myself the use of creatine endorsed by various pro football and rugby clubs. I'm confused. What is creatine classed as, a supplement or drug? Why do the U.S and France seem to have a different opinion to the UK? Is it about to be banned on a large scale, and what is the latest research suggesting? If you can answer any of these points, I would greatly appreciate it.
I was recently watching the US Open myself when I heard the announcers briefly discussing the use of beta blockers by athletes, so your question about the ergogenic use of supplements in golf is very timely.
Beta blockers, as you know, are a class of drugs used to treat high blood pressure and heart disease. They are banned in Olympic sports like archery and shooting because, in theory, they may give the user (who does not have a heart problem) an unfair advantage by reducing anxiety and stage fright.
The LPGA has recently issued a list of banned substances that it will be testing for starting in 2008. This list does include beta blockers (as well as androstenedione, DHEA, testosterone, ephedrine and several other compounds). Click here to visit the LPGA web site.
Creatine is not on the banned substances list of the LPGA (nor any other golf organization I was able to locate). However, you are right to point out that creatine may offer an ergogenic advantage to golfers by allowing them to hit the ball further.
Hundreds of peer reviewed studies conducted over the last few decades do show that for many people, creatine supplementation will enhance muscle power. The average increase in humans is about eight to 10, which is statistically significant. The major idea behind this is that creatine works by helping re-energize ATP faster than normal. I like to think of creatine as a “turbo charger” for ATP production. I have also seen some research speculating that creatine may also directly stimulate muscle hypertrophy. While we make one to two grams of creatine naturally each day, to get the ergogenic effect, supplementation is needed.
In the US, the law governing supplements is the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, enacted in 1994. According to this law, supplements (including creatine) are not classified as drugs. I believe in the UK, creatine also is able to be sold legally over the counter and is not classified as a drug. Other countries, however, may classify creatine differently depending on their laws. Related to this, some sports organizations may prohibit coaches from dispensing creatine to players directly but do not ban use of the supplement by players. This may be the case with Arsenal football.
The comments of Garry Player not withstanding, creatine is not a drug and is not the same thing as a steroid hormone like testosterone. As such, I believe it is unlikely that golf will ever ban creatine use by players in the UK or the US.
As I'm sure you are aware, excess water weight gain is the most highly observed side effect from creatine supplementation. On the Internet, people still make the allegation that creatine is associated with all sorts of other side effects like kidney and liver damage as well as muscle cramping. However, studies conducted under controlled laboratory situations have not observed these effects. While I personally do sometimes encounter people who tell me of bizarre side effects following creatine use, it’s difficult to determine if it was creatine itself or something else that caused the complaint. Based on the vast majority of research, creatine supplementation is generally thought of to be safe for most healthy people.
Your question also raises an interesting side point that I would like discuss. Every so often, I see articles written in popular fitness magazines that try to scare people into thinking that the government will either ban supplements entirely or make it necessary to obtain a doctor’s prescription to use them. I believe these articles are designed by people who either have an agenda (i.e., to keep people fired up over the issue, just in case) or are misinformed of the facts. Here in the US, it is unlikely that supplements will ever be banned because of political fallout, since most Americans use at the very least a multi vitamin. I believe supplement usage in the UK is very robust as well.
I hope this answers your questions.