Mark McGwire uses it. Sammy Sosa uses it. The Atlanta Braves have tubs of it in their locker room. Then why does Scott Carnahan, Linfield College’s varsity baseball coach and coach of the 1994 U.S.A. Olympic baseball team emphasize, “I will not participate in distributing it to any of my players”? It is Creatine and it has become a health concern among most NCAA baseball coaches in Oregon.
Creatine is a substance that is naturally produced in every human being. Every adult has around 130 grams of Creatine in their body. It allows us to run fast, lift hard, and react quickly. These are all the essentials of NCAA baseball. In recent years, Creatine had been developed as a food supplement to enhance muscle performance. So why wouldn’t NCAA baseball coaches in Oregon distribute the food supplement known as Creatine to their athletes? Yes, it is expensive at $49.99 for 100 grams of powder. But, many coaches in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (an association that regulates many intercollegiate sports) are more concerned about the safety of the player.
There are six NCAA baseball teams in Oregon. These teams work hard every year to accomplish a winning season, a conference title, or a national championship. Players at Linfield, George Fox, Willamette, Oregon State, Pacific, and University of Portland face the pressure to win every season. Linfield College pitcher, Geoff Phillips describes the pressure as, relentless. “There is always pressure to work hard in the weight room and train at 100%. Most of the pressure comes from the competition we face and our personal desire to win,” said Phillips.
To compete at their highest level, ball players have to find time to bulk up.
Weight lifting has always been a part of college baseball. After all, modern athletes develop their strength and endurance in the weight room. But, where once players spent 3-5 hours a week in the weight room, most players now lift 8-10 hours a week. Oregon State’s head baseball coach, Pat Casey reached his 100th victory last year, the first OSU coach to do so in fewer than 5 years. “Winning isn’t something that comes natural. It takes a lot of hard work outside of practice,” Casey stated in an OSU publication. Linfield head baseball coach, Carnahan, agrees. He assigns a workout schedule that works all major muscle groups and many minor muscle groups. It’s a similar story in the Willamette weight room where players work each body part twice a week. “This could take up to 6 days a week depending on how many body parts they work on a day,” said Coach Wong.
The fact is everybody wants to win. Tough competition and personal desire to win causes a lot of college players in Oregon to take Creatine as a means of boosting their athletic performance. It became a part of NCAA baseball in the middle 1990’s when studies showed that Creatine might enhance player capabilities. According to the NCAA Guide Line, Creatine has been found in some laboratory studies to enhance short term, high-intensity exercise capability, delay fatigue and increase strength. Creatine can also increase muscle strength as much as one and one half times quicker than non-users,
according to the Natural Medicines comprehensive database.
Although several studies have contradicted the efficiency of Creatine, it has been
very popular among ball players. One survey conducted by the American College of
Sports Medicine indicated that 30% of all male collegiate athletes had used Creatine at
one time. On average, there are 45 players that compete on NCAA baseball teams in Oregon. Of the six NCAA programs in Oregon, four teams reported that nearly half of their players had used Creatine during the season.
Creatine has produced the kind of results that some players are looking for. A Linfield pitcher states that many players on his team are experiencing positive results. “Probably about half of our team had taken Creatine. It has allowed our players to workout harder and longer,” said Phillips. Second baseman, Kevin Hill, has also had good results using Creatine. “For the past month and a half Creatine has helped me to gain weight and lift at the level I want to,” said Hill. Doctor Kerry Kuehl, Director of Human Performance Lab for OHSU, hosted a seminar at Mcminnville high school called, “Creatine Talk.” He explained that many athletes experience fewer problems with Creatine when it is taken in moderation. “Many athletes feel that since Creatine is meant for short-term, high-intensity workouts that it is okay to take more than the recommended two to five grams a day. That is not the case,” he said. Doctor Kuehl added that sometimes athletes take two, three or sometimes four times the recommended dose even though it doesn’t pay to do so. Pitcher Damon Lorenz from George Fox had been using Creatine during the 98’ season. “For the one month I was using Creatine, it worked well. There has been a lot of controversy about it, but as long as I have a lot of success in the weight room, I will continue to use it,” he said.
Some baseball players have not been as fortunate using. In 1998, one
OSU player using Creatine had experienced severe stomach problems. Oregon State
trainers learned that Creatine was eating at the players’ stomach creating an ulcer. An article in the Stateman Journal stated that an athlete from Beaverton played in his last athletic event last month when he dropped dead during one college game. The reason is unknown, but officials do know that the athlete was taking Creatine at the time of his death. Rite Aid pharmacy manager, Sheri Siddal, says that even though there have not been any long-term effects linked to Creatine, it could disrupt certain conditions. A study conducted by Natural Medicines stated that Creatine could exacerbate kidney and liver disfunctions. “Many athletes aren’t aware that they have a kidney or liver problem and that it (Creatine) could exacerbate their condition without them knowing about it,” said Siddal. Some researcher’s fear that, with the amount of extra Creatine contrived through the diet, the body might stop producing it all together. Because there has not been any long term studies, nobody knows for sure.
The only way we will find out the negative effects of long term use is time. However, the short-term effects have been determined. Studies show that Creatine has been known to cause weight gain. There had also been a number of anecdotal reports claiming that Creatine supplementation may cause an upset stomach, diarrhea, promote muscle strains/pulls, or contribute to muscle cramps. Lorenz, from George Fox, battled some effects daily. Although Lorenz did claim that Creatine helped enhance his workout, he also claims that he experienced weight gain and dehydration. “Sometimes when I was working out it seemed likr I could lift for hours without drinking much water.” The body is 80% water. Most of the weight that player’s on Creatine gain is
water weight. So how can the body dehydrate if players gain water weight? Well, water
that is naturally absorbed circulates throughout the whole body. When a player takes Creatine, most of the water in the body runs straight to the skeletal muscles causing other areas of the body to lack water. That is why it is crucial that all players using Creatine drink a lot of water.
Of course, each body reacts in a different way. A survey by the Physician and Sports Medicine reported that 25% of 52 male collegiate athletes reported muscle cramping when they took Creatine. Interestingly, all but two of the athletes that reported muscle cramping also experienced either diarrhea or dehydration. Some researchers argue that the reason why some male collegiate athletes experience side effects and other don’t are because they are not taking all the necessary precautions.
Many Oregon collegiate baseball players know what they are getting into when they choose to bulk up with Creatine. Many of the NCAA players who take it do understand that the long-term effects have not been determined. They know that some players have had bad experiences. They are certainly aware that Creatine decreases fatique and can build muscle mass. However, they do not know what they are getting in each bottle. The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) found many bottles of Creatine with different ingredient levels. Doctor Kuehl, Director Human Performance at OHSU Department of Medicine, says that calcium and calorie levels were sometimes different then what the bottle read. What does this do to the athlete? Dr. Kuehl says they have not yet found
what kind of impact this could have on athletes. “We don’t know if or how this will
impact athletic performance. It is not a good thing when you think you are taking more then what you really are, or vice versa,” said Dr. Kuehl. Initially, the FDA did not test Creatine because it qualified as a food supplement. “The reason why the FDA tested Creatine was because they were concerned. They had received enough case reports to do so,” Dr. Kuehl added.
So, what is the NCAA doing during all this? The NCAA has certain set regulations to protect the safety of the players and the institution. When Creatine became popular in the NCAA many teams were distributing it to their players. The NCAA makes a point of backing their position of maintaining high standards of personal honor, eligibility, and fair play. As expected, Creatine was not on the banned drug list. Recently, the NCAA held a committee meeting about the distribution of Creatine. “The committee recommends that the provision of weight-gain and muscle/strength building supplement products to student-athletes by member institutions and their personnel be nonpermissible at all times.” This means that no team may use NCAA funds, school funds (including team funds) or personal funds to distribute Creatine or any other supplements that enhance performance. According to a letter distributed by the Committee Chair of the NCAA, William Arnet, schools should be encouraging access to competent nutritional advice. The NCAA expects trainers, coaches, and athletic director to educate players about Creatine.
One doctor from the Doctors Clinic in Salem takes it upon himself to educate
patients about Creatine. Dr. David Edmonds, an expert in family practice, believes all
patients should know the risks of Creatine. “It is important that baseball players and all athletes know the truths,” said Dr. Edmonds. “I think many coaches tell players what they want to hear,” he added. In the thirteen years that Dr. Edmonds has been practicing
at the Doctors Clinic he hardly heard any complaints about Creatine. Still, every time a patient inquires about Creatine Edmonds states the facts. Yes, Creatine can enhance athletic capability. Yes, Creatine can be dangerous.
New York Yankee star, Scott Brosius, chooses not to take Creatine because he does not want to take a risk. Brosius, a third baseman for the World Series champions, recently received big honors for his talent in the big leagues. In 1998, Brosius lead the Yankees to a four-game sweep against the Padres to win his first championship. Brosius was named M.V.P. of the World Series in 1998, and was honored with the Golden Glove Award for his excellent fielding in the 1999 World Series championship.
Brosius attended Linfield Collge located in Mcminnville, Oregon. While at Linfield, he excelled on the field and kept the same attitude as he does for the Yankees. “The problem is that many players say if a little is good, than a lot of must be better. That is where the problem occurs,” said Brosius. Brosius does feel Creatine can be used safely, but according to the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database that could be an overstatement. They define Creatine as, “possibly safe,” and “somewhat effective.” Brosius feels that Creatine runs a serious risk to the players’ body since it makes their body’s grow faster than nature intends it. Sometimes, the muscles can develop so strong that they cause injuries to the body. “I have heard cases where players experienced a higher increase of muscle pulls and strains while on Creatine,” said Brosius.
Brosius believes that Creatine should be ban at the collegiate level because it is very
hard to supervise ball players. George Fox coach, Pat Bailey, states, “I honestly have no
idea how many of my players are currently using Creatine.” Earlier a George Fox pitcher quoted that nearly half of the team was taking Creatine at one point during the season. If the players are to receive the kind of supervision they need, it obviously needs to come from a coach or a trainer. Brosius mentioned that a majority of NCAA coaches in Oregon, are not properly educated about Creatine. They are familiar with its purpose and some adverse effects, but that is the extent of it. Should the NCAA be responsible for coaches that are uneducated about Creatine? In the 1999-00 NCAA Manual, the committee recommends that coaches should educate or “advise” athletes about Creatine, however, the NCAA does not consider educating coaches important enough to make it a permissible expense. Considering how little coaches and players know, it probably should be.
Brosius has good reasons why he chooses not to use Creatine. He is concerned about his future health. “I personally don’t use it because I do not want to assume the risks of injury. I will not sell my post baseball life out for something I do not feel I need,” Brosius added.
Collegiate baseball players in Oregon know they do not need Creatine. However, they are fascinated with its capabilities. They see McGwire hit 70 homeruns and they think, what could Creatine do to my game? If Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire can suddenly slam in 136 homeruns in one season, then it must work. Most NCAA coaches in Oregon are concerned about players taking Creatine. Coaches at Linfield, George
Fox, Willamette and Oregon State do permit Creatine use, but do not recommend it. Hill, second baseman for Linfield, says that coach Carnahan had told him in the beginning that there is no telling what could happen with Creatine long term. He also told Hill that it is a personal choice and it was up to him to roll the dice. “It is a lot like gambling,” said Dr. Edmonds. It is a game of craps, and most NCAA coaches in Oregon are not thrilled with the odds. “Players should train hard in the off season and maintain their ability without using Creatine,” said Carnahan. Even though Willamette coach, David Wong was unaware of any Bearcat players taking Creatine, he feels if it ends up the NCAA finds something wrong with Creatine they should make every effort to stop the distribution and intake of it. George Fox coach Pat Bailey had a similarly agrees. “If proven potentially harmful, the NCAA should ban Creatine.” In the future Creatine may or may not join the ban drug list depending on future test results.
The NCAA committee, coaches, and players have agreed that Creatine can be potentially harmful. Proving it has been quite a different story. The NCAA committee heads need more than just case studies and theories to prove that Creatine is potentially harmful. They need a strong long-term study that shows what exactly Creatine is doing to players and how the result could harm them. Dr. Kuehl and many other sports medicine experts at OSHU continue to work hard at finding the answer to the long-term effects of Creatine. Meanwhile players ask themselves. Is “possibly safe” good enough for me? Do I want to roll the dice? How long should I gamble against the circumstances? Will my billfold support the food supplement for as long as I am taking it?
All that NCAA baseball players and coaches in Oregon can do is wait. Wait to find out Creatine is a miracle drug. Wait to find out it causes kidney failure. Who knows what they will be waiting on? At this point, hope is all NCAA players in Oregon can rely on.