Q: Some of my friends are taking creatine and other products to get stronger. What’s your take?
A: Creatine, maybe. Other products? NO! Some athletes extol creatine as a wonderful muscle builder—a difference maker between a home run and a long out, or between a world record and third place. Some studies show that creatine increases power and speed as well as cellular energy, but the fact is that most gains in muscle size are due to increased water accumulation. Studies also suggest that a simple sugar and some protein—think of an apple, a handful of nuts and a bottle of water—can help muscles recover faster after exercise.
A naturally-occurring protein, produced mainly in the kidneys and liver, creatine builds strength, but not skill. It might help you throw the football the length of the field, but not into the hands of your speedy receiver. Or, your serve might knock over a ball boy, but you can’t get it to stay in the court.
In misguided attempts to enhance performance, some athletes try human growth hormone or anabolic steroids. Use of such drugs can wreak havoc on your body’s metabolism, suppressing your own hormones from working well and producing many unwanted side effects—like shrunken testicles and enlarged breasts in boys; decreased ability to fight infections; weakened joint repair mechanisms; and increased arthritis and hip loss. Shared needles used to inject the drugs can lead to HIV, hepatitis or other infections.
Use of drugs such as human growth hormone and anabolic steroids tends to backfire, negatively affecting sports performance and long-term health by destroying joints and possibly causing tumors, among other problems.
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Michael F. Roizen, MD, is Professor of Internal Medicine and Anesthesiology, Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of the Wellness Institute at the Cleveland Clinic. He has co-founded 12 companies, including the popular websites RealAge.com and YOUBeauty.com.
Mehmet C. Oz, MD, is Vice-Chair and Professor of Surgery at Columbia University and director of the Cardiovascular Institute and Complementary Medicine Program at New York Presbyterian Hospital. His TV show—The Dr. Oz Show— recently won its third Emmy, with Dr. Oz his second as the best daytime talk show host.