January 21, 1997 -- University Park, Pa. -- The bad publicity surrounding steroids should not blind athletes to the potential of a natural substance, creatine, to boost performance, particularly when taken with extra carbohydrates.
According to a recent study, extra amounts of carbohydrates along with creatine supplements may help athletes involved in sports that combine sprinting and aerobic performance, notes the January issue of the Penn State Sports Medicine Newsletter.
Creatine is an energy-producing substance used by the body during high intensity exercise. Creatine stores, 98 percent of which accumulate in skeletal muscles, should be as high as possible for peak athletic performance.
Study results published in the Journal Of Physiology suggest that creatine levels in muscles may be 60 percent higher when athletes and exercisers increase consumption of carbohydrates such as bread, pasta, fruits, vegetables or juices while taking creatine supplements.
"This may mean that, if you use daily supplements of creatine and carbohydrate in the proper amounts, you can increase not only the creatine level in muscles, but you can also increase the muscle glycogen level," says Lawrence Spriet, Ph.D., professor of human biology and nutritional sciences at the University of Guelph, Ontario. "This combination allows athletes to enhance performance in both aerobic exercise and exercise requiring brief bursts of strength and stamina."
In the course of the study, 24 men with an average age of 24 were divided into control and experimental groups. The control group was given five grams of creatine in sugar-free orange juice four times a day for five days. The experimental group received the same amount of creatine followed 30 minutes later by 17 ounces of a carbohydrate solution.
Muscle biopsies conducted on subjects following the five-day test period showed that both group had elevated creatine levels. However, the total creatine concentration in muscle tissue was 60 percent higher in the creatine and carbohydrate group than in the group using only the creatine supplement. The experimental group also showed dramatically elevated concentrations of insulin.
Spriet points out that the surprisingly high insulin levels in the experimental group is important because insulin increases the absorption of glucose, a sugar stored in skeletal muscles and the liver in the form of glycogen. Glycogen has long been known to improve performance in aerobic exercise, according to the Penn State Sports Medicine Newsletter.
Concludes Spriet, "People who are now taking creatine just to enhance weight training performance or to improve in activities that involve short, intense bouts of exercise probably won't benefit from the carbohydrate component.
"But athletes taking part in combination sprinting/aerobic events such as hockey, soccer, basketball and wrestling may benefit from the effects of both creatine and carbohydrates," he adds.
Editors: Penn State's Center for Sports Medicine can be reached at (814) 865-7107.
The Penn State Sports Medicine Newsletter is a monthly publication of Penn
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