Baseball's Muscle-Building Made Easy 
Creatine All Over Again
By Will Block

Baseball is 90 percent mental. The other half is physical.
- Yogi Berra

nce upon a time, baseball was the national pastime. Yet, as the end of 20th Century drew near, interest in the sport lost public favor. As the explosion of a firecracker in the stillness of the summer night can instantly shift your attention, suddenly this year's baseball is in the air again. A home-run race has captured the front pages of America's tabloids, TVs and Internet sites. And, curiously, we find ourselves drawn to the unleashed power of brute muscle to determine the fate of a baseball. Unlike the past, however, this national attraction is connected with something else, something that teases and entices. It brings waves of longing and emulation from urgent youth and graying boomer alike for the secret of the power.

What can explain more home runs in a single season than ever before? What can explain the ability of sluggers like Mark McGwire (70 homers) and Sammy Sosa (66), both breaking the long standing homerun marks of Maris and Ruth? Behind the secret there is no secret. Many analysts attribute the phenomenon to a simple nutrient, normally found in meat, that has swept the body-building world, and now is out of the gym, out of the bullpen and into the game of life. The name of this nutrient is creatine.

A LONGING FOR THE PAST
Remember when we used to care about the pennant race (to win first place in each baseball league) . . . when the World Series seemed to stop time . . . when a kaleidoscope of good feelings and summer breezes was recapped in the excitement of the final games?

"Take me out to the ballgame, take me out to the crowd. Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack.® I don't care if I never get back . . ."

Baseball players personified the hayseed innocence of a past era, a world of peace and quiet. There was no war in sight. There was only prosperity. Back then we all had our favorite team and we cheered them on without the kind of frenzied energy football engenders.

The team many East coasters identified with was the Yankees, an appropriately victorious name (to the British, all Americans were affectionately called Yanks). The Yankee past was rich with baseball legends. Above all, there was the "Sultan of Swat," Babe Ruth, whose fun-loving, kid-like ways endeared him to his fans as he repeatedly whacked the ball out of the park. In 1927, Babe Ruth set the record for the most home runs hit in a single season, 60, a record that was to stand for 34 years. Then there was the inveterate "Iron Horse," Lou Gehrig, who is one of the few players who ranks alongside Ruth. Also a home run hitter, he frequently drove in more runs than Babe Ruth, and had a lifetime average of .340. He set a record for the most continuous games played. The nation's sympathies were with Gehrig when he retired in the face of a protracted death from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). To this day ALS is referred to as Lou Gehrig's disease.

SURVIVING WORLD WAR II
First baseman Joe DiMaggio was a legend who on the eve of World War II, captured the nation with his record streak of consistently hitting (at least one hit per game) in 56 continuous games. More than 20 years later DiMaggio was there for the woman he loved, Marilyn Monroe. In the wake of her tragic death, he stood steady and supportive of her. "Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio. A nation turns its lonely eyes to you (Woo, woo, woo)," sang Simon and Garfunkel. Baseball was America's conscience, it has been said. Enthusiasm for baseball had survived the war, thanks to DiMaggio. Out of the 1950s rose Mickey Mantle, an Oklahoma farm boy, who together with Roger Maris, had one slug-fest of a season hitting 116 home runs. Maris broke Ruth's record, which had held for 34 years, by hitting 61 homers in 1961.

REAWAKENING
Why interest has faded is due in part to a changing sports identity. Folksy is out; urban aggressiveness is in. We lost our innocence with Vietnam, assassinations, and the continued corruption and demise of politics. Urban sports like basketball are cool. Baseball is considered to be a dumb sport. So if these changes have occurred, how can we explain the reawakening of interest in the lumbering pastime of the world of baseball? The answer is HOME RUNS, plenty of them and our desire to get our hands on some of that luscious power, despite the fact that the ballplayers are such nice guys (uncool). Sosa, for example, is just happy to be a part of it, generously raving about his competitor McGwire, "He's the man." The present, nonetheless, is different from the past. If baseball players can do it, maybe we can too. It would be nice to wake up one morning to find ourselves bestowed with the power to hit our own equivalent of the home run.

"IT'S DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN"
There is little doubt that the nutrient and ATP precursor creatine has changed the game of baseball, just as it has changed bodybuilding, and performance in many other sports. As Yogi Berra would say, "It's deja vu all over again." Leading the pack, bodybuilders have been savvy about nutrition for decades, yet most of this knowledge has been slow to creep into sports such as baseball. Possibly this is because bodybuilding has always been outside the establishment, with little media coverage. Baseball on the other hand has been closely aligned to major media through commercial tie-ins and broadcasting. This undoubtedly influenced the tardiness of baseball's use of creatine because the phamaceutical industry has been a major source of revenue to the media and other old technologies in the East. But just as the Soviet Union or China could not keep consumer-empowering technology out of their countries, baseball's ultimate fate has risen to dietary supplements. "In baseball, you don't know nothin'," quoting linguist Yogi again. Perhaps this helped protect the sport from media brain-washing.

There have been attempts to refute the influence of creatine. Recently, a sports columnist for the Washington Post wrote an article challenging the notion that more home runs were being hit this year and in the past few years.1 Using essentially two columns of figures, the total games played and the total number of home runs hit in a season, he went on to declare that there is no significant increase in the total number of home runs. The only thing that makes this season unusual is a few individual players who are the exception and not the rule. There is no impact attributable to creatine as a muscle-mass increaser. However, reinterpreting his data in the form of two graphs (the Post "columnist" did not bother to graph it; he just columnized it) we can see a very different impression [Fig. 1].

 
 

BREAKOUT
Examining the difference between the number of games per season and the home runs per season shows a widening gap. The number of home runs seems to be rising faster than the number of games played. More specifically, when we look at the actual number of home runs per game we see very clearly [Fig. 2] a breakout. The line of 2 home runs per game has been broken. Until 1987 there had never been a season that exceeded an average of 2 home runs per game for all the leagues combined. In fact, this phenomenon has repeated in the last five seasons (1998's projection included) when the average has exceeded 2 per game in every consecutive year. This constitutes a breakout and a trend line that shows a new pattern. The first year of the 2 home runs per game began in 1994, the year that creatine usage started to make significant inroads. McGwire didn't start until the year after. Thus, it is our contention that because creatine produces bigger muscles beyond what was previously achievable by most athletes, we have entered a new age of physical fitness. Nutrient suppplementation for improved muscle function is an idea whose time has arrived. Now, almost anyone can take part and reap the benefits without relinquishing control of their lives by having to become a professional or maniacally-devoted athlete.

WHAT CAN CREATINE DO FOR YOU?
Creatine is fuel for your muscles. Without enough creatine your muscles slow down and stop working. But if you have enough creatine your muscles can keep going for longer periods of time and with greater strength than you ever dreamed possible.

Creatine is a compound composed of three amino acids: arginine, glycine, and methionine. It is an essential ingredient in the process that provides muscle cells with the energy they need to perform their primary job - contraction. Scientific studies conducted at Sweden's Karolinska Institute and at the University of Nottingham Medical School in England have demonstrated that people who take creatine supplements benefit in several ways:

  • Bigger, stronger muscles. Creatine allows your muscles to lift greater weights more frequently without quitting from fatigue. Because you can perform more work, muscle growth is stimulated.2
  • Greater work and power output. Your muscles can work harder. This means that athletes like sprinters and cyclists who take creatine supplements are able to run or cycle faster for longer periods of time.3,4 The results of one study in which cyclists' performance was measured during ten 6-second bouts of high-intensity cycling showed creatine significantly increased the work output compared to placebo.
  • Reduced lactic acid concentrations. Lactic acid, a byproduct which forms in muscles during exercise, is one of the leading causes of muscle fatigue. In athletes who take creatine, muscle lactic acid has been found to drop by 41%.5
  • Safe and legal. And best of all, creatine is a natural substance made in the body (albeit in insufficient amounts for optimal function) so it is safe, legal, and available for anyone - not just athletes - who wants to build up or maintain their muscle strength at a reasonable cost.
  • Increased peak torque. Your muscles stay stronger longer, allowing you to generate greater force.6

WHERE HAS CREATINE BEEN ALL THIS TIME?
Creatine was first identified in Europe in the early 1800's as a distinctive substance in muscle tissue. One observant scientist at that time noted that creatine seemed to accumulate the most in those muscles that were used the most. By the beginning of the 20th century, scientists had discovered that by ingesting creatine, you could increase the level of creatine in your muscles. It wasn't long before a salt of creatine (creatine phosphate) was identified as a major ingredient in the physiology that makes muscle cells contract.

 USE TABLE*
 LOADING DOSE OF CREATINEMAINTENANCE DOSE OF CREATINE
Body WeightRange**Body WeightRange**
 Less than 155 lbs 12-16 g Less than 155 lbs 4-8 g
 156 to 175 13-17 g 156 to 175 5-9 g
 176 to 199  14-18 g 176 to 199 6-10 g
 200 to 225  15-19 g 200 to 225 7-11 g
 Above 225  16-20 g Above 225 8-12 g

* Adopted from Creatine: Nature's Muscle Builder by Ray Sahelian, MD (available from Life Enhancement Products for just $9.95.)

**The low number of the range represents 1 hour of training, two to three times per week. Mid-range is 1 hour of training three to four times per week. High range is 2 hours of training five to six times per week. Intensity of effort ranges from low to high.

HOW CREATINE WORKS
The active form of creatine in muscle cells is creatine phosphate (CP). CP works its effect by helping regenerate the vital energy, adenosine tri-phosphate (ATP), needed by muscles to do their work. If you think of ATP as a fuel, creatine phosphate can be thought of as a gasoline additive that gives you more miles per gallon.

ATP is an energy carrier. It helps transform and deliver the energy stored in molecules - such as glucose - to muscle cells where it is needed. As its name implies, adenosine tri-phosphate consists of an adenosine molecule coupled to three phosphate molecules linked via high-energy bonds known as pyrophosphate bonds.8 In a muscle cell, as soon as one of the phosphate linkages is severed by a simple process known as hydrolysis the energy that had been holding the linkage together is released. Having lost one of its phosphate groups, adenosine tri-phosphate (ATP) now becomes adenosine di-phosphate (ADP), with only two phosphate molecules. Creatine, contained in the enzyme creatine kinase, helps speed up the process of energy release by facilitating this reaction. The mini-burst of energy so produced is immediately corralled by enzymes in the muscle cell - via a process called phosphorylation - and is used to fuel the next series of muscular contractions.

If there were an endless supply of ATP, muscle cells could go on pumping all day. But they don't because the body normally keeps only a limited supply of ATP on hand - perhaps enough to fire muscles at maximal energy for only about 10 seconds.

If the original reservoirs of ATP were the only source available, profound fatigue would quickly set in. However, you are able to go for more than 10 seconds, because nature has evolved an efficient means of recycling ATP. All that's needed is creatine phosphate (CP). When a CP molecule meets an ADP molecule, it donates its phosphate group back to the ADP, forming ATP again and releasing a molecule of creatine back into the wild. A portion of this free creatine is converted to creatinine which is excreted through the kidneys.

Regeneration of ATP from ADP keeps you going even longer, but you can guess what happens when your creatine stores run dry. With no creatine phosphate to recycle ADP into ATP and no creatine kinase to speed the release of energy from ATP, your engines grind to a halt, until your body can "refill" its creatine tank.

The body uses the energy produced by this ATP-CP reaction for circumstances that require rapid and immediate energy for maximal performance. Athletes who rely on this source of energy include weight lifters, power lifters, sprinters, martial artists, and now sports athletes.

CREATINE REDUCES LACTIC ACID
Lactic acid is a byproduct of another energy-producing process in muscles known as glycolysis. This process kicks in when the ATP-CP system begins to run out of gas. Elevated lactic acid is recognized as a major cause of fatigue. As lactic acid levels rise with continued muscular effort, the increasing acidity deactivates the enzymes used in glycolysis, thus, limiting the energy available to muscles. Fatigue soon sets in and remains until the system can restore a balance that is more favorable to exercise. By helping to neutralize excess lactic acid, CP makes muscles more resistant to fatigue. As we noted earlier, in one study, creatine supplementation resulted in a 41% drop in lactic acid concentrations in muscle tissue. In another part of the same study, creatine supplementation increased the amount of work performed by 5% while lowering muscle lactate levels by 18%.9

HOW CREATINE HELPS BUILD MUSCLES
The best way to build up your muscles, as any serious athlete or weightlifter knows, is to push them to their limit. It stands to reason that if creatine lets your muscles perform more work for a longer period of time, you're going to be able to stimulate even more muscle growth than you would without creatine. Creatine's muscle-building power seems to lie in its ability to enhance the body's production of two key muscle proteins, myosin and actin. Muscle cells must have adequate amounts of these proteins for continued contraction. The more contractions, the more muscle building.

DIETARY CREATINE IS INSUFFICIENT
The body gets most of its creatine from dietary sources. Not surprisingly, the foods that contain large amounts of creatine are those derived from skeletal muscle, i.e., beef, pork, and fish such as salmon, cod, tuna, and herring. It is unclear whether poultry contains significant amounts of creatine.

While eating these foods can certainly provide you with creatine, there are good reasons why they may not be the best sources. First, cooking destroys some of the creatine in meats. Second, in addition to creatine, meats (especially red meats) tend to contain some fatty acids that are undesirable in excess quantities.

The best way to get your creatine is via creatine supplements made with creatine monohydrate. Although creatine has been known for more than 160 years, we are only just now beginning to understand its true significance. As Dr. Paul Greenhaff of the University of Nottingham recently wrote in a review of creatine research:

"Creatine should not be viewed as another gimmick supplement; its ingestion is a means of providing immediate, significant performance improvements to athletes involved in explosive sports. In the long run, creatine may allow athletes to train without fatigue at an intensity higher than that to which they are accustomed. For these reasons alone, creatine supplementation could be viewed as a significant development in sports nutrition."10

WHEN DO I TAKE IT AND AT WHAT DOSAGE? AND ARE THERE ANY SIDE EFFECTS?
The accumulated data from the studies and anecdotal reports indicate that creatine usage should vary depending on the phase of use: the loading phase (which increases tissue levels to a baseline) and a maintenance phase (which helps to keep you there.) There are several other considerations needed to optimize on your usage of creatine:

  • Your personal goals - what you want to achieve and what you're willing to do;
  • Your physical characteristics - how much muscle you have and your stamina;
  • Your schedule - eating, working patterns, etc.

There are no significant undesirable side effects with the use of creatine. However, some individuals may experience mild diarrhea, flatulence, or cramping. This is more likely to be the case during the loading phase. If any of these symptoms result, you may be using too much. On the upside, to quote Yogi again, "You can observe a lot by watching." That's right! See how you fair. Trade notes with others. Keep your eyes wide open and watch those muscles grow.

References

  1. Boswell T. Baseball's Big Bats Stir Up a Tasty Seasoning. Washington Post. Tuesday, August 4, 1998; Page D1.
  2. Earnest C, Snell P, Rodriguez R, Almada A, Mitchell T. The effect of creatine monohydrate ingestion on anaerobic power indices, muscular strength and body composition. Acta Physiol Scand. 1995;153:207-209.
  3. Balsom P, Sderlund K, Ekblom B. Creatine supplementation and dynamic high-intensity intermittent exercise. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 1993;3:143-149.
  4. Birch R, Noble D, Greenhaff P. The influence of dietary creatine supplementation on performance during repeated bouts of maximal isokinetic cycling in man. Eur J Appl Physiol. 1994;69:268-270.
  5. Balsom P, Sderlund K, Sjodin B, Ekblom B. Skeletal muscle metabolism during short duration high-intensity exercise: influence of creatine supplementation. Acta Physiol Scand. 1995;154:303-310.
  6. Greenhaff P, Bodin K, Harris R, et al. The influence of oral creatine supplementation on muscle phosphocreatine resynthesis following intense contraction in man. J Physiol. 1993;46:75P.
  7. Greenhaff P. Creatine and its applications as an ergonomic aid. Int J Sports Nutrition. 1995;5:S100-S110.
  8. Thrall JH. Technetium-99m labeled agents for skeletal imaging. CRC Crit Rev Clin Radiol Nucl Med. 1976;8(1):1-31.
  9. Balsom P, Sderlund K, Sjodin B, Ekblom B. Skeletal muscle metabolism during short duration high-intensity exercise: influence of creatine supplementation. Acta Physiol Scand. 1995;154:303-310.
  10. Greenhaff P. Creatine and its applications as an ergonomic aid. Int J Sports Nutrition. 1995;5:S100-S110.

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