Creatine – useful but not miraculous
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I started lifting weights when I was a senior in high school. I am now 23, and I think I have reached a plateau. I haven’t made much progress this past year, and I was making huge gains previously. I increased my workout time, but that hasn’t made a difference.
A friend suggests I take creatine. What is it? Is it safe? It’s not banned by any sports authority, is it? I am thinking of entering competitions if I can get back on track. What’s the dose? I appreciate any information you can provide. — J.M.
ANSWER: Don’t think of creatine as a miracle product. It’s an energy molecule. Close to 95 percent of the body’s creatine is found in muscles. It keeps them working when they have to perform hard work in short intervals, the kind of work and exercise involved in lifting weights. It delays muscle fatigue and allows the exerciser to work longer and harder.
It also appears to spur muscle growth when it’s combined with a weightlifting program. Even people 65 years old and older experienced increase muscle growth by taking it.
I am speaking of creatine monohydrate. There are other forms, but I don’t know if they provide the same benefits as the monohydrate does. You can find this product in health-food stores and even in some drugstores.
Creatine is a food supplement, not a drug. It’s not banned by any sports authority.
It appears to be safe. A few users complained of stomach upset, and some felt it induced muscle cramps, but those effects were few and far between.
An often-recommended dose is 5 grams taken four times a day for five days, or 2 grams taken daily for about four weeks. The instructions for how to take it and how much to take should be on the label. Creatine is not supposed to be a lifelong supplement. Use it as I indicated and see what happens. If it brings results, you can use it again down the road.
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: It took me six months of hard work to get into shape. Because of an injury, I am sidelined for at least two months. How much of my fitness will I lose over those two months? — B.M.
ANSWER: How quickly individuals become deconditioned depends on their level of conditioning when they’re forced to take a break. For example, highly trained strength athletes have little loss of their fitness after 18 days without any exercise. The same goes for endurance athletes, like marathon runners.
At the other end of the spectrum are the less well-conditioned. People who took up biking as exercise for eight weeks and then stopped their training for eight weeks lost all the training effect they had gained.
I’d say you should count on having to take at least two months to recover your former fitness level. You’ll have to start out slowly, well below the intensity you used before the enforced rest.
People who have to cut back on their training but who can still maintain some exercise can minimize their losses. If people have been exercising hard three days a week and then find that they can exercise only once a week, they can hold on to almost all their gains with that one session.
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I know when to eat before exercise or before a game. When is the best time after exercise? Is there such a time? Or can you just eat when it’s convenient? — B.D.
ANSWER: If you take in a high-carbohydrate meal within 60 minutes of exercise, your muscles replenish their glycogen rapidly. Glycogen is stored muscle sugar. It’s the muscle’s primary source of fuel.
If you can’t have a full meal within 60 minutes, you can still replenish glycogen by taking a carbohydrate load. Energy bars and sports drinks provide a good supply of carbohydrates. So do most fruits.
Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Readers may also order health newsletters from

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