Do Supplements Give Athletes an Edge?
Creatine for Reps
Are you a sprinter or weight lifter? Creatine monohydrate could help with these and other repeated short bouts of intense exercise. It doesn’t seem to benefit players of other types of sports. And, like studies of many supplements, not all studies show that it benefits athletes.
Your body makes creatine naturally, and your muscles use it to do high-intensity exercise. When you do a lot of reps, you use up your natural store of it. That’s one reason your tenth rep is so much harder than your first. A supplement boosts the amount your body has to work with. You also can get creatine from beef and pork. If you already eat plenty of these, you won’t notice as much of a difference from a supplement as a vegetarian might notice.
“For very short-term bouts of exercise, creatine supplementation seems to aid in recovery,” says Thomas Sherman, PhD, professor in pharmacology and physiology at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, DC.
Experts consider creatine safe for healthy people. Some people take a higher dose for the first week -- about four servings of 5 grams each per day -- to “load” their muscles with the supplement. Then they drop to a “maintenance” dose of about 2 grams per day. Others skip the loading phase and start with the lower dose.
Some studies have shown that creatine could increase fat and not muscle. There’s also evidence that high doses could cause kidney, liver, or heart damage, but it's unclear how much might be too much.
Beta-Alanine for Burning Muscles
When you do short bouts of exercise at maximum effort for 30 to 90 seconds (think indoor cycling classes), your muscles make a lot of lactic acid. That’s what makes you “feel the burn.” Athletes take beta-alanine in a capsule or a drink powder to curb that burn so they can push through their workout.
Does it work? Cyclists and runners who took beta-alanine for 4 weeks improved their game in scientific studies. But not all studies agree.
“Some studies show a benefit. Others don’t,” Rankin says. “So it’s not completely clear yet. We need more studies on it, but it’s not one that I’m worried about people trying.”