Recently, a great opportunity presented itself for me to “vent” regarding a scenario that presents itself in the media all too often. Around the third week of August, news reports out of Oregon told the story that thirteen high school football players were hospitalized for some form of muscle condition. While the cause of the scenario was and remains largely unknown, the smoking gun from some news reports were pointed at the nutritional supplement creatine monohydrate. See it turns out that a few of the players had been reported taking the supplement just the same as, oh let’s throw out a conservative estimate, the other 500,000 competitive and recreational athletes in the world that take it on a daily basis. It was a great story! “Muscle builder destroys muscle tissue in high school football players!” I saw the story on whatever major network morning show I was watching that morning. Big huge jugs of protein and creatine monohydrate powder followed by clips of guys resistance training and drinking some liquid out of a shaker cup followed by a conservative health care practitioner who likely knows nothing about creatine except for what she read on Wikipedia that morning.
So let’s decompose this story and the many wrongs made by communication professionals that morning and the days after it. First off, they didn’t gather other valuable information. Instead to impress an editor or power figure above them, they went with the story. Never mind that it was a 1st year football coach who had his players at what they called an “immersion camp”. While immersion camp sounds trendy, the fact is the players completed workouts in the school’s wrestling room which was reported to have been 115 degrees inside the room at times during the workouts. Are you serious? A beginner coach has his players work out in an environment that is comparable to running a marathon through Death Valley and you are going to blame a nutritional supplement. That’s laughable! Does someone not see something wrong with that? I exercise regularly and if I went out and completed a two-hour plus workout involving hitting and sprinting in that kind of heat I would experience substantially increased muscle damage as well.
The second mistake is that no meaningful attempt could have been made to find scientifically derived information on the impact of creatine supplementation during hot and humid environments. For example, a search of Pub Med (the world’s leading database of biomedical related research) using the key words “creatine, exercise, heat, dehydration” quickly provided 4-5 recently published studies or reviews outlining the role creatine may play in this environmental scenario. For example, a 2009 review concluded that creatine supplementation has no identifiable role in heat-related exercise injuries (Lopez, Casa et al. 2009). Similarly, Dalbo et al. concluded that no reasonable evidence exists to link creatine supplementation with heat injuries and in fact may be a favorable due to its ability to help draw more water inside the cell (Dalbo, Roberts et al. 2008). In as early as 2003, a large study performed in collegiate athletes throughout their entire training year at university in South Central U.S. (it tends to be hot and humid down there) concluded that creatine supplementation had no apparent role (Greenwood, Kreider et al. 2003; Greenwood, Kreider et al. 2003). Lastly, none of these so-called professionals thought to call one of the many professionals who research this topic. In fact, a press release by the ISSN (International Society of Sports Nutrition) was developed and launched to help combat this unprofessional display of communications. In summary, I know the supplement world isn’t perfect. Oftentimes formulations are unfounded, overmarketed and under-researched, but creatine is an exception. More importantly, if you are given the power to report the news then at least use your brain enough to do some research or contact an expert to get the real story before spewing some sensationalized garbage through your provided venue. For a moment, we were all in the year 1990 and for many reasons, I don’t want to go through that again.
Dalbo, V. J., M. D. Roberts, et al. (2008). “Putting to rest the myth of creatine supplementation leading to muscle cramps and dehydration.” Br J Sports Med 42(7): 567-573.
Greenwood, M., R. B. Kreider, et al. (2003). “Cramping and Injury Incidence in Collegiate Football Players Are Reduced by Creatine Supplementation.” J Athl Train 38(3): 216-219.
Greenwood, M., R. B. Kreider, et al. (2003). “Creatine supplementation during college football training does not increase the incidence of cramping or injury.” Mol Cell Biochem 244(1-2): 83-88.
Lopez, R. M., D. J. Casa, et al. (2009). “Does creatine supplementation hinder exercise heat tolerance or hydration status? A systematic review with meta-analyses.” J Athl Train 44(2): 215-223.