Should athletes use creatine and protein supplements?

Mr. Frey

Exercise Science

Before one can answer whether or not athletes should use protein and creatine supplements there are a number of other questions that must first be answered. First off, what qualities define and are important for an athlete? Physically, an athlete needs good health to compete and outperform his opposition, whether it is outrunning a wide receiver or setting a new max weightlifting. Mentally, an athlete needs focus and concentration to train properly and to react quickly during competition. Spiritually, an athlete needs indomitable perseverance to keep pushing on when their body says stop. Being as this is a paper about supplements that only affect the body physically, its focus will be on how creatine and protein supplements affect athletes’ health, physiology, and performance, on the differences between natural and supplemented creatine and protein, and what sort of effort and nutrients the body requires to take advantage of these supplements.

Creatine is a nutrient that is naturally produced by and used by the human body, “nearly all of the body’s creatine supply resides within skeletal muscle – where it assists in force generation”  (  Physiologically, as soon as the body’s always ready but very limited supply of ATP (Adenosine triphosphate, which is the chemical used by muscles to generate force) is used up muscle cells begin moving the phosphate group out of stored phosphocreatine and onto ADP, yielding ATP and creatine. “So at this point we’ve moved from 2 – 3 seconds of all-out work (ATP) to almost 10 seconds (ATP + creatine)” (Jenkins, MD. “Creatine Supplementation in Athletes: Review”).  The body can restore the creatine to phosphocreatine, but that process takes about 30 seconds. Because of this it helps lifters to get a few reps of heavy lifts or explosive movements in, “it delays the onset of muscle fatigue, thus allows for longer and powerful workouts” ( therefore putting more rips in the muscles and making them bigger in the restorative muscle growth period (so long as there is enough available protein to rebuild the muscles). Creatine assists muscle building in weightlifting, sprinting, and sports like baseball and football, but does not assist much in endurance training because it assists in the generation of short, powerful bursts of energy. (  Creatine is usually taken “on training days… after your workout. It will not make you nauseous and is best taken at this time in order to replenish lost stores” (Robert DiMaggio).  It is taken post workout because it needs time to be digested in moved to a store where your muscles can readily use it the next time they really exert themselves. A benefit of creatine supplements being post workout powders or sometimes pills is that one doesn’t have to worry about waiting for it to take effect or filling themselves just before the workout with something that could make them nauseous.  However Fitho ( recommends creatine monohydrate to be taken 1 hour before workout, once a day, with 8 ounces of liquid. Creatine has water retaining properties that often make muscles look bigger and bulkier, but when the supplement is let off, the muscles often appear to become smaller.

Protein is used for rebuilding muscle and tissues, red blood cells, finger nails, and for synthesizing hormones.  The way muscle growth works is that when somebody is working out, small rips are being made in the muscle fibers, that’s partially why it hurts, and the term “no pain no gain” was coined.  “Excess protein does NOT build muscle bulk and strength exercise does” (Jenkins, MD. “Protein Requirements for Athletes”).  A common misconception among athletes is that taking supplements will instantly boost their muscle size, while in reality, without a rigorous workout schedule the athlete will not see considerable gains.  Protein is the first substance the body burns for energy, not muscle, but protein.  This is because protein cannot be stored in the body, if it is not used it is sent to the excretory system to be removed.  People using protein powders have to be careful that they are working extremely hard to take advantage of it, otherwise they are sending their money down the tubes.  Dr. Mark A. Jenkins, the director of the student health service and Team physician for Rice University  says that if a person wants to increase their protein consumption they should “increase your intake of beans and rice, lean beef, milk, and yogurt. It’s a much healthier (and cheaper) way to get extra protein”.

Performance enhancing supplements are a controversial topic, as they are surrounded by a cloud of opinions and get huge fast scams.  Some people feel that using supplements is like cheating.  Or that it really isn’t nutritious at all, because it involves the substance being refined, and therefore stripped of the the nutrients necessary in digesting and making the best use of the desired nutrient. A supplement is a nutrient, mineral, or chemical that is added to the diet, typically to make up for a nutritional deficiency. Performance enhancing supplements are compounds directed towards increasing athletic performance. Creatine in particular is a nutrient believed to assist in muscle building (especially heavy sets and explosive type exercises) and is taken regularly by many athletes and muscle builders to build muscle strength.

            Performance  enhancing supplements such as creatine and protein require many other constituent nutrients for the body to take advantage of them.  Protein supplements consist of protein that is stripped of its constituent nutrients— the nutrients that normally accompany it. For example in a chicken breast there is not only protein, but also many other nutrients that assist in its digestion and processing.  This is why whole foods are better than artificial supplements. (Graham, Doug. MD.)

            Athletes should use creatine supplements only if they are participating in explosive power type sports or exercise, but they should never let this become the focus of their exercise.  They are called supplements for a reason, “something added to reinforce a whole” ( as creatine supplements are not required to become strong, they assist in giving  a few more seconds of energy when doing an short, powerful exercise.  If athletes want to add more protein to their diet they shouldn’t resort to protein supplements, as chances are they will end up not making use of all of the protein as the body won’t have the constituent nutrients necessary to take advantage of it, unless they work out incredibly hard to burn off the extra energy protein provides.  It is healthier and cheaper to instead increase the protein in one’s diet by using whole foods.


Jenkins, Mark A. MD. “Creatine Supplementation in Athletes: Review”, “Protein Requirements for Athletes”

Graham, Doug. MD.

Robert DiMaggio.