The products have not been ratified by the Food and Drug Administration in America and there is little knowledge of potential side effects. But sales have increased 10-fold in the past six months.
Increased energy levels, faster recovery and an ability to train harder and longer are the stated benefits - similar to those gained by using anabolic steroids. There is no questioning of the legality of creatine as it is naturally made by the body in the liver and is also found in our diet. Beef, pork, herrings and salmon contain between two and three grams per pound; an average, healthy male has approximately 120 grams of creatine stored in his body.
But there is increasing concern over the quantities that people are taking, and the effects on the kidney, pancreas and liver. The body normally makes two grams of creatine a day to replenish what is expended during work and exercise - but the initial dosage for some of the products is 20 grams a day.
This high level is recommended for a week before dropping to five grams. Jacques Kallis, the South African Test cricketer who recently signed a two-year contract with Glamorgan, started a three-month course in November. Since then his performances have catapulted him into consideration as the best all-rounder in the world. His body shape has undoubtedly changed dramatically: in a short space of time he has added considerable bulk to his upper body.
High profile users such as Kallis and Bobby Skinstad, the current darling of South African rugby, have raised public awareness of creatine. "We have all types of sportspeople using the products as they have seen the effects on their heroes," said Nick Preston, the Western Cape distribution agent for one of the larger suppliers in South Africa. "They want bodies and strength like these guys and to improve their own performances, and the quickest way to do that is to use more creatine.
Ranging between 250 and 650 rand (pounds 26) for a month's supply, the product certainly is not cheap, particularly considering the lack of study involving its use. "Until someone suffers we won't know the effects," says Preston. "And that will only come with time."
A doctor's view, Sport, p13Reuse content