Can Creatine be termed as a Steroid?
Creatine is a nitrogenous organic acid occurring naturally in all vertebrates. Creatine helps to supply energy to muscle and nerve cells. The body manufactures, stores and uses creatine for pursuits which require bursts of energy – like running at a high speed. Unfortunately creatine reserves within the body can only supply energy from creatine for a very short period of time.
Creatine has quite often been likened to anabolic steroids, because it provides the user with higher amounts of energy and increases lean muscle mass. But nothing could be further from the truth. Though both anabolic steroids and creatine enhance performance, and both are ingested as sports supplements, the basic difference lies in the chemical structure of the two. Anabolic steroids like testosterone are hormones, while creatine is a protein available in the body.
Chemical Structure of Creatine Monohydrate
When this is compared to testosterone – one of the most popular anabolic steroids, distinct differences can be found.
From the structures it is apparent that the linear bonded creatine is different from the helical testosterone.
Steroids are of two varieties – anabolic steroids promote generation of new cells and promote growth. Androgynous steroids are responsible for exerting masculine features in the body, like growth of facial hair and deepening of the voice. Most steroids however have both anabolic and androgynous capabilities. For example testosterone promotes growth and masculine features in males. This is vastly different from the effects of creatine, which in essence, increases ones energy to perform. Thus, a bodybuilder on creatine becomes capable of running an extra mile, or lifting extra weight due to the excess energy within his body. This in turn, helps him develop his body quicker. Creatine also has an effect of absorbing water, which increases the water mass of muscles.
Creatine can be classified as a dietary health supplement, as one can consume, theoretically, enough creatine rich food – like red meat, to substitute supplementation. This cannot be done in the case of steroids, which are released within the human body by specific glands, at specific ages and in specific quantities. To amplify the effects of steroids, they have to be ingested through supplements.
Creatine can be said to be closer to vitamins than steroids or hormones. Since creatine is an amino acid(as can be understood from its structure) it is similar to glutamine, and arginine – both used to enhance performance. Creatine supporters have even claimed that taking creatine is not any more unnatural than taking a multivitamin.
Creatine may not be as harmful for the body as steroids are, but studies on the effect of creatine on the body are limited. According to independent reports, organizations like the WTA, ITF, NBA and FIFA are seeking to ban the use of creatine among their athletes. The International Olympic Committee does not specifically ban creatine but it does ban the use of ergogenic acids. Creatine falls under this group due to its performance enhancing capacities.
Thus, a consultation with a physician is imperative before taking creatine, to verify dosage and length of time one should use creatine.
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