July 10, 2000
Mumbai, July 9: Mary Pierce is built like an arm wrestler, Jennifer Capirati flaunts her `cuts’ and the Williams sisters Serena and Venus will have Salman Khan running for a shirt.
A food supplement called creatine is creating ripples in not only the modern tennis players’ muscles, but also in the way women’s tennis and modern athletics has shaped up. Players who hit harder than any of their predecessors have pushed Martina Navratilova’s supreme athletism to a thing of the past. But despite the added muscle, does creatine make a better tennis player?
Though Capriati has risen once again from the ashes, French Open champion Pierce — a self-confessed user — has remained an also-ran, Martina Hingis has always been a top-rated player while the Williams’ natural athletism needs no supplements.
Naturally, there is no physical comparison between Indian players and those in top-level, international competition but if muscle makes a better player — going by the mantra of the 90s that the harder you hit the more you win — then Indians need it more than anyone else, given the hormonal disadvantage of a smaller built as compared to their western counterparts.
Dr Hima Dalal and Dr Aijaz Ashai, consulting physiotherapists with the Maharashtra State Lawn Tennis Association here, are not convinced that creatine is required to make a better tennis player. As a result, they do not encourage its use to their trainees.
“It’s a supplement that has cosmetic effect,” explained Dr Dalal. “It will give you muscles but what you need is strength and endurance which can be obtained by effective weight training. Furthermore, it has side effects if not accompanied by proper diet and training programme,” she added.
Orthopedic surgeon and specialist in sports medicine, Dr Dilip Nadkarni, agreed. “People like (former Mr Universe) Premchand Dingra never needed anything more than a healthy diet. Creatine gives better muscle mass, explosive energy to muscle, you recover faster after a workout.”
“But I am convinced the age-old methods of akhara and weights are enough for any sportsperson. Though creatine has no proven harmful effects, I would not prescribe it as it is not known if it gives an advantage.”
The effects are primarily short term, explained trainer Firdaus Anklesaria. For example, if a person is lifting weights, creatine supplement an hour prior to exercise increases his ability to lift more weight, for example, with the same number of repetitions as before use.
Though creatine is available in India, it is expensive at approximately Rs 800-850 for 150 grams, putting it clearly out of the range of many prospective users. It’s easily available across the counter in certain sports stores in the form of a powder, pill or liquid, advised to be taken with milk or juice.
Creatine monohydrate is an energy-producing biochemical substance found mainly in muscle cells. When a muscle cell contracts, lots of energy is required and creatine provides more energy for high intensity workouts. Supplements result in greater concentration in muscle cells.
Since creatine is produced naturally in the body, supplements help but can also be obtained from a appropriate diet. The supplement is legalised in the US and a person with createnin (as it is excreted) in urine will not be penalised, which, in turn, is the cause for its widespread use among sportspersons, particularly bodybuilders.
There are apparently no known long-term side-effects though there is potential damage to liver and kidney if taken in improper dosage. “Maybe stomach upsets, diarrhea if taken in excess,” said Dr Nitin Chhoda, a sports medicine specialist.
“It should be taken in the prescribed amounts for six-seven weeks before giving it a break. Prolonged usage could cause harm,” said Chhoda, who is not opposed to the idea of using it.
Dr Dalal recommends other supplements like nutrient bars. “Tennis, for example, needs endurance, energy not cuts.”
Players remain skeptical. While some like National Hardcourt champion J Sai Jayalakshmy are thinking of using supplements, rising hope Sonal Phadke, 18, is likely to start using weights only now. With Dr Dalal and Dr Aijaz as trainers, she is unlikely to use supplements.
Sai said: “I still need guidance though my trainer has recommended creatine. Though I do weights 4-5 days a week, I feel the need for more strength.” But the fear of side effects has kept the Chennai-based player from going headlong into it.
Mumbai’s Fed Cup player Manisha Malhotra felt the need for supplements was a personal decision and she herself never felt the need for it. “I train hard, do weights and with the kind of built I have, never felt the need for creatine. I don’t know how helpful it is, but the decision to use it personal,” she said.
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