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A fairly new dietary supplement now available in health food shops. It caused excitement when used by the British track and field competitors in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics - with seemingly beneficial results.

Creatine is allowed in the world of athletics, as it's not a steroid or a drug, but a natural chemical that's synthesised in the body from the three amino acids - arginine, methionine and glycine. It's mainly stored in the skeletal muscles as phosphocreatine, the precursor of ATP, the body's prime energy chemical.

Creatine is a part of a system that supplies immediate energy, and creatine supplements can produce a burst of energy. Creatine can speed up recovery, thus enabled more frequent exercise.

The richest dietary sources of creatine are meat and fish, especially beef, which contains 2g per pound.

Typically, about 2g a day are normally synthesised by the body and an additional 2g can come from food metabolism.

To increase sports performance, creatine supplements are usually taken in 5g doses, 1-4 times a day, depending on whether the athlete is starting to load the muscles with creatine or just maintaining its level. Absorption is greatly improved when taken with insulin-releasing carbohydrates, such as grape juice. Vegetarian diets have a low level of creatine. For more information on nutrition, see 'Nutrients A to Z' by Dr. Michael Sharon (Prion Books).

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