Amid the many interesting elements of the full ITF statement regarding Marin Cilic’s recent drugs ban was the revelation that the Croat had begun taking Creatine. As the ITF explained, Creatine is a supplement that reportedly improves energy levels over time and boosts muscle power. But, it tastes nasty so Cilic combined it with glucose powder to make it more palatable and help his body to absorb it more easily.
This led to his declaration that his mother had bought over-the-counter glucose tablets, which as we now know, contained Nikethamide, a banned substance. Cilic subsequently failed a drugs test and was banned for nine months. The ins and outs of the Cilic case will continue to be debated as the former world No 9’s case goes to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
It was interesting to hear he was using Creatine. Though it is not on Wada’s banned list of substances, it has a controversial past with suggestions that its possible side-effects could outweigh its supposed benefits. Produced naturally in the body, it helps supply energy to the body, especially the muscles. Tennis players, like any sportsmen and women, can benefit from extra strength so that makes them potential users. In the late 1990s, Mary Pierce sported a huge pair of biceps and was open about her use of Creatine, which by then had already begun being used by Arsenal Football Club and was in widespread use in Italian football.
The sale of Creatine was banned in France but one of the country’s leading footballers in the 1990s and 2000s, Zinedine Zidane, admitted to using it while playing in Italy. In 2002, the then French sports minister claimed Creatine had known cancer-causing effects and called it for it to be added to the banned list.
A survey in 1998 by The Independent newspaper suggested that 57 percent of “leafing British sportsmen” admitted using Creatine and on hearing Cilic’s admission, the question is: how many other tennis players are taking the stuff? In this era when the limits of human physicality are continually being pushed, we know that most top players take a combination of supplements designed to improve performance. Since it’s not banned, they are not breaking any rules if they take Creatine but with the health concerns, albeit unproven, they may be taking a risk if they do. Experts are divided on whether Creatine is a health risk but some say it can lead to weight gain, which inevitably will have to be managed in other ways.
In 1999, Pierce said: “The thing about Creatine is it really helps recovery. It helps when you lift weights, run hard, and it helps to rebuild the muscle tissues and the fibres you tear a little bit. It just gives you a little bit of extra energy that you feel like maybe you don’t have, so you can push yourself a little more.”
Bob Brett, the former coach of Cilic who back in July confirmed rumours of the failed test coming out of Croatia at the time, said something that struck me as interesting. “As a health issue we don’t know what (the drugs) are doing to our bodies,” he told The Tennis Space at the time. “There may turn out to be (side-effects) in future…it’s very hard, a doctor might give something that’s not going to be positive now but could be later.
Creatine may not be banned by Wada but there is a lot of controversy around it and it would be fascinating to hear how many other top players use it. Watch this space.