Rick Peterson, director of pitching development for the Baltimore Orioles and an MLB coach for 30 years, recalled addressing pitchers in training camp for a team many years ago. After talking about conditioning, Peterson brought up the topic of sports supplements. He asked the large group if any of them used creatine.
Just about all the hands went up. Then he asked, "What is creatine?" The response was a group shrug and a chorus of "I don't know."
Since that time, a bottle labeled androstenedione, a testosterone-producing supplement, was found in Mark McGwire's locker in 1998 and the baseball world was forever changed by the revelation of performance-enhancing drugs. With stringent drug testing and the threat of suspensions and fines, players are much more diligent about what they ingest to try to improve their performance particularly in the final weeks of the playoffs. But once the season is over, preparation -- including workouts, diets and supplementation -- begins for the opening of camps just a few months away in February.
While the Giants' Melky Cabrera and Bartolo Colon of the A's were suspended for 50 games after positive tests for testosterone this season, many players have made safer, legal choices with their supplements. Creatine, a legal dietary supplement that is not banned by Major League Baseball, is an amino acid that, according to studies, improves lean muscle mass and strength, and it is popular among baseball players.
In addition to creatine, players take a variety of legal concoctions in their quest to hit the ball farther, throw pitches harder and have the energy to last from off-season workouts through the playoffs.
Nick Swisher is among the many players who choose Assault by MusclePharm as a supplement in their off-season workout plans. The powdered substance contains creatine, other amino acids including arginine, B vitamins and minerals including calcium.
"So many things are off limits now and you have to be very careful what you take," Swisher said during this season. "This is just something to get you going. We play 162 games in 183 days and it can be a grind."
Swisher said he also takes omega-3 fatty acids and multivitamins, glucosamine and chondroitin.
Omega-3 fatty acids are found in seafood like salmon and tuna, and studies have shown that they may lower risk of heart disease, cancer and arthritis. Glucosamine and chondroitin, two substances that occur naturally in the body, are sold as nutritional supplements with claims that they may strengthen ligaments and cartilage.
Bryce Harper, the Washington Nationals 19-year-old rookie phenom, has used MusclePharm products, in addition to a diet based on lean protein and vegetables.
MusclePharm supplements are tested by Informed Choice of Lexington, Ky., which certifies products for various sports leagues to insure there are no prohibited ingredients. NSF International of Ann Arbor, Mich., also tests and certifies supplements for baseball and other sports. EAS Inc., formerly known as Experimental & Applied Sciences, and CytoSport are other companies that supply products to baseball players and are approved by NSF.
Clayton Richard, the San Diego Padres pitcher who became the team's ace this season with 14 wins, uses EAS Phos Force and EAS 100% Whey Protein. EAS products are made by Abbott Laboratories based in Chicago. The nutrients in Phos Force include caffeine and creatine.
Clayton feels the supplements have contributed to his success this season.
"They help me to maintain lean mass and stay healthy," he said.
Players can buy supplements on their own or through their teams, usually through the trainers and strength coaches.
The Mets' Bobby Parnell noticed that other players were using MusclePharm supplements in spring training.
"It's a nutritional supplement that a lot of guys are taking now," Parnell said earlier this season. "A lot of guys are talking about it right now. It's the new thing."
Stephanie Wilson, head of nutrition at International Management Group Academies in Bradenton Fla., said players favor creatine, casein and whey protein, caffeine, the amino acid arginine, in addition to fish oils and multivitamins and nitric oxide, a substance that enhances blood flow and delivers oxygen to the muscles.
Wilson is a registered dietitian and a certified sports nutritionist, and players who work out at the IMF facility in the off-season include Josh Hamilton, Andrew McCutchen, Joe Mauer and Joey Votto. Wilson monitors the supplements the players have been taking and makes suggestions to help separate fact from fad. Not all powders and pills may add to a player's batting average or power stroke.
"There's a lot of good evidence about creatine monohydrate improving explosive power output for athletes, so I feel that's appropriate," she said.
"Multivitamins are recommended to be taken every day by the American Medical Association, and some athletes don't have the best diet so that's probably O.K. But a lot of products they're taking are already fortified with vitamins, so they can end up having way too many vitamins, which could be negative for their performance."
Wilson said an example of an athlete taking too high a dose of a supplement without supervision often involves vitamin C which can lead a player to producing runs of another kind.
"Too much vitamin C can give you diarrhea," she said. "You might not think that's a big deal but it can obviously dehydrate an athlete, make him uncomfortable and mess up his electrolytes."
Electrolytes are minerals in blood and other body fluids that carry an electric charge and affects the amount of water in the body and muscle function.
Many players use creatine, and teams and their training staffs are cautious about the substance. Some believe that it can cause muscle pulls and cramps, and possibly be connected to the recent rash of oblique strains.
"There's still a lot of gray area with it," said John Hart, the former general manager for the Cleveland Indians and Texas Rangers who is a senior adviser for the Rangers and an analyst for the MLB Network. "It's been touted, and there is a feeling that you can do more reps and that it's going to enhance muscle strength.
"On the negative side, it can lead to cramping, retention of water leading to muscle pulls and dehydration. Many trainers feel strongly that there has not been a definitive situation for it. We don't promote using creatine, but a lot of players kind of do their own thing."
Dr. Andrew D. Pearle, a sports medicine orthopedic surgeon at the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan, warns that the heavy use of creatine can lead to muscle pulls, including the obliques, if a player is not hydrating properly. The obliques are flat muscles that extend from the rib cage to the pelvis and are used in hitting, throwing and pitching motions.
"Creatine is a natural source of energy for muscles to contract," he said. "It's a chemical stored in muscle used in activity. It's something that's made by the body. How much you can augment your muscle by eating it is not yet entirely clear.
"There's some thought that if you can increase the amount of creatine that you take in, you may increase the amount of creatine in muscles. But it's not really been proven. It's almost akin to saying I'm growing bald so let me eat some hair so I can grow some hair."
Pearle said the lifestyle of players can lead to unhealthy complications with the supplement. Pearle said flying, with pressurized cabins and low humidity, jet lag and playing in the sun compounds the trouble. Players should not take creatine haphazardly, but coordinate the amounts and hydration needs with trainers and the team medical staff.
"The athletes need to know how to stay hydrated and the trainers need to know how to monitor it," Pearle said. "One of the concerns with baseball is that they're traveling all the time and they may not stay as hydrated as they ought to and then they take creatine on top of that. And it becomes a problem."
Just like the fans in the stands, searching for a magic herb or drink to lose weight or ease anxiety, players are prone to believing late-night television ads and gym gossip.
"I've seen players using deer antler formulas and MonaVie," Wilson said.
MonaVie is a beverage company involved in several lawsuits regarding false claims about its products.
Although players might be curious about substances that might help their game, they must be diligent about checking with team officials and training staff about any supplements.
"Supplementation can be a very gray area," Hart said. "You can't take something because you heard about it from your Uncle Joe or your best friend Bobby that's a body builder.
"Circle Ryan Braun."
Braun, the Milwaukee Brewers outfielder who was the National League's Most Valuable Player in 2011, failed a test for performance-enhancing drugs in last December. He successfully appealed the test and avoided a suspension.
"You have to stay on top if it," Hart said. "Submit it to the trainer and let's get approval before you go there."
There are the players who eschew supplements and go natural.
Mark Teixeira of the Yankees tries to eliminate all processed foods and eat organic meals. The first baseman drinks Juice Press organic whole juices every day. He has them sent in dry ice from stores in New York.
"I liked it so much I bought a piece of the company and we are going to open one near me in Connecticut so i don't have to go into the city to get it," Teixeira said. "What you want to do by avoiding by eating processed foods is to try and get all that animal protein out of you, and it really makes you feel good."
Jason Bay of the Mets adheres to a strict diet as well.
"I don't take anything but I am very careful about what I eat," he said. "I try to be as organic as possible and not eat any processed foods."
Mike Pelfrey, the Mets pitcher who is rehabbing from surgery to repair a partially torn ligament in his elbow, is not a supplement fan and goes with what comes naturally.
"Look at me," he said. "If I were using a supplement and looked like this, I would want my money back."
Players weren't always so sophisticated about what they ingested to help their game.
Wade Boggs ate chicken before every game for strength, although his diet came to blur the line between super-nutrition and superstition.
Johnny Bench, the Reds Hall of Fame catcher, fueled up on Mexican food and McDonald's.
"I take more vitamins now than I ever did as a player," said Bench, 64.
Hank Aaron wondered why players needed any substances -- legal or illegal -- when he preferred sweets.
"If I wanted more power, I would just eat an extra doughnut with my coffee," Aaron told The New York Times.
While today's players might may see the need to take powders and pills for an edge, one has managed to succeed longer than any of them and seems to have found that the fountain of youth does not spew out any health elixirs.
"I never felt the need to take health supplements," said Jamie Moyer, a 49-year-old lefty who pitched for the Colorado Rockies this season before he was released in May.
And he still had enough energy to try latching on with the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays organizations this season before he was let go.
"I eat right, I exercise, and still, at the age of 49, manage to get up in the morning full of energy, excited about what the day will bring," Moyer said. "Call it good genes. Call it what you want. It works for me."
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