Here is a real conversation I had a few days ago: We were talking about an actor who had suddenly gotten fairly muscular. I said it had happened so fast that drugs were probably involved.
“So he’s on steroids?”
I’m tired of seeing creatine defamed in these streets! She’s a humble supplement. She’s not exactly directly represented in the food pyramid, but nor is she a threat on the life of your favorite athletes framing them up to fail a drug test. So let’s straighten a few things out.
What even is creatine? Creatine (what you buy in stores now is almost universally creatine monohydrate; this basically means it can absorb quickly) helps muscles store more energy in the form of glycogen, as well as more fluid. Creatine occurs naturally in meats like beef, chicken, salmon, and tuna. Steak, for instance, has just over 2 grams of creatine per pound. (Most people supplement creatine at about 5 grams per day.) If you were a car, creatine minorly upgrades the gas tank, and also perhaps gives you a few more horsepower. This means you will probably be able to work out longer in the gym, squeeze out a couple more reps in the gym, and be a little less fatigued while you do it. It is great to take while you are trying to build strength or put on muscle (or both). It is one of the good powders.
Here is one rule of thumb: If you can buy it on GNC or bodybuilding.com, it’s not a performance-enhancing drug (PED), and it’s definitely not a steroid. Despite how many actors are taking them now, PEDs are still a gray/black-market substance; you cannot buy them off the shelf at a reputable store. This is all not to say there aren’t weird websites where you can buy dangerous or relatively untested stuff; SARMs are pretty widely available online, for instance.[^1]
That also doesn’t mean that everything you can buy in a store is necessarily safe to consume in whatever amount you see fit; you can take a dangerous amount of vitamin A, even. More of everything, even vitamins, is not always better. (More to the point: the FDA regulates supplement safety, not efficacy, and mostly only after the fact. It’s only when people start to get sick or die that the U.S. government begins to go to supplement brands and say, “hey man—it was deeply uncool of you to simply sell this substance in stores.” America! Land of the free!)
But literally one of the best measures we have of the safety and utility of a supplement is how long it’s been around, and how much it’s been tested and researched. Creatine has been around a while, and it is extremely safe, virtually all upsides. It’s safe for people with healthy kidneys. Taking creatine can cause minor bloating while bodies sort of rebalance the way they retain fluid, but it’s usually temporary.
I still have creatine in my house. I’m not currently taking it, but I did for years while I was cutting and bulking, and it helped with both. I would just put it in my oatmeal. I’m still here and alive. I’ve never failed a drug test. My heart remains un-enlarged. I’m not going bald. Skin clear, kidney function as pristine as a mountain spring. So the next time your friend who doesn’t lift skeptically holds up your jar of creatine and says they are worried about you, you can just laugh a little laugh to yourself and keep on doing your squats.
Some follow-up from last week when I interviewed stein-holding state champ Sophia Agostinelli:
- What I learned competing in an Oktoberfest stein-holding event
- The U.S. Steinholding Association’s guide on how to train for steinholding
- A great many of you wrote in to say that the German word for “muscle soreness” is Muskelkater, which translates to “muscle hangover.”
Stronger By Science: Why do sumo deadlifts seem easier than conventional deadlifts? (Here, “easier” means “most of the top deadlifters seem to pull sumo instead of conventional.”) The short answer is it’s basically a sampling bias: people who already are built for deadlifting in terms of their limb lengths find an even bigger advantage in sumo. This doesn’t make sumo easier for everyone over conventional.
Baby-holding accessories, presumably done for max time.
How to take in the waist of jeans. This video must be overselling how simple this would be, yet I am compelled…
Trawling the internet mines this week, I ran across this oldie but goodie: a 2010 Marie Claire piece on the disordered behavior of trendy “healthy living bloggers,” (read: women who ran a lot and ate very little; who can relate?). I vaguely recall the piece generating a lot of backlash and defensiveness from the bloggers’ fandoms, but in the long run, the piece was right. Sometimes the truth is hard to hear when it hits close to home.
Tressie McMillan Cottom on how Ozempic can’t fix what our culture has broken. And a maybe only partially baked point from financial blogger Matt Levine: Is a drug that reduces overall consumption bad for “business?” (quotes mine).
The Mary Sue posted a nice succinct blog on why BetterHelp is bad. Nice for reference, should you find yourself saying “maybe it couldn’t hurt to try” after hearing the billionth BetterHelp podcast ad.
I really liked Beckham. That man: he’s very good at soccer, and handsome to boot! Thank god he’s finally getting some attention.
Technically, that NYC flooding several days ago was “mild.”
Neko Case on aging.
[In] the disastrous twenty years that followed 9/11, Susan Sontag was the rare public intellectual who tried to express a degree of nuance and historical context in the days following the attacks… It took years for Sontag’s posthumous reputation to fully recover and for her warnings to seem like retroactive common sense—years during which America launched two catastrophic full-scale invasions, established ongoing secret wars spanning a dozen countries, set up a transnational network of torture camps and a prison in Cuba that exists outside the reach of the Constitution, built a dystopian digital panopticon to spy on literally everyone, and killed orders of magnitude more civilians than died on 9/11 itself.
If you don’t know what all that’s referring to: Listen to season one of Blowback.
Isaac Chotiner speaks to Hamas expert Tareq Baconi:
This is the first time I have been interviewed by The New Yorker, and it’s happening because Israelis were killed. What happened when Palestinians were killed in the thousands, just in the fifteen years that I’ve been covering Hamas? And so, when we really want to think about what this driver of violence is—and the pictures that have been coming out are sickening—we need to understand that colonial violence instills dehumanization both in the oppressor and in the oppressed.
That’s all for this week! I love you for reading, thank you, let’s go—
[F1] A thing we’ve forgotten about the internet, but are re-learning pretty quickly, is that anyone can say anything online about any product, sell it to you, and disappear like a thief in the night when the thing you bought turns out to be garbage.