Did you ever wonder why sprinters and other athletes take creatine to enhance their performance? Or where creatine comes from? Or whether it is better to drink water or sports drinks while you are exercising? Or what is the difference between “good” fats and “bad” fats? Or why you need fats at all in your diet? Or why the weight-loss aid ephedrine has not only been classified as a prohibited substance in competition by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) but also banned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)?
This case study collection will help you to answer these questions as you gain a deeper understanding of the relevant underlying chemical concepts. You will first read a pair of scenarios illustrating two sides of a story about creatine, ephedrine, fats and fitness, or dehydration and overhydration. You will then link to online tutorials and activities that will help you to make connections between these real-life examples and the chemistry that you learn about in class.

Case Studies

Creatine supplementation, in combination with resistance exercise, has been used therapeutically to increase muscular strength and fat free mass in a young man suffering from muscle weakness caused by an autoimmune disease. However, an otherwise healthy young male weight lifter following a similar creatine supplementation regimen was hospitalized with acute abdominal pain, excessive thirst, and frequent urination resulting from kidney failure. How does creatine use help to build muscle and enhance athletic performance? What are the risks? Through these case studies we will address these questions as we explore the concepts of chemical equilibrium, organic synthesis, chemical analysis, amino acids, and ATP production in the body.

Ephedrine has been used both as a weight-loss supplement and as a performance enhancer in sports. The dangers of ephedrine use were brought to the forefront in 2003 by the untimely deaths of two healthy young athletes—one high-school and one professional—after taking ephedrine. Ephedrine has since been banned by the FDA as a weight loss supplement and prohibited for use in competition by the WADA. Pseudoephedrine, a related compound, is often found in cold medication and until recently was banned by the International Olympic Committee. As a result, in 2000 an Olympic gymnast was stripped of her all-around individual gold medal after testing positive for pseudoephedrine. Surprisingly, ephedrine and pseudoephedrine look like the same molecule in two dimensions. However, when we examine these molecules in three dimensions, we see that they are in fact different. Through these case studies we will learn about stereochemistry, optical activity, and analytical techniques to determine the presence of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine in the body.

Fats & Fitness
Cross country runners want to be lean and strong; any extra weight makes it harder to achieve fast times over long distances. Some distance runners believe that they need to minimize fat in their diets in order to achieve personal records. However, too little dietary fat poses a variety of health risks. On the other hand, eating too much of the wrong kinds of fats leads to other health risks, including coronary artery disease and atherosclerosis, which have claimed the lives of several highly trained athletes. What are the effects of too little dietary fat? What about too much dietary fat? How does cholesterol fit in? We will explore the different types of dietary fats—including “good” fats and “bad” fats—as well as the biosynthesis of fats and cholesterol in the body.

Fluid Replacement
Athletes need to stay hydrated during exercise, but too much water can also cause problems. Dehydration has had devastating effects on professional athletes in a variety of sports, including football, wrestling, cycling, and triathlon. Overhydration, which sometimes occurs among distance athletes in cycling and running, has many of the same symptoms as dehydration and can be equally devastating. How much water do you need to stay adequately hydrated during exercise? Are sports drinks beneficial? To understand these contrasting cases, we will explore the properties of homogeneous and heterogeneous solutions, including the concepts of osmosis, ionic strength, colligative properties, and Henry’s Law.

Relavent Chemical Concepts
1. amino acids (creatine case study)
2. analytical techniques used in drug-testing (ephedrine case study)
3. ATP production in the body (creatine case study)
4. biosynthesis of fats and cholesterol in the body (fats & fitness case study)
5. chemical analysis (creatine case study)
6. chemical equilibrium (creatine case study)
7. colligative properties (fluid replacement case study)
• boiling point elevation
• freezing point depression
• vapor pressure lowering
8. dietary fats (fats & fitness case study)
9. Henry’s Law (fluid replacement case study)
10. heterogeneous solutions (fluid replacement case study)
11. homogeneous solutions (fluid replacemen case studyt)
12. ionic strength (fluid replacement case study)
13. optical activity (ephedrine case study)
14. organic synthesis (creatine case study)
15. osmosis/osmotic pressure (fluid replacement case study)
16. stereochemistry (ephedrine case study)


Support for the Case Studies Project

  • The Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation
  • Quinnipiac University
    • School of Health Sciences
    • College of Arts and Sciences
    • Interdisciplinary Research Project
    • STAR Program