If you’ve ever stepped foot in a gym or met anyone who lifts weights, then you’ve probably heard of or tried creatine supplements. Known to help lifters make gains, creatine has had a cult-like following since the 70s when sports scientists recognized it as a powerful performance enhancer.
Since then it’s been marketed in pills, powders and drinks. And as with most things that are heavily marketed and branded, creatine has become a supplement that people either love for its ability to help you reach your goals or feared for consequently making you fat. In an effort to gain some clarity on this complicated supplement, let’s take a look at what creatine is and see if it’s something that you should incorporate into your fitness regimen.
What is creatine?
Simply put, creatine is a non-essential amino acid made in the liver, pancreas and kidneys. It is then converted to phosphocreatine and then stored in your muscles and brain where it is later used for energy when your body needs it. Natural sources of creatine include animal proteins like seafood and red meat, making supplements especially popular among vegetarians who lack this nutrient in their diet.
Creatine is one of the most widely studied nutritional supplements, and decades of research has shown that it benefits athletes who require short bursts of energy. The extra energy that it provides allows lifters to push just a little more weight or a few more reps, and sprinters that little nudge that helps them lead the pack in practice. This leads to bigger, stronger muscles and faster gains, so it’s no surprise that athletes often take creatine orally to improve athletic performance and increase muscle mass.
Will it make me fat?
One thing that makes people shy away from using creatine is the possibility of weight gain. As an osmotically active substance, creatine pulls water into the cells of your muscles, increasing protein synthesis, but also often causing you to gain between 2 to 4 pounds of water weight. The good news is that if you consistently continue to increase your workouts, the subsequent gains come from the increase in lean muscle due to the growth of muscle fibers that creatine helps create.
If water weight becomes an issue for you, try decreasing your intake to the lowest dose. A study reported by “Nutrition” found that as little as 2.3 grams of creatine daily could effectively give you the boost you need without the added weight gain. Feel free to adjust your dose, within the allotted limits, and see what works best for your body.
Is creatine safe?
All of the research states that creatine is safe, but as with all supplements, you should consult your physician if you have any concerns before adding it to your daily regimen. Some known side effects include dehydration, cramps and upset stomach. People with known kidney problems have also experienced an increase of their symptoms. The reports are rare, but make sure you drink plenty of water to help your body process the supplement and support kidney function. And remember, too much of anything can be harmful, so make sure you follow the recommended dosing. Creatine comes in many forms, but studies show that powder form is the best, as liquid and pill form tend to breakdown in your bloodstream and be less effective.
Do the work!
Research supports the fact that creatine supplementation will increase strength and lean muscle mass when used as part of a resistance training program, as well as high-intensity activities like sprints or HIIT. However, it’s important to remember that no matter how much or what form of creatine you take, it’s not a miracle supplement that will give you superhero-like muscles overnight. Only when it’s used as part of a quality training program will you get results. When taken correctly, creatine can be a powerful addition to your workout regimen.