Creatine Benefits, Risks, Effects and Dosage
Creatine is a substance that is found naturally in muscle cells. It helps your muscles produce energy during heavy lifting or high-intensity exercise.
Creatine is a naturally-occurring amino acid (protein building block) that can be found in foods like meat and fish, and also made by the human body in the liver, kidneys, and pancreas.
It is converted into creatine phosphate or phosphocreatine and stored in the muscles, where it is used for energy.
During high-intensity, short-duration exercise, such as lifting weights or sprinting, phosphocreatine is converted into ATP, a major source of energy within the human body.
Supplementing On Creatine
Creatine happens to be one of, if not the most popular sports supplements in the world for mass gain. Creatine supplements are very popular among body builders and competitive athletes.
The reason body builders and athletes fancy creatine is that it may increase lean muscle mass and enhance athletic performance, particularly during high-intensity, short-duration sports (like high jumping and weight lifting).
However, not all human studies prove that creatine can improve athletic performance. Nor does every user seem to respond the same way to creatine supplements.
For example, people who tend to have naturally high stores ofcreatine in their muscles will not get an energy-boosting effect from extra creatine.
Chemically speaking, creatine shares many similarities with amino acids. The body can produce it out of the amino acids glycine and arginine.
General Health Benefits of Creatine
Creatine works. Body builders, athletes, marketers of ceatine products, health professors know this. But, it is important users and prospective users weigh the risks and benefits before using it.
Creatine helps achieve increase in muscle size. Creatine supplementation causes an increase in the water content of muscles, making them “larger.”
This is not due to an increase in the size of the muscle fibers. However, creatine can increase “real” fat free mass as time goes on, as its strength and power-boosting properties allow higher quality training and thus, better gains.
Creatine improves athletic performance. Supplementing on creatine can make an athlete faster and stronger when performing high intensity activity.
Supplementing on creatine also enhances brain function.
Creatine may reduce sarcopaenia (age related muscle loss). As we throw older, there is a natural decline in the production of muscle building (anabolic) hormones such as testosterone, growth hormone and the insulin like growth factors (IGF-1). This causes people advancing in age to progressively lose muscle mass.
As mentioned, fast twitch fibers (the type that make the bulk of our muscle size) respond well to supplemental creatine in the athletic population.
These fibers are also the first to be sacrificed by the effects of sarcopaenia. The powerful anabolic hormone, IGF-1, has been shown to localize in the fast twitch fibers and, significantly, this is the hormone most likely to dwindle to a greater degree as we age.
Creatine for body builders
As mentioned earlier, body builders and competitive athletes supplement on creatine. So if you are a body builder or a prospective body builder, below are what you can achieve from supplementing on creatine;
- Supplementing on creatine means increased workout intensity and this help increase muscle mass. One of the first reasons why you need to start taking creatine is because it will help to increase your overall workout intensity, which means you will achieve a higher level of muscle mass.
- The creatine will allow you to keep pushing hard in the gym at a time when you would have previously had to decrease the load or stop entirely, so this helps in terms of building muscle faster.
- Creatine should be added to one of the muscle-building supplements you use because it’ll help you increase your metabolic rate.If you’re currently looking for fat loss, how many calories you burn on a daily basis will have a significant impact on how quickly you see progress.
- Since sprintcardio training is one of the best ways to boost your metabolic rate and sprinting relies strictly on ATP as a fuel source, supplementing with creatine allows you to have a better sprint performance during your weight loss phase.
- Another important benefit for bodybuilders and strength athletes is creatine muscle volumizing effect. Creatine has a property that causes muscle cells to inflate, which produces a more heavily muscled appearance, and, more importantly, serves as a stimulus for protein synthesis.
- Up to six pounds of added bodyweight in the first few weeks is commonly reported in those who begin creatine supplementation (a process primarily accounted for by water moving rapidly from the bloodstream to the muscle).
Creatine for athletes
Despite the wide use of creatine, the evidence that creatine supplements improve athletic performance is still inconclusive although some athletes swear by it.
The potential benefits of creatine may depend on many factors, including age, fitness level, diet, and athletic activity.
There is some good evidence that creatine might help modestly with sports that require sudden bursts of activity. Examples are sprinting or weightlifting. It may also increase muscle mass in some people.
However,the evidence that creatine boosts stamina or performance in aerobic activity is mixed. It may not have the same benefits in older people. Since some users report water retention while using it, creatine could slow down some athletes
Can Women Take Creatine Supplements?
When you hear or read about creatine and its benefits to body builders and athletes, you probably feel creatine is only for men.
There are a number of women out there who are looking to increase muscle mass, and this doesn’t mean they want to look like men, they simply need more muscle to look good.
If you fall into the category of these women, you can use creatine. Creatine will make you feel stronger by increasing the blood flow to your muscles – and increased workout intensity will inevitably lead to increased muscle mass.
However, it’s important to remember that it is very difficult for womento build muscle in the first place.
Women don’t have enough testosterone to naturally accomplish a ‘hulk-like’ physique. Rather than bulking up, your extra muscle mass will allow for a tighter, leaner physique, which will also boost your metabolism.
Creatine has also been shown to:
- Reduce fatigue.
- Benefit during endurance sports.
- Strength and power during strength training.
- Improve recovery.
Creatine side effects
Supplementing on creatine, besides its benefits has some side effects too.
Get emergency medical help if you have any of these signs of an allergic reaction to creatine: hives, difficult breathing, swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat.
Stop supplementing on creatine and call your healthcare provider at once if you have:
- pounding heartbeats or fluttering in your chest;
- trouble breathing;
- swelling, rapid weight gain;
- dehydration symptoms–feeling very thirsty or hot, being unable to urinate, heavy sweating, or hot and dry skin; or
- signs of an electrolyte imbalance–dry mouth, increased thirst, drowsiness, restless feeling, confusion, nausea, vomiting, increased urination, muscle pain or weakness, fast heart rate, feeling light-headed, fainting, or seizure (convulsions).
Common creatine side effects may include:
- nausea, stomach pain;
- muscle cramps; or
- weight gain.
- Yes, creatine can cause water retention. This is probably no surprise. Regardless, unless you have a specific concern—like hypertension that requires treatment with diuretics—it’s not a medical issue. For people concerned about looking bloated, the water retention happens in your muscles, so it actually makes you look a bit larger. This explains why some bodybuilders cut out creatine near the end of their contest prep. The rest of us needn’t worry.
Eating large amounts of carbohydrates may increase the effects of creatine. Caffeine may also decrease the effects. Using creatine along with stimulants such as caffeine, guarana, and others could potentially cause dangerous cardiovascular side effects.
The long-term risks of creatine are not known. People who have kidney or liver disease should not take creatine. Creatine may affect blood sugar levels, so the supplement may not be safe for people with diabetes. People taking diuretics with creatine supplements are at increased risk for dehydration.
Creatine taken with medications that can harm the kidney can increase the risk of kidney damage. It is advised to talk your doctor or pharmacist before taking creatine if you are on these type of medications.
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs(NSAIDs) – some examples are ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) and naproxen (Aleve)
- Diuretics (water pills) – An example is furosemide (Lasix)
- Cimetidine (Tagamet)
- antivirals, injected antibiotics;
- medicine for bowel disorders;
- medicine to prevent organ transplant rejection;
- injectable osteoporosis medication; and
- some pain or arthritis medicines (including aspirin, Tylenol, Advil, and Aleve)
Given the lack of evidence about its safety, creatine is not recommended for children or for women who are pregnant or nursing.
The Different Forms Of Creatine
Creatine comes in different forms so it is important that you know them before buying creatine supplements.
Creatine monohydrate is the form used in the majority of studies demonstrating creatine’s benefits. It’s the gold standard of creatine and a time-proven winner.
Creatine citrate is creatine bound to citric acid and research indicates that this type is more water soluble than creatine monohydrate but no more better in terms of absorption and effectiveness.
Creatine Ethyl Ester
Creatine ethyl ester is a form of creatine that is supposed to convert back to usable creatine in the body.
This form of creatine is usually marketed as having better absorption properties than creatine monohydrate, but research shows it’s actually less effective than monohydrate, on par with a placebo.
The reason for this is once creatine ethyl ester enters your body, it’s converted into an inactive substance known as “creatinine.”
Liquid creatine is simply a form of creatine–usually monohydrate–suspended in liquid.
Studies show that this form of creatine is less effective than creatine monohydrate because, when suspended in a solution for several days, creatine breaks down into the inactive substance creatinine.
Micronized creatine is a form of creatine that has been processed to reduce the particle size of the powder. The most form most commonly sold as micronized creatine is monohydrate.
Micronization increases water solubility but changes nothing in terms of absorption or effectiveness.
Creatine nitrate is a form of creatine bound with a nitrate group.
This increases water solubility and nitrates do have ergogenic properties, but no studies have been conducted comparing creatine nitrate to monohydrate, so it is not known if it’s a better choice.
Creatine Magnesium Chelate
Creatine magnesium chelate is a form of creatine bound to magnesium.
Magnesium plays a role in creatine metabolism and thus, theoretically, supplementing with it alongside creatine may increase its effectiveness.
However, one study revealed that creatine magnesium chelate is more or less the same as creatine monohydrate in terms of ergogenic effects but may result in less water weight gain.
More research is still needed on creatine magnesium chelate to determine if it offers any reliable advantages over creatine monohydrate.
Buffered creatine is a form of creatine touted to outperform monohydrate due to a higher pH level.
Research indicates otherwise, however: it’s no more effective than monohydrate.
Creatine hydrochloride is creatine bound with hydrochloric acid.
It’s turned into a basic creatine molecule in your stomach while it may be more water soluble than creatine monohydrate, no research has yet proven it to be any more effective.
Creatine malate is creatine bound with malic acid.
While malic acid alone may enhance performance, it hasn’t been researched in conjunction with creatine.
Creatine pyruvate is creatine bound with pyruvic acid.
Research shows it may produce higher plasma levels of creatine than monohydrate, but this doesn’t translate into greater muscle absorption or performance enhancement.
How Much Creatine Should I Take?
Natural dietary sources of creatine are skeletal muscles like beef and pork. One pound of beef contains 2 grams of creatine.
But it’s tough to get the quantity you need by eating lots of red meat. Most users of creatine opt to get it in supplement form.
Dosage for the first week of use
Most manufacturers of creatine supplement recommend about 15 to 25 grams per day for 1 week. Some users will skip the loading phase.
Taking the maintenance dose of about 5 grams a day will accomplish the same result as loading except that it will take 3-4 weeks for your system to reach saturation levels as opposed to only 1 week when you load.
So the benefit to loading is quicker results, not greater results. A small percentage of people will not do the loading phase if they notice some gastric distress at the higher 15-25 gram a day loading dose.
Dosage for Maintenance Phase (after first week of use)
The second or maintenance phase keeps your muscles saturated with a much smaller daily dose. A maintenance dose is about 5-10 grams a days.
For How Long Can I Take Creatine
Most people take creatine for 1 1/2 to 3 months, then go off of it for a month before resuming again. However, there are no conclusive studies that instruct you to cycle it or go off of it.
How Much Creatine Should I Buy?
Figure you need about 175 grams for the first week and about 70 grams a week thereafter. At this consumption rate, 500 grams will last about 1 1/2 months and 1000 grams will last about 3 months.
Creatine offers benefits to its users and it has a number of side effects too. No matter how healthy you are, let your doctor know before you take creatine or any other supplement.