(WellnessNova.com) - The claims are everywhere. “Get Bigger and Stronger!” “Discover the Weightlifter’s Secret Weapon!” “Embrace the Creatine Transformation.”
Every day, those looking to stay healthy with diet and exercise are bombarded with endless claims from an overwhelming number of supplement companies.
But, where does the truth lie? What are the actual facts behind the use of these chemicals? Do they really improve workout success, or are they simply placebos? Worse yet, are there negative side effects to these supplements that users need to be worried about?
To those wondering about these questions and more, here are the five things you need to know about creatine.
1. Creatine is not a steroid.
Despite the appearance of creatine in forms from capsules to powders, it is actually a naturally occurring amino acid produced by our own kidneys and livers, as well as in the bodies of fish and cattle. Creatine is part of the system that produces the energy necessary for muscle contraction. Adding creatine as a supplement provides additional energy supplies to muscles that are working out or recovering from intense exercise. Creatine then metabolizes into creatinine and is then passed out of the body via the kidneys and urinary tract.
Though there are many types of creatine available, from powder to liquid, “natural” and vegan, the one most commonly used is creatine monohydrate. Though many “creatine” products are sold with additional items added that supposedly enhance creatine’s efficacy, the safest products are those made from “100 percent creatine monohydrate.” The great majority of the scientific research on creatine has been performed without additional supplements being added.
2. Creatine has been shown to increase lean muscle mass.
Though many claims are still being made about the secondary effects of creatine (and more studies are still being done), the majority of the scientific community agrees on the primary effect of creatine: it increases lean muscle mass and aids in muscular recovery post-workout.
One of the important things to know about creatine is that it is of the greatest benefit to those who are working the hardest: weightlifters, martial artists, and extreme sports athletes have much more profound results from creatine that those who are simply following a 2,000 calorie diet and getting in their 30 minutes of light cardio a day.
Creatine has a couple of roles in muscular development. First, it assists in retention of water — a necessity for regrowth and repair of muscle tissue. It also appears to aid in the generation of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) in the body. ATP is an enzyme that transports chemical cells within the body, acting as a “battery” that can be drawn upon in times of intense muscular activity, providing a jolt of energy to tiring muscular tissues.
The addition of creatine to a diet usually involves a “loading” phase where large amounts of creatine are taken daily for five to seven days, followed by a “maintenance” phase where a much smaller amount is taken daily, usually post-workout.
3. Creatine is not without side effects.
There can be some very serious risks associated with the use of creatine, especially for those with high blood pressure or existing kidney issues.(Though long-term use appears to be safe in those with healthy kidneys.)
Also, the use of creatine in concert with ephedra, anabolic-steroid precursors, and other forms of illegal supplementation can have serious negative side effects.
Though you can find creatine mixed with any number of things these days, it is not necessarily the supplement of choice when a person is making “cocktails” involving multiple supplements. For example, when mixed with caffeine, many of the benefits of creatine can be offset almost entirely. The natural diuretic effect of caffeine can offset the water retention benefits of creatine supplementation, leaving a person in the exact same state as if they had not taken the supplement at all.
However, caffeine and creatine both act as short-term performance enhancers, so other sources suggest using the two of them in concert only on special occasions, such as the day of a competitive athletic event.
Another important fact to know about creatine is that it is not a good choice for those attempting to lose weight. Creatine increases the amount of water being retained by the muscule tissues, meaning that the use of creatine will result in an immediate weight gain from water retention, followed by steady weight gain from the development of additional muscle mass. A person attempting to shed a few pounds will be well-advised to not use creatine as part of their nutritional and workout routine.
Oddly, though creatine was long regarded as a health risk for people with type 2 diabetes, a 2011 study published by the American College of Sports Medicine seems to indicate that creatine, when added to a vigorous exercise program, may actually lower HbA1c levels.
4. Creatine can be used as a short-term performance enhancer.
Taking creatine right before the big game or race may very well give you the benefits you are looking for. But for those who are looking to focus more on slow-twitch muscle fibers (think triathletes) rather than fast-twitch muscle fibers (sprinters and football players, for example), creatine is probably not the way to go. “If you’re an endurance athlete … you don’t need to be on creatine,” states orthopedic surgeon Tony Wanich.
It should also be noted that creatine does not have the same effect on everyone. Factors such as age, activity level, and diet can all have an impact on how well creatine works within the system. For example, a person used to a lean-protein heavy diet will have a much-reduced effect from creatine than a person following a Vegan diet, since the human body can only process a certain amount of creatine at one time, with the rest being excreted out of the body through urine.
For those not seeing results in a fairly short time period, it may not be worthwhile to continue use of the supplement, as it will continue to add “water weight” even if it is not being utilized in re-energizing muscular tissues.
5. Creatine has no real natural competitors.
When asked about the natural alternatives to creatine, Army Master Trainer Dan Schofield was blunt: “There are none.” For one thing, creatine is already a naturally occurring substance, produced by our own livers and kidneys. To produce the same type of ergogenic effects outside of creatine use, a person would have to start looking a little further afield, into the realm of things like ephedra, anabolic-steroid precursors, and Human Growth Hormone (HGH) — all of which are not only dangerous, but not currently legal for use as training supplements in the United States.
As with any supplement, care should be taken to check in with medical professionals before starting a new exercise regimen and dietary changes. After medical clearance, for those looking to increase their muscular development and aid short-term high-intensity performance, creatine can be a solid choice. A creatine monohydrate supplement from a reputable manufacturer may be the ticket to reaching the next level in sports performance.
Schofield, Daniel Army Master Fitness Trainer, Fitness Trainer. Personal Interview, 20 May 2016