Because creatine is the most popular bodybuilding supplement, I am amazed at all about the misinformation and confusion surrounding it. The most common question I am asked is whether someone should use creatine - but very few of those people even know what creatine is.
What Is Creatine?
Creatine is an amino acid that occurs naturally in your body. Your body's total creatine pool (for an average sized person) is around 120 grams. Under certain conditions, your body can store up to 160 grams.
Each day your body breaks down about 1.5% of your creatine pool. There are two ways that it can be replenished. Your diet provides a little (about 2g per pound of beef/salmon), and the rest is synthesized. So, what does creatine do? Think of creatine as a pool of energy.
If you supplement with creatine, your creatine pool gets "fuller," thus providing you with more energy for your workout. Because of this, you can theoretically do more work and achieve greater gains!
What are the best dosages of creatine to take? For the first five days of supplementation, I recommend taking 20 grams per day divided into four 5-gram doses. Research has shown that the most rapid way of increasing muscle creatine stores is by loading. After your 5-day loading phase, take 5 grams per day. This is to maintain your elevated creatine store.
Many new products claim that they have better creatine transport systems. This may be true, but only to a limited extent. Creatine, taken in a pure powder form, is not degraded in the stomach; so you shouldn't believe any manufacturer claiming that their product "reduces", or "stops" creatine degradation in the stomach.
Next comes creatine uptake. This is where there may be some truth. Research has shown that creatine uptake is mediated by insulin. This means that taking creatine with large amounts of glucose (shown to increase insulin levels) may enhance creatine uptake.
Do men and women respond the same way to creatine supplementation? Several short-term studies on female athletes have shown that creatine has a limited value for females. You also have to consider the studies showing that there are ergogenic benefits for women supplementing with creatine.
| What Does Ergogenic Mean?
"Performance-enhancing", or "muscle-gaining capacity building", especially by eliminating the symptoms of fatigue.
In these studies, gains in body mass and fat-free mass weren't as rapid as in men. Creatine supplementation for women is still a highly debated topic, and I would recommend that women hold off on taking creatine until a conclusion has been reached.
Are There Side Effects?
What are the side effects of creatine? The only side effect from creatine supplementation ever reported has been weight gain. There has been no evidence of the anecdotally reported side effects of muscle cramping, dehydration, or increased risk of muscle injury.
People who supplement with creatine may exhibit some if these problems, but their occurrence in subjects taking creatine is not greater than their occurrence in subjects taking a placebo.
Is the weight gain water or muscle, however? Some people have suggested that because the gains are so rapid, they must be caused by water retention. Although it is generally accepted that the initial weight gain may promote some water retention, a number of recent studies do not support this.
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These studies indicate that although the body's total water is increased, the increase is proportional to the weight gained. Since muscle is abour 80% water, if you were to gain 10 lbs of muscle, then 8 lbs of the weight gain would be water, and the body's total percentage of water would not be affected. Many studies show that long-term creatine supplementation increases fat-free mass, and has no effect on the percentage of total body water.
Should children or teens take creatine? No studies have ever shown that creatine supplementation may be harmful to children or teens, however less is known about the effects of supplementation in younger athletes.
Consequently, I would only recommend creatine supplementation to a teen who is involved in a serious training program, is eating a well-balanced diet, and has supervision for his/her supplementation program.