Will creatine make me bigger?
Latest in Supplements
Read on to learn how creatine helps you with your workouts.
What is it? Creatine is a protein that is made naturally in the body, but can also be found in meat and fish or taken in higher doses as a supplement. It's available on its own, but you'll also sometimes see it in meal replacement shakes and other supplements.
What does it do? It's like a backup generator for your body. Normally, energy in your body is produced, stored, and used via a chemical called adenosine triphosphate (ATP). 'But there are times when your body can't keep up with energy demand,' says Nikhil Rao. 'And it needs another source of phosphates. That's where creatine comes in.' It's ideal for brief periods of all-out effort with short recovery phases. 'Creatine supplements also help promote protein manufacture and reduce protein breakdown following intense exercise,' adds Anita Bean.
Who should take it? People who train with weights or do sports that involve repeated high-intensity movements, such as sprints, jumps or throws, are likely to see benefits. It's also often used by bodybuilders, because it increases muscle hypertrophy by drawing water into muscle cells. 'There is less evidence to show that creatine supplementation is beneficial to endurance athletes,' says Bean.
How much should I take? 'An average person takes in 1g of creatine a day from food and produces another 1g from amino acids and ends up with creatine stores that are about 40 per cent below his maximum,' says Rao. 'The best way to fill up seems to be with doses of around 3g a day. If you're taking any more than 5g you'll just excrete it.'
When should I take it? 'Avoid drinking creatine before you work out,' says Rao, 'It's hygroscopic, which basically means it acts like a sponge - it can draw water into your gastrointestinal tract and bloodstream from surrounding tissues or muscles. That's what can give you a bloated feeling or give you muscle cramps. The ideal time to take creatine is immediately after your workout.'
Does it have any side effects? The main side effect is weight gain, partly due to increased muscle tissue and partly the result of extra water in your muscle cells, so it's not always ideal if you're in a sport that uses weight categories, such as boxing. 'There have been anecdotal reports about gastrointestinal discomfort, dehydration, muscle injury and kidney damage,' says Bean. 'However, there is no clinical evidence to support these statements.'
'It's also important to mix your creatine fully,' adds Rao. 'Most of us, myself included, drink our creatine with some of the powder still visibly floating around. At this point, it hasn't fully dissolved. That means it's going to suck water from the places where water is supposed to be. Mix it with enough water to saturate the "sponge", and you'll be fine.'
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We consulted these experts to get the lowdown on creatine:
is the author of The Complete Guide To Sports Nutrition (£15.99, A&C Black Publishers). For more visit anitabean.co.uk.
Dr. Lonnie Lowery
is an exercise physiologist, nutrition expert and former competitive bodybuilder. He is also a licensed dietician specialising in sports nutrition.
is a trainee doctor, avid weightlifter and regular contributor to the US bodybuilding site t-nation.com. He has been using creatine for six years.
is a strength and conditioning coach, personal trainer and nutrition consultant. He has more than eight years of experience in nutrition. For more visit fitleanandhealthy.com.