What Are The Benefits Of Creatine?

What is Creatine and Should I Take It?

Creatine. You might have seen it on the shelf, had it recommended for you by a supplement shop or heard about people using it. Is it a steroid? Will it make you put on weight? Is it useful at all? Read on to find out.

What is creatine and what benefits will it give me?

Creatine is a substance which occurs naturally in the human body and acts to ‘recycle’ adenosine diphosphate (ADP) into adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is used as energy as part of your ATP-PC system (where PC stands for phosphocreatine), used to produce short bursts of powerful activity. Creatine supplementation allows the body to reset this system quickly. To simplify this, creatine supplementation is believed to allow the body to quickly reset our powerful energy production system. In theory, this allows you to train harder and longer, meaning you’ll be able to have a higher workload (i.e. get more work done). Individuals who take creatine report increases in both their muscle size and strength.

I’ve heard creatine makes you gain weight, is this true?

Creatine can make you gain weight for various reasons.

The first reason you may gain weight when taking creatine is due to water retention. Water is strongly attracted to creatine, and thus creatine supplementation it will cause the body to draw water into your muscles. As a result, your muscles will look bigger and softer, but will also cause you to gain water weight. The amount of weight you gain when you first take creatine will vary from person to person.

Another reason why you may gain weight when you start to take creatine is that it actually starts to do what you are taking it for, aid in muscle hypertrophy (growing your muscles). Creatine is only effective when combined with weight/resistance training. Therefore, if you are regularly taking creatine and do resistance exercise, you may see the number on the scale increase but it should be for the right reasons!

Common myths about creatine!

I’ve often heard people say that creatine is a steroid, which has turned them off using the supplement. Creatine is naturally produced and found in our own muscles, red meat, and fish. It is a combination of amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins. Common steroids you may have heard of generally influence your hormone levels, such as testosterone, human growth hormone, and Dianabol. Creatine does not influence your hormone levels, meaning you do not risk the same significant negative side effects that you do when you take steroids. So no, creatine is not a steroid!

Another myth I’ve heard about creatine is that it will damage your kidneys. One of the ways kidney damage is detected is through measuring creatinine levels in the urine. After creatine is consumed and broken down, it is excreted as creatinine, the levels of which are unrelated to kidney damage as it is simply the by-product of breaking down the creatine you’ve consumed. Increasing your creatine consumption will, therefore, increase the creatinine excretion by your body, but whether this is associated with actual kidney damage was originally unclear. It is likely that this relationship is where the myth of kidney damage originated. More recently our scientific knowledge has expanded, and we have found evidence that for people with healthy kidneys, creatine does not impair kidney health. Damage to the kidneys is only likely to occur in individuals who have pre-existing kidney issues.

You may have heard the myth that you need to ‘load’ creatine when you first start taking it, meaning you take a much bigger dosage in the first week or so to ‘build up’ your stores. This is completely unnecessary, as it is hotly debated whether it actually increases the rate at which you see any effect. Other people like to live with the belief that more is better and think that if they just triple or quadruple the daily dosage, that they will also triple and quadruple their gains. I’m sorry to break your hearts here but that is simply not the case. If anything, it only increases the amount of bloating you have and reduces the amount of money in your wallet. Like any supplement or food, overdoing it on creatine may cause issues for your health. Taking the recommended dosage of creatine (often suggested as 5g per day) will prove beneficial. Loading and taking massive dosages of creatine is a big waste of your time and money!

Often you’ll see on fitness websites that you need to ‘cycle’ creatine in order to maintain its effectiveness. Athletes cycle things such as steroids because they are a substance that the body can build up a tolerance to. If the individual cycles off the substance, they are able to maintain the same amount of sensitivity and do not need to increase dosage to achieve the same effect. As discussed earlier, creatine is not a steroid and the body does not build up a tolerance to creatine. The only reason people would cycle off creatine is to reduce the amount of bloating and water in their body so that their muscles look more defined and less ‘soft’. This aesthetic reasoning is generally reserved for athletes who are required to meet weight categories (e.g. weightlifting or boxing etc.), or their sport involves judging based on aesthetics (e.g. bodybuilding or physique shows).

Should I try creatine?

Trying creatine is a pretty safe option. When dosed correctly, it can help you increase your muscle strength and size. You should not take creatine if you are intending to increase your muscle size and strength without resistance training, as you will waste your money and see no effects.

If you are a long-distance runner or compete in any sport where you require slow energy release, creatine will most likely not help you improve your performance. Additionally, if you need to stay light for your sport then creatine supplementation is probably not for you. If you have kidney or liver disease it may be best to avoid creatine, as processing the creatine may cause extra, unnecessary stress to these organs.

If you ever have any concerns about trying a new supplement, feel free to speak with your health care provider or other qualified professionals who will be able to guide you on the best course of action in your specific situation.

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