What is creatine? And should I take it?

i amIf you’re a gym rat like me, your closet is probably jammed with different sized tubs. There are pre-workouts and protein powders formally Occupy my tiny apartment pantry. Despite the limited amount of space on my shelves to make a specific supplement round at GymTok, I recently considered a trip to my local sports supplement store.

I had heard of creatine supplements before joining TikTok, but after joining the app, I found myself surrounded by influencers touting its muscle-building benefits. There’s even a viral audio on TikTok that jokes about how taking creatine can help you build the booty of your dreams.

What is creatine, though? And why do weightlifters love it so much?

What is creatine?

Creatine (Cr) is a nitrogenous amino acid found naturally in the human body, mainly in muscle and brain. Creatine, when combined with phosphate, provides a constant flow of energy to the muscles, increases muscle endurance and prevents muscular fatigue. Most people get about half of their creatine stores from eating eggs, red meat, poultry, and fish, with the other half made in the kidneys and liver. On an average day, a meat-eating adult gets about 1-2 grams of creatine from their diet without supplementation.

There are several types of creatine supplements on the market, with the most commonly used (and recommended) being creatine monohydrate. Sold in powder and pill form, it is the most widely reviewed and researched supplement in the creatine family. Chances are, it’s a supplement that your favorite GymTok influencers are taking when they say they’re taking creatine.

Possible benefits of taking creatine

Creatine delivers a burst of energy to your muscles, allowing you to work harder and longer—and recover faster, too. It is most effective for improving performance in high-intensity, short-duration sports such as powerlifting.

Registered dietitian and founder of The Nutrition Lady, Rasander Powell, says creatine is a favorite among performance athletes for its energy-enhancing effects.

“Simply put, creatine is an energy booster,” notes Powell. “Your muscles increase their ability to work harder to build muscle mass. This ability to perform high-intensity exercise can stimulate muscles to grow bigger and stronger.”

In 2020, the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) compiled all peer-reviewed literature and studies related to creatine use and stated that creatine is “the most effective ergogenic nutritional supplement currently available for athletes with the intent of enhancing high-intensity exercise performance and training time.” lean body mass.”

“It helps your body recycle energy better,” says Powell. “These athletes, or someone who just does a lot of work, are able to produce more energy faster with it. If they’re lifting 500 pounds, it won’t tire them as much if they have creatine in their background.”

Is creatine safe to consume?

Creatine monohydrate may be the most studied sports supplement on the market; So much so, in fact, that both the International Olympic Committee and the National Collegiate Athletic Association allow participants to use creatine supplements. The International Society of Sports Nutrition states that there is no scientific evidence that short-term or long-term use of creatine has any harmful effects in healthy adults (up to 30 grams per day, for five years).

While plenty of research surrounding creatine use supports that creatine is completely safe for healthy adults, those who struggle with liver and kidney function or have diabetes should stay away from it.

“It’s relatively safe,” says Powell, “but if you have some underlying kidney or liver problems, it can cause harm because nitrogenous substances can increase the demand for both. People with liver cirrhosis, or chronic kidney disease, diabetes, or fatty liver, The liver is already challenged. You really want to look at these types of supplements because they can be a little more demanding on our system.”

But something to note is that like all other nutritional supplements on the market, creatine supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. When you take supplements, there is always a chance that the quality, quantity and ingredients of the product are not what is stated on the label. Without federal regulations, you run the risk of consuming a product that contains filler ingredients that could adversely affect you.

Powell says that if you’re going to try a sports supplement, make sure you’re buying from a brand that’s certified by a third-party company like ConsumerLab or the United States Pharmacopeial Convention. These companies conduct independent testing to verify the purity and effectiveness of the supplement.

“They’re almost like outside auditors,” Powell said. “They will test the product for horrible, harmful substances. Also the conditions under which it is produced; Is it created in a clean environment? Is this product going to be effective? Basically what the FDA should do for supplements, these groups do, and they’ll certify you that it’s been tested for purity and quality.”

Below are two creatine supplements that have been tested by third-party companies and are NSF (National Sanitation Foundation) certified for sports nutrition.

What you need to know before taking creatine

1. You don’t need it to build muscle

Although creatine can help some people reach performance goals, it’s not really necessary for building muscle, Powell says. Added gym time is what makes creatine an effective supplement: When your muscles recover faster and have more energy, you’re able to power through more workouts.

So if you want to gain some muscle, start by adding more resistance training to your workouts and aim to get at least 1 to 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day.

“Anything that’s going to activate a muscle, so resistance training, weight lifting, using your own body weight can help,” says Powell. “The best muscle builders are resistance exercises that tire your muscles to lay the foundation for building muscle mass. Hard work equals muscle mass. If you’re constantly using a muscle group, you’re going to grow it, especially if you do it consistently.”

2. There is a laundry list of potential side effects including liver and kidney damage

Bloating, dehydration, diarrhea, high blood pressure, weight gain, kidney damage and liver damage are some of the possible side effects of taking creatine. Although these vary from person to person, and depending on the amount of expenditure, the potential risk may not be worth the reward for you.

As with any supplement, always Consult your doctor before trying it.

3. Creatine is not a shortcut, and it is not a magic pill

As with any other supplement, you won’t magically become more fit by adding it to your daily supplement stack. You’ll need anywhere from 7 to 28 days to see energy changes, and Powell warns that using supplements as a shortcut will only lead to frustration.

“If you take creatine and do nothing, it’s not going to do anything for you,” says Powell. “It is a performance enhancer that one can perform for; If you sit on the couch and think you’re going to bulk up, it’s not going to happen. There are no shortcuts!”

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