Creatine is a naturally occurring molecule in your body. Plentiful in muscle, creatine assists in the release of energy from adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, in your cells. It is also a dietary supplement that increases your body’s concentration of this substance, allowing you to intensify your workouts by providing extra energy to your muscles. While the phosphate, citrate, ester and malate formulations all work as creatine supplements, creatine monophosphate has undergone the most study and is, therefore, the most popular of these supplements, states the University of Illinois McKinley Health Center.
How Creatine Works
Creatine’s powerful effect stems from its ability to enhance short-term bursts of physical exercise. By contributing extra energy to your muscle cells, you may increase your capacity for activities such as sprinting or lifting weights. Endurance athletes in sports including running, swimming or cycling do not benefit from supplementation with creatine, however. Additionally, you are more likely to notice the enhanced effects of creatine if your initial levels are low, to begin with. Registered dietitian Nancy Clark suggests a loading dose of 20 g per day for a week, and then decreasing to 3 or 5 g per day for maintenance supplementation.
Advantages of Creatine
Because creatine supplies you with the energy to work more intensely, your muscles are able to handle heavier loads than normal, which may lead to enhanced muscle building. In addition to increasing your short-term athletic work capacity, this supplement may assist your muscles in post-workout recovery.
Weight gain is a common side effect of creatine supplementation, both in the form of added muscle bulk and in water weight, so if your fitness goal is to bulk up, adding creatine to your routine may help you increase your body mass.
Downsides of Supplementation With Creatine
The weight gain associated with creatine use may be a disadvantage for some athletes. For example, if you participate in a weight-restricted sport such as wrestling or if your fitness goal is to lose weight, you may choose to avoid these supplements. Although creatine is a natural substance, excessive use may cause side effects including diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, dehydration and muscle cramps. Clark also cautions that, while creatine may rapidly increase your strength and muscle growth, your joints and tendons need time to adapt to the new loads placed on them in order to avoid injury.
Consult with a health care professional prior to adding this or any supplement to your routine. As with other dietary supplements, creatine is unregulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration; therefore, if you choose to supplement, select a reputable source to help assure the quality of the product. If you prefer to increase your creatine load through whole foods, meat and fish are rich sources of this natural substance.
Pros and Cons
In summary, supplementing with creatine affords you the ability to work your muscles with increased energy and may help you add muscle mass by allowing you more intense workouts, important if you are looking to pack on pounds. Keep in mind, however, some of the mass you gain may be due to water weight and not to new muscle. For optimal results and to avoid overuse injuries, ramp up your creatine-fueled workouts gradually enough to allow your ligaments, tendons, and joints to adapt to the increased workload you place on your muscles.
This article is for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice.