Bodybuilders have been flocking to the use creatine supplements for the past 15 years or so and it is no surprise. The reports, mostly anecdotal, of tremendous benefits from using creatine make it seem almost like a miracle potion. But is it? And, more importantly, does creatine have any harmful side effects when used as a bodybuilding supplement?
Lets take a look at what creatine is, where it comes from and what effect it actually has in and on our bodies.
Creatine is a naturally occurring amino acid in our body, like the building blocks that make up proteins. It is produced in the liver, kidneys and pancreas through a synthesis of arginine, methionine and glycine. It’s purpose is to supply energy to muscle cells and it acts as a storage battery for the energy that comes from food.
Red meats and fish are rich natural sources of creatine and with a balanced diet most people get all of the creatine they need to maintain their health. Vegans have it a little tougher. The only vegetarian source I could pin down is juniper berries which are reported to be a good source. Creatine is degraded during cooking making it very hard to get a large dosage of creatine from foods.
While it is not possible to take in enough creatine through diet alone to gain a significant benefit, we can safely add it as a supplement. Extensive research shows that creatine can help you pack on muscle size and strength fast with no harmful side effects, when combined with your weight training regime. That is a key. Creatine by itself is not a miracle pill. When used together with vigorous workouts it produces good results.
Many athletes turn to various supplements to get a winners edge and many also find they are throwing their money away on useless, and sometimes harmful, garbage. Creatine, however, may actually be able to deliver improved athletic performance – for a short duration. It has been shown to be such an advantage in body building that some countries have banned the use of several forms of creatine in competition.
Athletes who compete in sports dependent on weight, power, and short bursts of intense activity (sprinting, football, basketball, weight lifting) may benefit from creatine. Those involved in endurance sports see little improvement.
Normal recommendations are to divide creatine intake into two phases. The first phase, called the “loading” phase, fills up the muscle fiber’s storage capacity for this nutrient. A recommended loading dose is 20 grams of creatine a day for five or six days. A “maintenance” dose of 2 to 5 grams of creatine a day is then continued after that.
Creatine is one of the most studied supplements in the world with none of the studies indicating any serious side effects. But, as with any substance it should be taken with caution, constantly observing your body’s reaction.
Creatine is incredibly popular among high school athletes and other youngsters hoping to “bulk up,” but nobody knows how the supplement affects them long term. It’s possible that regular doses of creatine could disrupt the natural growth of muscles and promote tears in tendons.
In summary, creatine helps build lean body mass, which allows still greater force to be used; provides energy so duration of exercise or work can be lengthened; and speeds recovery so exercise frequency can be increased. There appears to be no harmful side effects but long term studies have not been done to confirm this.