The creatine supplement is widely debated. Some are wary of the concerns about the health risks in taking it. Others claim that it is key to muscle growth and better performance. We turned to Jennifer Giamo, Aaptiv trainer and owner of Trainers in Transit, to give us a breakdown of what it is, how to use it, and whether or not it’s good for you.
What is creatine?
“Creatine is an amino acid found in your body’s muscles, as well as in the brain,” explains Giamo. “The liver, pancreas, and kidneys also make creatine.” Its role in the body is to help stimulate the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), your main energy source. Foods, such as meat and seafood, contain it, as well. “It can also be made synthetically in the form of powders and supplements,” adds Giamo.
When you exercise, you use energy and creatine. If you use it all, then this decreases the production of ATP, meaning that you’ll become very fatigued. This is why people turn to this supplement to increase their energy and muscle mass.
Who should take creatine supplements?
According to Giamo, bodybuilders often use creatine to gain muscle and fuel their performance. “It might also benefit athletes who need short bursts of speed, such as sprinters and short distance runners.” On the other hand, it’s not a useful supplement for those in endurance events, such as long-distance running. While it’s not necessary to build muscles, it can speed up the process. It’ll also enhance performance and increase your fatigue resistance.
Just bear in mind that like with other supplements, the response rate will differ according to each individual. Vegetarians and vegans will most likely see significant results because they don’t eat meat or seafood. If you do consume these food items on a regular basis, then while creatine may help you, you might not see the same changes.
So, while it may help, it’s not necessary to take if you’re able to increase muscle mass without additional aid.
Are there any side effects?
While there are many people who swear by this supplement, others are resistant to it because of the potential side effects. There are concerns that taking this amino will cause kidney damage, stomach cramps, and dehydration, among other issues. Currently, there are no studies that prove these claims when used over a short-term.
However, Giamo adds, “According to research by the Mayo Clinic, creatine is safe to take for up to five years. Long-term effects and/or higher doses may be detrimental to the heart, kidneys, and liver.” So, it’s best to check with your doctor before taking it if you have kidney problems.
How should I take it?
Creatine typically comes in powder form and is available in different flavors. Monohydrate is the best type to take. You can drink it before or after your training session. Though, studies do show that taking it post-workout yields better results.
In one study, nineteen healthy, male bodybuilders were assigned to take five grams of it immediately before exercising or immediately after. Both groups trained five days a week and also took the supplement on their non-training days, at their own convenience.
The results showed that while “Creatine supplementation plus resistance exercise increases fat-free mass and strength…Based on the magnitude inferences it appears that consuming it immediately post-workout is superior to pre-workout…”
Giamo recommends “[mixing it] with fruit juice for the most efficient utilization. (The increase in insulin caused by ingesting fruit juice increases creatine uptake by the muscles).” Make sure that the powder is completely dissolved when you mix it. That’s when you know you’re using a good brand.
And, on a final note, no, you can’t just take this supplement without working out. Otherwise, it won’t have any effect! It contains no calories so you won’t gain weight, but it also won’t magically help you gain size or power. You still have to put in the work!