Creatine: What You Need to Know About the Supplement

Creatine protein powder

Creatine protein powder | iStock.com

Whether you’ve been lifting for years or are a gym newbie, chances are you’ve heard of or used some form of protein powder. Creatine is widely regarded as one of the most popular sports supplements for mass muscle gain. Some surveys, according to Muscle & Fitness, estimate that the supplement is used by over 40% of college athletes and 75% of power-sport athletes like boxers, weightlifters, and track and field participants. This protein supplement is popular among athletes and gym-goers because for many it’s proven to be effective at increasing muscle strength, power, size, and overall athletic performance.

Everyone wants bigger muscles faster, but before you commit yourself to a diet with high levels of creatine, it may be helpful to understand what it is, what it does, and how it works, in addition to any side effects. Here’s everything you’ll ever need to know about creatine.

What is it?

It is a nitrogenous organic acid that your liver produces naturally to help supply energy cells, particularly muscle cells thought your body. It is made of three amino acids and is used by the brain and muscles that have high-energy demands. The skeletal muscle is where an estimated 95% of creatine is stored. Because the supplement supplies energy where it’s needed, athletes often take a creatine supplement to increase their body’s natural levels. This supplement rapidly produces energy, which can lead to an improved athletic performance and harder, more intense training sessions. Because studies show the creatine provides you with the energy to bust out an extra rep and the ability to add five more pounds to the bar, you’ll see faster physical results.

What type of creatine should you take?

three scoops of protein powder

Protein powder | iStock.com

If you waltz into a GNC you’ll be met with hundreds of protein powders and unless you know what you’re looking for it will take some time (and probably a professional) to get to the right aisle. There are five kinds of creatine: creatine citrate, creatine ester, creatine malate, creatine monohydrate, and creatine phosphate. The most research has been done on creatine monohydrate and therefore it has the most documented results. As a general rule, this form is preferred by athletes and weightlifters. You can get the benefits of creatine monohydrate through a chewable tablet or in it’s more common powder form which can be added to smoothies and shakes.

When do you take it?

So you’ve bought creatine, have a date with the gym planned, and are anxious to test the protein’s impressive claims, but when’s the best time to take it? This is where things get complicated. Some argue that taking the supplement before a workout is the way to go because higher levels of the protein means more adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is the source of energy in the body. This camp of people believes that more ATP translates into more power for the muscles to use so you can lift more weight. Others believe you can take it whenever you want, while yet a third group of people believe that it is best taken after a workout when your muscles are depleted of nutrients and therefore ready for a big influx of nutrients. More and more people are leaning toward the latter option and choosing to take it after a workout.

What does it do?

muscular man showing off back muscles

Muscular man | iStock.com

Studies on creatine have discovered several benefits of the protein. It enhances the body’s capacity to perform high intensity work, so you can do everything with more energy and force while also helping muscles regenerate post-exercise. The biggest reason many weightlifters choose to take creatine is for its ability to make your muscles look bigger faster. Creatine causes muscle cells to inflate and many people see significant weight gain in the first few weeks. Some studies, according to BodyBuilding.com, also show that it can enhance brain function and improve bone healing among other benefits.

What are the side effects?

You already know that creatine is a natural substance found in your body, but in addition to taking it as a supplement it can be obtained from fish and meats. The supplement has not been fully evaluated by the FDA for safety and purity so all the potential risks are not commonly known. It is recommended that when taking creatine supplements you drink plenty of fluid as some cases show that dehydration, muscle cramps, reduce blood volume, and electrolyte imbalances are more common in people taking creatine. It is also unsafe for people with diabetes or kidney disease.

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