At CP, and through my online consulting, I get a lot of questions from clients and parents about the use of creatine. Is it safe? Is it steroids? Does it just make you gain water weight?
There are a lot of misconceptions about this rather innocuous substance. Let’s start off by defining what creatine is, and what creatine isn’t.
What is creatine?
Creatine is an amino acid made by the body on a daily basis. It is made in the liver from 3 different amino acids (arginine, methionine, and glycine) taken in from our diet. Creatine is also taken in directly from meat as animals contain creatine in their skeletal muscle as well. The sources are split quite evenly, unless you are a vegetarian, in which that you case you may be creatine deficient. Creatine is an energy substrate used for high-intensity activities – such as sprinting, jumping, throwing and lifting weights. Basically supplementing with creatine has been shown to safely allow athletes to work harder, longer by maximizing their skeletal muscle stores.
Is creatine safe?
Creatine is the most studied supplement in the history of the world. If you go to pubmed and type in creatine into the search engine you will get over 42,000 responses. That is a lot. The definitive answer is if taken according to recommended dosages (ie – 3-5 grams per day) creatine is completely safe. No study, long or short term has shown adverse effects of creatine. The most widely accepted side-effect of creatine supplementation is the gain in lean body mass. For athlete’s and recreationally active people, a little extra muscle is usually a good thing.
The key things to keep in mind here are that there is no need to load (ie – 20 grams per day), regardless of what the label tells you. 3-5 grams per day is completely acceptable and has been shown in research and with thousands of athletes to be effective and safe. Also make sure you are purchasing a highly pure creatine monohydrate. It should say it is either micronized or Creapure brand. These are highly pure and held to the loftiest of standards.
According to the European Food Safety Authority, “Provided high purity creatine monohydrate is used in foods for particular nutritional uses, the Panel considers that the consumption of doses of up to 3g/day of supplemental creatine, similar to the daily turnover rate of creatine, is unlikely to pose any risk.”
As perhaps the greatest testament to its safety, it is completely legal in the NCAA, International Olympic Committee, FIFA (soccer), and ATP (tennis) -traditionally the four most stringent governing bodies in sports when it comes to supplement use. The NFL, NBA, and MLB all permit it as well.
Is creatine steroids?
Steroids are anabolic exogenous hormones injected or swallowed. These are not substances consumed in large amounts in our natural enviorment and they have drastic effects on the endocrine system. Creatine is none of those things. It is not a hormone in anyway and does not affect our endocrine system. We consume creatine on a normal daily basis, we do not consume large amounts of steroids on a daily basis.
Does creatine make you gain water weight?
In short, yes it does. Creatine does cause the body to hold more water due to increased water uptake by skeletal muscle. This is a good thing, as volumizing the muscle cells can help increase their size, and it is only a few initial pounds. In the long term though, the added weight from creatine is not just from water, as the supplementation helps athletes to gain lean muscle tissue. The key oint is the added weight is not just from water.
Do you need the newest, fanciest, and most expensive form of creatine?
Creatine ethyl-ester, Kre-alkalyn, conjugate creatine and who knows what else are completely unecessary and may contain harmful ingredients. They are also significantly more expensive with a complete lack of extra benefits. Speed of absorption of creatine is irrelevant. Once you take 3-5 grams per day for a month your muscles will be saturated, and from there it is just maintaining that saturation. These products may help you saturate sooner (or they may not) but overall they do not increase benefits whatsoever. You need pure, simple inexpensive micronized or Creapure creatine monohydrate.
Interesting benefits of creatine.
Besides the physical performance enhancing benefits of creatine, it has some other studied and documented benefits. Creatine has been shown to improve cognitive abilities. Studies have shown that it can increase performance on tests of cognitive abilities. In one example the researchers concluded that “supplementation with creatine significantly increased intelligence compared with placebo.”
There have also been several successful studies on animals in the treatment of neurodegenerative disorders such as: Parkinson’s, Huntingson’s, ALS, and muscular dystrophy. Due to the success of many of these animal trials, human trials for many of these diseases are underway. Pretty impressive stuff.
Creatine is safe when taken properly from a pure source. You do not need some crazy new version that they will try to push on you at many supplement stores. Take 3-5 grams per day everyday for greatest results.
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