What is Creatine & Should You Be Taking It?

In an attempt to jump higher, run farther, and outlast the competition, most athletes have turned to various performance-enhancing drugs and supplements. Creatine is the most popular of these substances, believed to increase the mass of muscles and make it possible for athletes to achieve bursts of strength.

This supplement, which can be taken as a powder or liquid, is common in the bodybuilding community thanks to its ability to help users pack on muscle and work-out harder and longer. Although creatine is generally considered safe and is one of the most researched supplements out there, it is still a supplement, which means it is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and its claims are not substantiated.

One of the reasons for its popularity is its accessibility. Creatine tablets, powder, energy bars, and drink mixes are available at drug stores, supermarkets, nutrition stores, and over the internet without needing a doctor’s prescription.

Even though creatine is a natural substance, it has not been widely studied over the long term. Researchers are still not sure what effects it might have on the body, although there is evidence that in the short-term; it is safe for high-intensity resistance training.

What Is Creatine?

Creatine is a natural substance that gets converted into creatine phosphate in the body. Creatine phosphate helps make a substance known as adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP gives energy for muscle contractions.

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The body makes some of the creatine it uses.

It can also be obtained from foods that are rich in protein, such as meat or fish.

Creatine in the muscles helps in recovery between sets. This means that its value in a supplement can help in boosting recovery speed, which in turn increases the amount of work you’re able to handle during a workout. With time, this results in faster gains in both strength and size.

It has proven itself over the years to be one of the most effective supplements for improving performance during repeated sessions of intense exercise. As far back as the 1970s, Soviet scientists knew that creatine supplements improved performance, and it contributed to the USSR’s Olympic dominance through the 70s and 80s.

The body stores creatine in the muscles so that we quickly access it for a fast, high-intensity movement, such as sprinting or powerlifting. It is a nonessential amino acid, which means that the body creates it and you don’t need to get it from food.

Additionally, you don’t need added creatine above what is in a healthy, balanced diet. When it comes to creatine supplements, there are also various options for ingesting it — and they’re not all created equal.

How does it Work?

Creatine can be used in making the energy your muscles need to work effectively. When people that have low creatine levels, such as vegetarians, start taking creatine supplements, they seem to get more benefits than people who start with a higher level of creatine. 

Combined with weight-loss training, creatine delays the loss of bone mass as you get older and could reduce the effects of osteoarthritis, where joints become strong and painful. It has different effects on different people.

The effects of creatine will be obvious in a week of using the supplement — with the volume of your training and your strength increasing. A research discovered that muscle fibers grow faster after creatine supplementation and resistance-based exercise. But despite this, creatine is not a magic pill.

How much Creatine do you need?

If you are not doing high-intensity exercises, lifting heavy weights, or eating a strictly vegan or vegetarian diet, your body probably makes as much creatine as you need. Naturally, creatine is found in animal-based products, therefore, your body can make plenty of creatine as long as you have a balanced diet that is made up of animal-based products. Protein sources such as chicken, pork, fish, and beef help your body make the creatine it requires — it varies depending on the source, but, generally, a 3-ounce serving of meat will have about 0.4 g of creatine.

If you intend to take creatine as a supplement for stronger and bigger muscles, then the standard protocol is to have a loading period where you increase your creatine intake for a few weeks. This can train your muscles to increase the amount of creatine that they retain. During the loading period, you should take 5 g of creatine four times per day. After the loading period, you decrease the amount of creatine you take to a level of 3 to 5 g daily.

You don’t need to go overboard on your creatine intake in search of crazy muscle growth. The maximum amount of creatine that you can hold depends on the amount of muscle mass you have. In general, the muscle can hold about 2 to 3 g of creatine per kilogram of muscle mass. Thus, the amount of creatine you utilize depends on your muscle mass.

Is Creatine Supplement Safe to Take?

Generally, creatine is considered safe when properly taken, and is not seen as a banned substance. It is necessary to note that though it may not help everyone who uses it, it likely won’t hurt, either.

If you’re an athlete looking for a competitive edge, creatine may be able to help you But if you are using creatine as a supplement for your normal workout routine, you may not need it.

Before you take any supplement, you should discuss it with your dietitian or doctor. There are some potential health risks and side effects that you should be aware of before taking creatine. Nausea, muscle cramping, gastrointestinal pain, diarrhea, dizziness, water retention, dehydration, weight gain, heat intolerance, and fever have all been associated with the supplement.

Weight gain may be the most common side effect. Creatine can cause your body to retain water by pulling fluid into your cells through osmosis. It doesn’t cause you to gain weight as fat, but it can increase edema or water weight. Additionally, muscle is denser than fat, therefore, in some cases, building muscle can increase overall body weight.

It is not recommended for people with kidney or liver disease, or diabetes to take creatine. Others who should avoid taking it are children under age 18 and pregnant women or nursing mothers. 

Also, avoid taking creatine if you are taking any supplement or medication that could affect your blood sugar, because creatine may also affect the levels of blood sugar. When you take this supplement, ensure you drink enough water to prevent dehydration.

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