You’ve heard of creatine. You’ve probably heard that it helps with every problem under the sun too. But do you know what it really does?
In this blog, we’ll look into what creatine is, what it can be used for, and what its side effects are.
Creatine 101 – What Is Creatine
Creatine is a chemical compound, and it’s also an amino acid. Creatine is found in both your muscles and brain.
Your body uses creatine to fuel your muscles. Your body converts creatine to phosphocreatine and stores it in your muscles, where it is used for energy.
Because of this, many people take creatine in supplement form to improve their athletic performance  and build muscle mass.
Although we’ll get into more detail about the uses, benefits, and potential side effects of creatine later ... it’s worth saying that athletes take creatine to improve their performance.
But it’s not a steroid. If you compete, you can still take creatine.
That’s because your body makes its own creatine, but it’s also because different foods that you already eat contain creatine.
You can find creatine in a variety of foods, but mainly red meat and seafood. Creatine supplementation allows for a more direct addition to your body's natural supply.
There are a variety of creatine supplements on the market from liquid to powder. Additionally, the human body produces its own creatine as well.
Although you technically can, it's nearly impossible to out-exercise the kind of diet that would have that level of creatine in it.
You cannot run off all of that fat, cholesterol, and calories.
Between creatine in food and creatine supplements, it’s easily accessible and convenient to work into your supplement routine.
Uses For Creatine
There are four main reasons why people take and use creatine. Let’s take a deeper look at all four of them.
The four reasons why people use creatine are:
Athletic performance and Creatine
The most popular reason why people take creatine supplements, by far, is its ability to enhance athletic performance.
Many studies have shown that creatine can improve the body’s ability to perform a variety of athletic tasks from jumping to rowing.
If you need some extra help getting the anaerobic part of your workout done, creatine could be the boost you need.
Creatine can give you an extra boost of muscular energy and ability when you need it most.
Muscle strength and Creatine
This second reason is related to the first. Creatine is stored in your muscles.
Additionally, it pulls more water into your muscles giving you extra size and strength.
It should be noted that it is not a lot of water, maybe a pound or two. You will also not look puffy and bloated, more defined and shapely if anything.
Although the strength gains you get exclusively from creatine are minor, the ripple effect they can have on your workouts is huge.
Think of it like compounding interest. The creatine lets you lift a little bit more than you could without it during each workout.
That means your gains improve a little bit more every time than they would without it.
Sure, you might not see a huge difference from workout to workout, but you’ll see way bigger gains after a year than you would have without it.
It’s the compounding effect that can really give you that boost you’ve been looking for.
As we get older, our bodies begin to break down.
They don’t repair the skin as well as they did. They don’t retain bone density like they used to. They don’t even produce or maintain muscle mass as they did before.
Some people take creatine to counterbalance the process of aging.
No creatine isn’t a magical fountain of youth, but if you notice that you’re having a hard time gaining or maintaining muscle mass as you age, supplementing with creatine can help counteract that uphill climb.
Creatine also pushes back against oxidative stress which is another thing that affects your body as you age.
There are certain syndromes and diseases that prevent the body from producing its own creatine.
Guanidinoacetate methyltransferase (GAMT) and Arginine-glycine amidinotransferase (AGAT) are both examples of this.
Both diseases prevent the body from producing creatine. These syndromes have been shown to slow mental ability and cause seizures.
Supplementing with creatine, in this case, isn’t about gains or performance but simple cognitive and physical function.
In cases where a person’s body cannot make its own creatine, creatine supplementation is a medical necessity.
People take creatine supplements for a variety of other reasons including reversing skin aging, making up for lost muscle tissue and fixing muscle cramps.
It should be noted, however, that the only reasons to take creatine that are backed with sufficient evidence are the four we mentioned already.
Make sure to take the creatine as suggested on the supplement bottle or as recommended by your doctor if you’re taking it for medical reasons.
As long as you’re taking it the way you should, Creatine shouldn’t present itself with any major side effects.
Creatine Side Effects
There’s a lot of talk about whether or not creatine can cause heart problems or kidney damage. Most of the evidence, however, suggests that these outcomes of creatine are highly unlikely .
They’re especially unlikely if you’re taking your creatine as instructed and drinking plenty of fluids as well.
That being said, there are still some possible side effects that you could experience by taking creatine supplements.
The side effects of creatine include:
- Muscle cramps (if you’re dehydrated)
- Stomach aches
- Weight gain (from water, not fat)
- Sensitivity to heat
- Water retention
- Heat intolerance
Not all of these side effects are bad.
For example, if you’re looking to gain muscle mass, you’re going to have to accept the fact that you’ll gain weight. But weight gain can come as an increase in fat or as muscle mass. In fact, weight gain and increased muscle mass come hand in hand.
If you’re drinking enough water, you won’t dehydrate.
Other symptoms can be mitigated if you take the supplements as instructed. An example of this is dehydration.
Remember that creatine requires that you drink more water than you usually do. So please, increase your water intake if you plan on taking creatine.
A good rule of thumb is to drink about a gallon of water a day!
Also, remember not to load creatine unless you have to.
Creatine Goes Well With Juice And Effort
One final note about creatine is that it’s most effective when taken with carbohydrates.
That doesn’t mean you can’t use water, however.
It’s just that the carbohydrates you find in juice, intra-formance, ignition, or other drinks with carbs raise your blood’s insulin levels which, in turn, makes your body more effective in absorbing creatine.
That means you’ll absorb more and waste less. This is why most people who use creatine will add it into their post-workout stack because it is convenient and effective.
But no matter how you prefer to take your creatine, know that it won’t do you much good unless you’re exercising too.
Exercise is what’s going to improve your physical fitness. Creatine supplements your current efforts, it does not replace them.
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 Beck TW, Housh TJ, Johnson GO, Coburn JW, Malek MH, Cramer JT. Effects of a drink containing creatine, amino acids, and protein combined with ten weeks of resistance training on body composition, strength, and anaerobic performance. J Strength Cond Res. 2007;21(1):100-104.
 Poortmans JR, Francaux M. Adverse effects of creatine supplementation: fact or fiction? Sports Med. 2000 Sep;30(3):155-70. doi: 10.2165/00007256-200030030-00002. PMID: 10999421.ABOUT THE AUTHOR