Creatine and Creatine Supplements

Creatine supplies energy to your muscles. About half comes from your diet, the rest is produced in your liver and kidneys. Many athletes take creatine supplements to increase strength and improve performance. Supplements are relatively safe in healthy people. However, always talk to your healthcare provider before taking creatine supplements.

What is creatine?

Creatine is one of your body's natural sources of energy for muscle contraction. Its name comes from the Greek word for meat. About half of the body’s supply comes from a carnivorous diet and about half is produced in the liver, kidneys and then delivered to the skeletal muscles for use. About 95% of creatine is stored in the skeletal muscle of your body and is used during physical activity. Creatine helps to maintain a continuous supply of energy to working muscles by keep production up in working muscles. Small amounts are also found in your heart, brain and other tissues.

Creatine is also found in foods such as milk, red meat and seafood. In a normal omnivorous /carnivorous diet, you consume one to two grams/day of creatine. Vegetarians may have lower amounts of creatine in their bodies.

Creatine exists in a steady state with a similar compound named creatinine that can be measured in lab tests as a marker of kidney function. It is passed out of your body in the urine. This means your body must release stored creatine each day to keep normal levels, the amount depending on your muscle mass. Although creatine is created naturally in your body, you must keep up your levels and do so through your daily diet.

Why do people take creatine supplements?

Professional and amateur athletes at all levels have been known to take creatine supplements to aid their workout routines and improve workout recovery. Creatine creates “quick burst” energy and increased strength, which improves performance but has little effect on aerobic endurance. Most people who use creatine supplements are male athletes and are mostly involved in power sports, such as football, wrestling, hockey and bodybuilding.

No matter your age or health condition, talk to your doctor or healthcare provider before taking creatine supplements.

Are creatine supplements recommended for athletes?

Creatine supplements are used by many athletes. The supplement is allowed by professional sports associations, the International Olympic Committee and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

Benefits have been reported in men and women, although most studies have been conducted on men. Some studies note that women who take creatine supplements may not see as much strength or muscle mass gain as men during training.

What are the potential benefits of taking creatine supplements?

Research shows that taking creatine supplements may:

  • Improve your exercise performance.
  • Help your recovery after intense exercise.
  • Prevent and/or reduce the severity of injury.
  • Help athletes tolerate heavy training loads.
  • Increase your fat-free muscle mass during training.

Because vegetarians have lower intramuscular creatine storage, they may see greater gains from taking the supplements. However, it may take longer to build up levels in the muscles.

Several studies show that users experience less incidence of cramping, heat illness/dehydration, muscle tightness, muscle strains/pulls, non-contact injuries and total injuries/missed practices than those not taking creatine supplements. The effects appear to be sustained over time.

In addition, studies have noted that taking creatine supplements may aid in neurodegenerative diseases (such as muscular dystrophy, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease), diabetes, osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, disorders of creatine metabolism or transport, aging, brain health and heart ischemia.

What are the side effects of taking creatine supplements?

Creatine is a relatively safe supplement with few side effects reported. However, you should keep in mind that:

If you take creatine supplements, you may gain weight because of water retention in your body’s muscles. It will take seven to 28 days to see energy effects depending on how much creatine you already have in your body.

It may be dangerous to take creatine supplements when you are actually dehydrated or trying to lose weight.

The International Society of Sports Nutrition recently found no scientific evidence that short- or long-term use of creatine monohydrate causes any harmful effects on otherwise healthy individuals. Nevertheless, always contact your healthcare provider before taking creatine or any supplements.

Is it safe to take creatine supplements?

Although creatine is present naturally in your body, taking additional supplements appears to be generally safe. However, keep in mind that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not regulate nutritional supplements. Creatine products that are sold in stores may vary in quantity of creatine supplement, quality and additional ingredients. Safety and purity standards are also not controlled.

Check with your healthcare provider about use of creatine supplements in children younger than 18 years. Not enough information is known about the safety of creatine supplements in pregnant or nursing women. If you have kidney disease, speak with your healthcare provider before using. Taking the supplement may make your kidney disease worse. Many medications can harm your kidneys. Always check with your provider if you take any medications – the combination of creatine supplements could damage your kidneys.

Doctors do not know the effects of creatine supplements on important organ systems, such as the heart, brain, kidneys, liver and reproductive organs, or the effects of combining creatine supplements with over-the-counter medications, prescription drugs, vitamins and energy drinks.

What is the most common type of creatine supplement?

The most common is creatine monohydrate, a dietary supplement that increases muscle performance in short-duration, high-intensity resistance exercises. Studies show that taking these supplements benefit athletes during strength training, notably weightlifting and cycling. Other forms of creatine have not shown added benefits.

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