Are there Any Side Effects of Creatine?
The only pronounced and proven side effect associated with creatine supplementation is weight gain. There has been concern that creatine supplementation may increase renal stress or negatively affect muscles, liver and other bodily organs, however, over the last decade research has been conducted to evaluate the safety of creatine and these studies have shown that creatine is not associated with any adverse problems that have previously been reported for both short- and/or long-term use. Moreover, there have been recent studies that indicate that among athletes, creatine may reduce the likelihood of musculoskeletal injuries while training and lessen heat stress. Despite the fact that people who supplement with creatine may experience some of these problems, their incidences do not seem to be greater than those who take placebos.
Is Long-term use of Creatine Safe?
Athletes have been known to be using creatine as a supplement since the 1960s and widespread use of creatine as a dietary supplement began in the 1990s. No clinically significant or noteworthy reproducible side effects have been directly caused by creatine supplementation. Up to this date, no long-term side effects have been seen in athletes, patient populations or infants with creatine synthesis deficiency. All available evidence suggests that creatine supplementation is safe.
What is the Best Time to Take Creatine?
Studies have revealed that intense exercise causes increases in anabolic hormones and ingesting carbohydrates and protein after exercise accelerates glycogen synthesis and also promotes protein synthesis. The mechanism which plays a significant role in this regard is the carbohydrate and protein stimulated increases in insulin along with the increases in protein synthesis caused by the essential amino acids. Due to the fact that insulin levels also increase creatine uptake, consuming creatine post-exercise along with a carbohydrate and protein supplement may be effective in increasing and maintaining muscle creatine stores.
Is the Weight Gain from Creatine Supplementation Due to Water or Muscle?
Creatine supplements generally promote gains in body mass and fat-free mass (FFM), however some suggest that because the gains are rapid they must be attributed to fluid retention. Despite it being popularly accepted that the initial weight gains may also increase water retention, more recent studies do not support this concept. The studies which have researched the effects of creatine supplementation on fluid retention indicate that although total body water increases, this increase is proportional to weight gained. Muscle being 73% water suggests that if an individual has gained 10 pounds of muscle, about 7.3 pounds of weight gained would be water. Moreover, there have been numerous studies which have suggested that long-term creatine use increases fat-free mass without actually increasing total body water when evaluating body composition. Several studies have also pointed out that these gains come with increases in muscle fiber diameter as well as increases in strength. Hence, weight gain that is associated with creatine supplementation is muscle mass.
Should Athletes take Creatine by itself or with other supplements?
There has been increasing interest in finding methods to enhance uptake of creatine into muscle. Most supplements emphasize improved transport systems which optimize the storage of creatine by enhanced intestinal and muscle uptake. The question becomes whether taking creatine in conjunction with other nutrients or nutritional supplements will enhance creatine uptake and/or the effectiveness of creatine. It is important to note some of the basics of creatine first. First, creatine is not degraded into creatinine in the stomach and intestinal absorption is the limiting factor in muscle uptake of creatine. As a matter of fact, one method of measuring creatine storage is by subtracting the amount of creatine in the urine from the amount of creatine taken orally. Should a notable amount of creatine be degraded to creatinine in the stomach this calculation would be invalid as creatinine is the only known byproduct. Second, creatine uptake into muscle has been shown to be sodium dependant and also mediated by insulin. Therefore taking creatine with sufficient amount of carbohydrate/protein (40-80 grams of carbohydrate and about 20-50 grams of protein) or glucose (70-100 grams), which are known methods of increasing insulin levels may also be a key way to enhance creatine uptake. Additionally, there is evidence which suggests that taking creatine along with D-pinitol augments creatine uptake into muscle. For this reason, it is at often times recommended that athletes take creatine with a high carb drink such as juice or with their protein/carbohydrate supplements to increase insulin while promoting greater creatine uptake.
Should You do a Loading Dose?
The quickest way to increase muscle creatine stores is to do a loading dose as described in the article “Creatine Supplementation – Common Protocols and the Effects on Muscle Creatine stores”. Most of the creatine is taken up by the muscle over the first two to three days of the loading phase, however there is a study which has been conducted that indicates that taking lower doses over time such as around 3 grams/day for 28 days also increases muscle creatine stores. With that being said, it is not as clear as to whether the low-dose method actually enhances exercise capacity and performance. There have also been studies done which indicate that low-dose supplementation of creatine in the range of 5-6 grams/day over a period of 12 weeks produced greater gains in muscle strength and muscle mass while training. Numerous other studies found no effect of lower-dose (2-3 grams/day) creatine supplementation on exercise performance and therefore it can be concluded that the most effective way to increase creatine content is to implement a loading phase for about 3 days prior to ingestion of 3-5 grams/day thereafter in order to maintain elevated levels of creatine.
What is the Best Form of Creatine?
Creatine has become an increasingly popular supplement over the years and as such, there are a number of different forms available on the market such as creatine ethyl ester, creatine malate, creatine monohydrate and kre-alkalyn creatine. Most studies conducted to date have evaluated creatine monohydrate powder form. Some published studies done on creatine have compared the ergogenic value of several of the various forms of creatine supplements which have concluded that all of the various forms can improve exercise capacity. Some of the potential benefits between the various forms of creatine would be taste preference, supplement variety and convenience. The main disadvantage would be the lack of studies done on the other forms of creatine and the expense. There is no evidence to claim that you cannot take higher amounts of creatine monohydrate and achieve the same or better results because of faster absorption, greater muscle uptake, greater intestinal absorption and less degradation in the stomach. You can buy creatine powder supplements online on FantasyNutrition.com where you will find high quality creatine products such as creatine monohydrate powder which have been produced in inspected facilities by top supplement manufacturers.
Should Athletes Cycle with Creatine?
There is no direct evidence that suggests that cycling on and off creatine is any more or less effective than doing the initial loading dose and maintaining creatine thereafter, however the best benefit of creatine supplementation is enhancements in training adaptations. Therefore, should an athlete want to cycle on and off creatine, it would seem to be more beneficial to take creatine while being involved in heavy lifting and intense training rather than between training phases or periods of no training.
Do Men and Women Respond the Same or Differently to Creatine?
Several studies done on short- and long-term creatine use among women indicate that women experience a ergogenic benefit from short-term creatine supplementation while gains in body mass and fat-free mass are not as rapid as men. With that being said, women do gain muscle mass and strength over time while following a regular training program.
It has also been noted that men are generally more interested in supplementing with creatine compared to women because women are less interested in fear of excessive weight gain and/or muscularity.
Is Supplementing with Creatine Ethical?
Creatine supplements are not currently banned by athletic organizations. The International Olympic Committee ruled that because creatine is found readily in meats and fish, there is no need to ban creatine. Creatine loading is no different than carbohydrate loading and many athletes ingest high carbohydrate drinks in order to increase/restore muscle glycogen stores and supplement their usual diets. It is argued that if carb loading is not banned, then creatine loading should also not be banned.
Creatine supplements remain one of the most widely studied nutritional supplements available for athletes and individuals. Hundreds of studies conducted over the years have noted that increasing muscle creatine stores via supplementing with creatine can increase muscle creatine content, improve training adaptations, enhance exercise performance and also provide some additional therapeutic benefits. Hence, creatine remains one of the most popular and most effective nutritional supplements and ergogenic aids available to athletes of all types. Creatine supplements have continuously proved to be the most safe and most effective supplements to increase performance, muscle mass and strength. This is true in spite of misleading and inaccurate information spurring up about creatine over the last decade.