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The Benefits of Creatine Supplements

man in a tank top doing dumbbell flies.

If you’ve ever found yourself in a supplement store or have friends who talk about trying to get big “gains” in the gym, you’ve likely seen or heard of creatine supplements. Creatine, which is used for building muscle size and strength, is one of the most popular athletic performance supplements, and many guys swear by it.

However, if you’re not steeped in the world of athletic performance, or have just begun immersing yourself in your workouts and the quest to step up your fitness, the extensive litany of sports supplements that are available can be extremely overwhelming. How do you know which supplements are safe and effective, which ones you may need, and how and why you may want to use a sports supplement? Below, we place the spotlight on creatine supplements and answer these questions to give you the information you need to decide if you should take creatine to boost your athletic performance.

What Is Creatine?

Creatine is a natural, nitrogenous organic acid used primarily by muscle cells to provide quick-acting energy. In fact, 95% of the creatine in the body is stored in skeletal muscles, with the remaining 5% in the brain. Creatine is composed of three amino acids: L-arginine, glycine, and L-methionine, and it can be synthesized in the body or obtained in the diet through red meat, fish, or supplements.

In terms of an athletic supplement, creatine is primarily used to help build muscle and fuel resistance training workouts or high-intensity exercise as it provides the substrate for the most rapid energy-production pathway in the body. The thought is that by boosting energy production, athletes can work harder and perform better, thus reaping better gains and improvements. In other words, if you can lift more weight, you’ll get that much stronger and build that much more muscle.

How Much Creatine Do You Need?

Creatine needs depend on your activity level. The International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) reports that larger athletes who train vigorously and intensely may need 5-10 grams of creatine per day, while smaller people and sedentary individuals will need considerably less. Power athletes have the highest demand, as they are more likely to use up their stores of creatine on a daily basis. Additionally, individuals with certain muscular disorders, such as muscular dystrophy, may have even higher needs.

Benefits of Creatine

man lifting heavy weights on barbell.

The following are the reported benefits of creatine:

  • Boosting high-intensity exercise performance, particularly in HIIT workouts
  • Improving muscular strength and power
  • Augmenting the effects of resistance training on strength and muscle mass
  • Increasing muscle mass
  • Minimizing muscle cramping
  • Reducing muscle pain after workouts
  • Speeding muscle recovery
  • Reducing fatigue
  • Hastening recovery from injury
  • Improving symptoms in neurological conditions

Overall, creatine is primarily used to enhance high-intensity exercise performance (sprinting, jumping, lifting) and build muscle mass.

Safety of Creatine Supplements

Though creatine supplements are still not cleared by the FDA, they are widely used and generally considered safe. They are also approved for use by athletes competing under the International Olympic Committee (IOC) or the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

However, at high doses, there is a potential for adverse effects to the liver, kidney, or heart, along with less serious side effects such as stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea, and muscle cramping. Pregnant women or those with kidney disease, hypertension, or diabetes are advised not to take creatine supplements. If you have concerns, it’s a good idea to discuss your situation with your doctor to decide if creatine supplements are a good idea for you.

Should I Take a Creatine Supplement?

pair of man's legs doing a deadlift.

If you’re a power athlete, looking to put on mass, or striving for big strength gains in the gym, a creatine supplement has the potential to be beneficial. If you eat a lot of red meat or fish, you may be getting enough creatine in your diet; however, vegans and vegetarians may have more to gain by taking a creatine supplement.

Choosing a Creatine Supplement

Not all creatine supplements are created equal because their production is not well regulated. When choosing the best creatine supplement, it’s paramount to look for something as pure as possible—not blended with caffeine, ephedra, or other unwelcome or potentially dangerous substances. Start with just a little and work up to the full dose to see if you find it helpful and compatible with your body.

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