Creatine works and despite the null findings from clinical trials, lifters, personal trainers, and marketers, who sell the stuff, know that it works. Its one of the most widely used dietary supplements that helps you get bigger faster! Research shows that creatine is most effective in high-intensity training and explosive activities. This includes weight training and sports that require short bursts of effort, such as sprinting, football, and baseball. There is less evidence that creatine helps improve endurance performance and aerobic-type exercise (e.g. long distance swimming or running). Creatine works by pulling water into your muscle cells, which in turn increases protein synthesis (i.e. protein synthesis = muscle fiber development). A special note to the “pill popping couch potatoes” out there… This only works if you exercise; otherwise you end up with just a bunch of extra water weight.
I have been frequently asked if creatine is harmful. Remember those studies on the news a few years ago that suggested that creatine could cause harm to your kidneys? There really wasn’t much to those rather poor quality studies, but before you go eat a bottle of creatine for lunch, here are some helpful things to consider:
- More is not better… so don’t take more than the recommended dosage on the label. The safety of mega-dose creatine hasn’t been widely studied and doesn’t provide any more of a benefit. Remember you can over-dose on any nutritional supplement, so don’t be a bicep brain!
- Know the product your taking (especially all you athletes)! Just because its in GNC or CVS doesn’t mean that its not tainted and/or poor quality. Look for a respected national brand and not just any cheap fly by night brand on Groupon. Stay away from products that imply they are similar to a steroid or ones that promise effects over night! Products that have third party certification (i.e. products with seals such as NSF, USP and NPA) are most likely to be of high quality and safe.
There is little to no long-term safety data on creatine… we really do not know the effects of chronic creatine use over 10, 20, 30+ years. Since creatine appeared on the market in the 1990’s, it is reasonable to believe that the supplement has somewhat of a “history of safe use.” Scientists would have most likely noticed any major ill effects of creatine by now. The only real adverse effects scientists have noticed when the product is used appropriately are increased instances of muscle cramping. So if you are using the product, make sure to get enough potassium and stay hydrated!
To be safe, if you have kidney problems you probably shouldn’t use creatine since the kidneys naturally excrete creatinine, a breakdown product of creatine. Children under the age of 18 should also avoid using creatine, since it has not been extensively studied in growing/developing individuals (although a few clinical studies of its use in children with musculoskeletal disorders provide some reasonable safety assurance). Creatine has different effects on each individual. Some individuals do not respond to creatine at all (it’s a genetic thing…), so again, don’t over do it bicep brain!