What is creatine?
Creatine has been lauded as a sports product that will increase an athlete’s performance. But what does it mean beyond that?
We break down how the body uses creatine, misconceptions about creatine supplements, and who might benefit by taking a creatine supplement.
What is creatine?
Creatine is an amino acid found in protein-based foods. “Its main purpose is to supply muscles with a quick energy source,” said Jason Stevenson, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Board-Certified Specialist in sports nutrition at the University of Miami Health System. Simply put: high-energy body parts use creatine as a type of fuel.
“At any given time, we maintain about one gram of creatine within our bodies. The majority being located in our muscles, ”Jason says. If, however, you’re a vegetarian, you might have less creatine in your body unless you take a creatine supplement. If you take a supplement, you might have higher levels of creatine saturation.
How much you take depends on your weight, but the general recommendation is three-to-five grams per day, taken with a fluid and a carbohydrate. Some athletes take even higher doses as part of a week-long loading phase.
Is creatine good for me?
Whether you ingest creatine through animal sources or a supplement, creatine’s benefits are well-known within the scientific and medical communities. The main benefit of taking creatine is to increase lean body mass. “People who want to increase their lean body mass usually lean toward a creatine supplement, and studies are pretty conclusive that it will increase muscle mass.”
Jason explains one caveat here. “The way creatine works; it needs carbohydrate and water to enter into the cell. When creatine enters the cell, it pulls the carb and water into the cell. There, it expands the muscle cell – a process called hypertrophy, or volumization. You increase the size, or volume, of the muscle cell but you’re not necessarily increasing the number of muscle cells. ”
The second benefit of taking creatine is the performance benefit. Jason explains that the benefits are usually only seen during short, repetitive bouts of high intensity exercise, lasting less than 30 seconds.
Visit any fitness website or blog and chances are you’ll read numerous accounts of how creatine helps one specific person. Whether or not that information is accurately represented is hard to say. Here are the are takeaways on creatine:
Timing is Irrelevant
Compared to things like protein and carbs, timing is not as important when it comes to creatine.
“Creatine is a systemic ingredient that you need to load your body up with in order to keep the benefit,” says Jason. “Remember: your body has about 1 gram of it circulating, but that level increases if you take supplementation.”
Can I take too much creatine?
Other than wasting your money, taking creatine in excess has very minimal side effects.
“The longest study I’ve read followed creatine users for 5 years, and the most common side effect was gastrointestinal distress,” he explains. “But, for those with a pre-existing condition, like a kidney problem, where they have a problem clearing out toxins from their bodies, or anyone who has problems getting enough fluids, you might experience some health problems by taking creatine.”
If you think you fall into this category, check with your physician before taking a creatine supplement.
Creatine supplements while on Keto
If you take creatine supplements, keep in mind that a low-carb or keto diet may impact your results. Body builders are notorious for using ketogenic diets leading up to contests. They’ll take supplemental creatine to maintain levels, but they probably aren’t getting the same benefits as someone who is consuming carbs. ”
Which creatine supplements are safe for vegetarians or vegans?
“Just because we find more creatine in animal products, doesn’t mean that the supplements you’re buying are derived from animals,” Jason explains. “If you’re trying to avoid animal-based products, be sure to check the manufacturer’s label to be sure it’s appropriate for vegans.”
Who benefits from taking a creatine supplement?
Creatine is known to be an effective supplement within the athletic community, but others might benefit from creatine too. For example, elderly people with no pre-existing health conditions related to the kidneys, as well as vegetarians.
“You’re going to see more creatine naturally in a person who includes animal products in their diet than in a vegetarian.” Taking a supplement can help you increase your creatine stores, but it’s not necessarily a “must-have” in your diet unless you’re aiming to increase performance.
Elderly people might also consider taking a creatine supplement to help maintain muscle mass.
“As we get older, we lose muscle mass which results in a slow-down of our metabolism. This may contribute to age-related illnesses which might have been avoided with better muscle mass to body fat ratio. ”
Avoid creatine if you don’t ingest enough fluids or if you have a predisposition to kidney conditions. Either scenario could lead to further health complications. If you’re unsure, check with your physician before incorporating creatine into your diet.