Should you take creatine?
Many people take supplements when they train (see our blog on Fitness supplements), including personal trainers and their clients – but what about creatine?
Creatine supplies energy to our cells and is naturally stored mostly in our skeletal muscle. The name comes from the Greek word kreas, meaning flesh.
While our bodies can synthesise (make) creatine, we can add to our creatine reserves through eating meat and fish or by taking supplements, which usually come as a flavoured powder to be mixed with water/juice or in tablet form.
Who takes creatine and why?
Athletes and sports professionals as well as amateur gym goers often use creatine as it helps them to maintain a high energy output. This can enhance sporting performance, especially for games like football that need short, explosive bursts of energy.
In the gym it can facilitate training at a higher intensity, which is why it’s popular for resistance training and to help bodybuilders bulk up.
It is not believed to be as effective for aerobic and endurance exercises, as these are mostly driven by carbohydrate and fat oxidation, which means they don’t rely on energy from the ATP/CP systemt as much as the fast muscle fibres used in explosive movement.
What about weight gain?
Creatine draws water into muscle cells, increasing the synthesis of protein. It also helps muscle fibres to grow.
People taking creatine usually gain weight through water at first, and then from increased muscle mass as they train more effectively.
Does it affect everyone equally?
No. Genetics can affect its effectiveness, as can consumption of alcohol and caffeine. Vegans and vegetarians usually notice a more dramatic response when they start taking creatine, as they aren’t taking any in from eating meat and fish.
It also depends what you mix the powder with. For example, fruit juice will increase your levels of insulin, which means there will be a higher and more active uptake of creatine into your muscles.
Scientific tests have shown that using creatine when you train does help you to get bigger and stronger.
As well as increasing the size and strength of your muscles by helping you to train at a higher intensity, it’s believed that creatine also enhances recovery by reducing the damage to muscle cells post-workout.
Athletes who require short bursts of energy, such as sprinters, often take creatine as it increases the ability of the ATP/CP (Adenosine-Tri-Phosphate / Creatine Phosphate) system to create energy, as well as to decrease the rate of fatigue allowing high intensity efforts to be maintained for longer. It’s even thought that it can enhance brain function by acting as a neuroprotectant and help bone growth, useful for those who are recovering from a fracture or suffering from osteoporosis.
Some unwanted weight gain may occur with creatine, which could give a bloated / less defined look. It may also effect your performance in body weight exercises/sport, as they are heavily influenced by your body-weight-to-power ratio which coould be hampered due to an increase in water / weight gain. However this is not always detrimental if the client is not concerned about their 'dryness' in regards to their physique and is not competing in a sport.
Creatine is not recommended for children under 18 or for anyone with kidney problems.
Anecdotal negative side effects have been reported, from muscle cramps to dehydration and diarrhoea, and more studies are needed into whether these are indeed caused by creatine.
As with any supplement, it’s always best to get medical advice first.