A Guide to Creatine: The basics and everything you need to know about creatine
Creatine is one of the most popular and researched supplements on the market right now. This ergogenic aid, which is mainly used by athletes and bodybuilders, has a lot of confusion surrounding it. One of the main concerns with creatine is obviously the safety of it, and as well, the side effects. In this article, we will discuss the basics of creatine, such as what the supplement is, its safety in usage, and its health benefits. Hopefully, by the end of this article, you will feel confident in knowing about this supplement and in making an informed decision of whether to start taking it or not.
What is creatine?
Creatine is a supplement that improves performance during exercise and has added health benefits. When creatine is taken as a supplement, training adaptations become more prevalent, and when taken over a long period of time, it allows for greater gains in strength, muscle mass, and performance (1). Essentially what is happening is that creatine facilitates the ability to do more sets or reps during high-intensity exercises before fatigue sets in. Research has shown that creatine also enhances recovery time and injury prevention, among other perks (1).
The recommended protocol for creatine intake is to first consume a “loading” dose of 5g four times daily for one week, followed by a “maintenance” dose of 3-5g daily for the next 4-6 weeks. The loading phase allows creatine stores in the muscle to be filled up, leading to quicker results to the benefits of creatine. The maintenance phase keeps the creatine at an increased level during the following few weeks. However, creatine will return to baseline levels by the end of the 4-6-week phase, and therefore, the loading and maintenance processes can be repeated (1). There is an alternative route, which is to take 5g daily for 28 days. Though this is a slower process, the benefits will still be attained in a one-month period, instead of one week. When should you take creatine? Research has found that ingesting creatine along with a carbohydrate and protein source would provide the best benefit (1), however, this is not necessary, as it can be taken at any time.
Safety & Health benefits of creatine
Many people have a fear of creatine, due to the belief that it could harm the functioning of various parts of the body, such as the intestines or kidneys, among other areas. Research has shown that creatine has no side effects on individuals, except for potential weight gain, which may be attributed to an increase in water weight or even muscle mass (1). Creatine has been shown to be safe to consume in young and older individuals, regardless of their training status (1). Research has proven creatine to be safe and to provide health benefits. One major benefit is creatine’s ability to enhance exercise performance. After a loading phase is complete, performance in exercise is usually increased by about 10-20%. This is a good advantage in the gym and could help speed up the time it takes an individual to obtain their desired goals (1). Another health benefit of creatine is the increase in recovery time following a workout. As such, inflammation is decreased after an intense workout, and tolerance to high volume training is increased, allowing recovery to be much easier on the body. Studies have also shown that creatine may aid in injury prevention (1). One analysis that was conducted by “Kreider and colleagues” showed American collegiate football players ingesting 20-25g of creatine with a protein and carbohydrate source for 12 weeks during an off-season phase. The findings showed greater gains in muscle mass and strength, and no adverse side effects were found (1,2), indicating that creatine is safe to consume. There were other studies done that concluded that individuals who used creatine seemed to have fewer instances of injury during their training. Overall, creatine has been shown to be safe to ingest, and when taken as a supplement, offers various health benefits.
Points to take away
If you are considering buying creatine for yourself and just want a quick rundown before buying, here are the main points to take away from this article:
- Creatine is a supplement that assists with training by allowing greater gains in muscle mass, strength, and performance.
- The amount that should be taken or the “dosage” you should be looking at is about 20-25g a day for one week in a “loading” phase, followed by a “maintenance” phase of about 5g per day, until creatine levels return back to baseline which takes up to 4-6 weeks. This will yield the fastest results and quickest way to gain the benefits of creatine.
- As far as safety is concerned, creatine has been proven to be very safe to ingest and offers numerous health benefits to taking the supplement.