Creatine is one of the most popular sports supplements on the market. It’s also one of the most misunderstood. Media reports often claim creatine supplementation is dangerous, saying it causes kidney damage and can be a gateway to anabolic steroids. But when used correctly, creatine has several benefits that can be helpful for athletes. Here’s what you need to know about creatine and its benefits.
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What is Creatine?
Creatine is a nitrogenous organic acid that is naturally produced in the body by the amino acids glycine and arginine. It’s also found in protein-rich foods such as meat and fish. However, you would need to eat a lot of meat and fish to obtain an appreciable amount of creatine, which is one reason why creatine is frequently ingested as a supplement; it’s hard to get enough of it to feel its benefits through food alone.
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How Does Creatine Work?
Creatine helps to regenerate a molecule called adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is your body’s main source of energy. When creatine stores in your muscles are depleted, the production of ATP comes to a screeching halt and your energy is dramatically decreased. Supplementing with creatine increases the available fuel to power ATP, which can increase your strength and power output.
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Who Can Benefit from Creatine?
Supplementing with creatine is beneficial for several types of sports, including sprinting, swimming and soccer. Creatine supplementation can also help increase your strength, power and muscle mass, which makes it useful for sports like football. It’s important to note that creatine supplementation is not effective for exercise or events lasting more than 90 seconds, like long-distance running.
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What Kind of Creatine is Best?
Take a quick trip to your local nutrition store or search online for creatine, and you’ll quickly find there are more types than you ever imagined. And with each supplement company touting their creatine as the best, making a smart and informed decision on what kind to buy can be difficult.
When in doubt, go with the research. The most studied form of creatine is creatine monohydrate. No other form is proven safer, more effective, or as inexpensive as creatine monohydrate.
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How to take Creatine
Creatine is supplemented one of two ways. The first way is called “loading.” This requires taking 20 grams of creatine for five to seven consecutive days. Following the loading phase, three to five grams of creatine are taken daily. This is called the maintenance phase. The idea of loading creatine is to initially saturate the muscle cells, promoting faster results.
Skipping the loading phase and simply taking three to five grams per day is the other method. It takes longer to saturate the muscles, so it will likely take longer to see results. The timing of creatine will not make or break your training goals, but taking creatine after a workout with fast-digesting carbohydrates (like a sports drink) may be your best option.
Creatine is one of the safest sports supplements available, yet many myths about it still linger.
The main concern is that creatine damages the kidneys. But zero data supports this notion. In fact, several studies show that creatine has absolutely no effect on kidney function in healthy people. One study found no changes in kidney function between collegiate football players who supplemented with creatine and those who didn’t for nearly two years. Another study showed no changes in kidney function in individuals who consumed 10 grams of creatine a day—twice the recommended daily dose—over the course of 12 weeks.
The only reported side effects of creatine supplementation are stomach cramping and diarrhea. However, they are often preventable and only tend to happen when too much creatine is taken at one time or if you don’t drink enough water.
Although creatine is considered remarkably safe, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends that athletes be at least 18 years old before starting to use creatine. This is because the majority of studies on the safety of creatine supplementation have been performed on young adults aged 18 or older.
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