Creatine, a natural substance that is made in the body as well as found in meat and fish, is arguably one of the most highly researched dietary supplements in history. Over the last several years creatine has enjoyed unprecedented popularity in the fitness community because it tends to make people stronger and more powerful. However, research is finding that creatine may have uses that go beyond its application in the gym setting.
Creatine and Exercise
As was mentioned above, creatine is a supplement that people use to help make them stronger and more powerful. This effect has been validated by a large number of published, clinical studies. Most investigations find that creatine helps when combined with high intensity exercise, lasting less than 30 seconds.
Examples of such activities include power lifting, martial arts, javelin throwing and sprinting to name a few.
Creatine does not seem to improve athletic ability in sports that are not high intensity such as jogging, low intensity circuit training or hiking. With respect to how much to use, it is normally recommended that people start with a loading phase of about 20 grams a day for a week followed by a maintenance phase of between 2-5 grams.
I am of the opinion that the loading phase is not necessary in light of a 1996 study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology titled Muscle Creatine Loading in Man, showing that one month of using 3 grams of creatine per day elevates muscle creatine levels as much as using 20 grams for a week.
It should be noted that not all studies find that creatine works. The reasons for this inconsistency are not well understood.
Today many creatine products exist. It should be noted that most of the research to date has been done using creatine monohydrate. As such, I suggest people look at the lables of their creatine supplement. Look only for this ingredient and disregard any additional /popular ingredients.
Types Of Creatine
Currently there seems to be no good evidence that creatine + other stuff (glutamine, etc.) is any better than creatine alone. For the moment, I would steer clear of liquid creatine supplements because they tend to break down faster.
Likewise, dont pay extra for “buffered” creatine products. According to some research, they don't appear to be any better than regular creatine monohydrate.
The same thing goes for creatine ethly ester supplements too – no better than less expensive creatine monohydrate.
My rule of thumb is the more big /fancy words you see on the creatine supplement container, the more my spidey sense tingles that it might be overpriced. The same thing goes for creatine supplements containing pictures of muscular men (or women) or pictures of complicated biochemical pathways. It's a smokescreen to get you to pay more money.
Just check the ingredients for “creatine monohydrate” and compare prices between products.
Medical Uses For Creatine
Some research finds that creatine may do more than make muscles stronger. Before using creatine health issues talk to your doctor first. Never use creatine supplements in place of medications to treat a health condition. That said, here is a list of medical issues that creatine has been studied for:
- Gyrate Atrophy. Gyrate atrophy is a rare genetic degenerative eye disorder that can result in nearsightedness, night blindness and cataracts. Some research notes creatine might help this condition.
- Congestive Heart Failure. Congestive heart failure results when the heart can no longer pump enough blood to sustain normal activities. People with this condition usually become tired and short of breath during activity. Some studies have found that creatine may improve the way people with congestive heart failure deal with the stress of exercise.
- Arthritis. At least one study has noted that creatine + exercise reduced arthritis joint stiffness more than exercise alone.
- Cholesterol Reduction. Preliminary evidence hints that several weeks of 5 grams per day of creatine may help lower cholesterol, LDL (bad cholesterol) and triglyceride levels in some people. It's effects are less powerful than cholesterol lowering medications. That said, there is more evidence that losing weight can reduce cholesterol levels than creatine supplements.
- Parkinson's Disease. Creatine might help some people with Parkinson's disease.
- Muscular Dystrophy. Muscular dystrophy actually refers to a family of related syndromes characterized by a progressive degeneration and weakness of muscle. Some research notes that creatine can mildly improve strength in people afflicted with some forms of muscular dystrophy.
There are other health-related areas creatine has been studied for. Overall, I feel the research is in its infancy. Because of this, if you have any health issue, I suggest you speak to your doctor and pharmacist before using creatine supplements to treat yourself.
Creatine Side Effects
Aside from occasional nausea and diarrhea, most studies to date have not found any serious negative side effects associated with creatine use. The most consistent side effect that has been observed is a gain in water weight (fluid retention) where people can expect to gain between 5-10 pounds following creatine use.
While creatine has not been shown to be harmful to the kidneys or the liver, the research is on healthy people. People with kidney or liver problems should not use creatine supplements because we do not know what happens.
Some people link creatine use to rhabdomyolysis however, as I mentioned in my book about rhabdo, I disagree with this. I think it was the intense exercise people were doing that caused rhabdo.
As for creatine and injuries, I think people have to remeber that creatine makes muscles stronger -not ligaments and tendons. I believe that people who experienced tennis elbow, shoulder problems etc. after taking creatine accidentally injured themselves by progressing themselves faster than their ligaments and tendons could adapt. I've reviewed this and other questions about creatine at my site Supplement-Geek.com.
In healthy, people creatine does not raise blood pressure. But all the research on this issue that I've seen has used people with normal blood pressure. I have never seen a study of creatine in people with high blood pressure. Because of this, be cautious of creatine supplements if you have high blood pressure. Talk to your doctor.
Creatine is metabolized to small amounts of formaldehyde. While this has not yet been shown to be a problem, more research is needed to better ascertain what effect, if any, this may have in humans.