What is Creatine and What Are The Short & Long Term Side Effects?

If you’ve found this page, that means you are toying with the idea of creatine supplementation but want to make sure that you’ve done your research before you decide to dive in.  There are some unknowns with creatine use.

The good news is that this supplement has been on the market for a while and for the most part, has been found to be relatively safe.  Before we can look at the benefits and potential side effects, you need to understand what creatine is and what it does.

So what is Creatine and Where is it Found?

Creatine is a naturally occurring chemical found in the muscles of the body for the most part. Your body makes creatine using amino acids. It can also be found in some foods and of course in supplements. The body converts creatine into phosphocreatine, a form of stored energy used by muscles, according to ConsumerLab.

Creatine is used primarily for improving sports performance. It has been shown to increase muscle mass in athletes and in older adults.

Creatine has also been used for congestive heart failure, to treat depression, bipolar disorder, Parkinson’s disease, and other diseases of the muscles and nerves. It has also been used to treat incidents of high cholesterol, according to WebMD.

How Does Creatine Work to Improve Performance?

The theory behind using creatine is that it will build up extra phosphocreatine in the muscles, giving you a reservoir of the substance that your muscles can rely on when you push them to the max. It’s also believed and has been shown in some studies to be useful in helping the body make more phosphocreatine after intense workouts. Hence, the reason why creatine supplements are sometimes used after workouts.

What Are The Benefits of Creatine Supplementation?

While the body uses amino acids to build all the creatine you normally need, you need to eat enough animal protein to give your body systems the right amino acids to work with. For this reason, you’ll see many  vegetarian athletes supplementing with creatine to get the benefits associated with building muscle that creatine can bring.

Creatine is effective for improving athletic performance and helping build muscle. It improves the fitness level when lifting weights and doing strengthening exercises. It increases your endurance, capacity, and muscle madss. If you can do another set or a few more reps, or if you can lift more weight, you’re going to build more muscle.

There are many benefits to taking creatine which can include gains in strength & muscle mass by increased cell volumization.

As you might suspect, sports medicine studies of creatine are being conducted with increasing regularity. Since the ban of steroids, creatine has become the go-to performance enhancer for many athletes. Studies of creatine use in male swimmers indicate that they enjoyed significant increases in speed when doing six sets of 50-meter swims starting at 3-minute intervals. Shorter intervals yielded no improvement. Female swimmers in this same study, on the other hand, saw no corresponding performance improvement.

Interestingly, creatine does not seem to help with aerobic exercise performance in general.

The real benefits of creatine supplementation appear to come into play for repeated short bursts of high intensity exercise, and for intense body building. There’s some evidence that indicates creatine may help increase metabolism and burn body fat too. It may also help reduce fatigue. It certainly increases your ability to lift heavier weight for longer periods.

There is some evidence for the use of creatine in reducing high levels of cholesterol and treating certain nervous system conditions. Much more research is needed to give us information in these areas. However, as a supplement to improve strength training and bodybuilding performance, creatine is unmatched for its ease of use and the results many weight lifters get from their workouts when the supplement is used as directed.

How Should I Use Creatine?

Using creatine for bodybuilding or athletic performance starts with what’s called the loading dose. A loading dose of powdered creatine is typically between 15 and 30 grams. Take this amount for three to four days, splitting into three doses you take with meals. Once you’ve done the loading dose for 3 to 4 days, reduce the dosage to about 5 grams of creatine a day. If you stay at the 5 gram dosage level, the likelihood you’ll experience any side effects is almost nil (assuming you’re a normal, healthy adult).

To increase the absorption and make it easier for creating to get into the muscles, it’s a good idea to take creatine with some fruit or other simple carbohydrate. Fruit juice works well for this purpose.

An important note: If you’re going to opt for creatine supplementation, we recommend you eliminate caffeine and other stimulants. Caffeine in particular has been identified as a substance that can  completely block the benefits of creatine supplementation.

Using creatine is generally considered to be safe. Numerous studies have shown that there are no significant side effects with several days of a high dosage loading dose of 15 to 30 grams, followed by 6 weeks or so of 5 grams a day. Now that longer term studies are available, we’re starting to see reports that even longer term usage of creatine is considered safe.

That said, there are potential short term and long term side effects of creatine use.

What Are The Short-Term Side Effects of Creatine Use?

Side effects while not typically common, can exist when taking creatine. As always, check with your doctor prior to taking any creatine supplements.

Using creatine can make you feel dried out. What’s actually happening, however is that it makes your muscles pull water from the rest of your body.

When you are supplementing with creatine, it is therefore critical that you consume extra water during the day.

Of course, the upside to your muscles retaining water is that they look bigger.

There are some anecdotal reports of people having irregular heartbeat when using creatine but for the most part these reports haven’t been substantiated.  If you take creatine, you will gain weight quickly.

The initial weight gain is water — but subsequent gains come from all the muscle you’re adding because of the increased workload.

And no, you won’t get fat from just using creatine.  You get fat from eating more calories than your body needs which it then stores as a surplus, otherwise known as fat.  Creatine is essentially a cell volumizer so while it may puff you up a bit due to the water retention, it will not make you fat.  Only extra food and a poor diet with lots of sugar can do that.

What Are The Known Long-Term Side Effects of Creatine Use?

There have been some reports of people developing allergies to creatine over a long period of time. Likewise, some have reported asthma-like symptoms after long-term use.

Some evidence suggests that creatine can lower your blood sugar levels, too. If you have diabetes or hypoglycemia, we suggest you avoid taking creatine supplements.

There is also some concern to that creatine supplementation can cause high blood pressure. If you have blood pressure issues, talk to your doctor before supplementing with creatine.

All this said, there are no true long-term studies that indicate creatine is anything but safe if you’re in normal health.

Are There Any Potential Drug Interactions?

Since there is some concern that high doses of creatine over a long period of time can damage the kidneys, we suggest that you not take creatine if you are also taking medications that can harm the kidneys. The long-term dosage required to create this problem however exceeds the 5 grams per day recommended dosage.

Use it as directed and you should be safe.  As always, we recommend checking with a physician before starting any supplement routine, especially something like creatine or testosterone supplementation.

Medications that can harm the kidneys include ibuprofen, naproxen, piroxicam, amikacin, gentamicin, and tobramycin. If you are taking any of these medications, don’t take creatine.

Related: See how Tim Ferris uses smart drugs like creatine and Ubiquinol to start his day

Should I Take Any Precautions?

People under the age of 18 should not use creatine. This is a conservative statement, however there been no studies on children and the use of creatine, and since nothing is known, it is best to avoid its use in people under 18.

Since creatine boosts performance in weightlifting, there is a danger of overexertion, resulting in torn muscles. But that danger exists with or without creatine – avoiding injury is all about common sense. Paying attention to what you’re doing during exercise means not only making sure you maintain proper form, but making sure that you don’t over exert yourself so you can avoid injury.

A Creatine Myth DIspelled:

Some have said that taking creatine without working out is going to make you fat. That is simply untrue.

Now it is true that you can experience some minor weight gain when using creatine but that’s only because the muscles retain more water.

You should be drinking a ton of water anyways while using creatine and exercising so you can get rid of any excess that your body does not use and also give yourself the maximum opportunity for your cells to volumize and increase in size.

Will Creatine Supplementation Work for Me?

Creatine will have different reactions for different people. Many people see increased strength and muscle mass.

That is a good question. Your body chemistry is different from anybody else’s. What your body needs and what another person’s body needs are going to be completely different.

And, as mentioned above, some studies indicate that it works well for men, but may not be effective for women.

Creatine affects people differently. Many people get amazing muscle growth from the use of creatine. Others see no improvement at all, or modest gains at best.

Diet is important when using creatine too.

Vegetarians usually see a greater response from the use of creatine simply because they are not consuming lean protein from which creatine is manufactured.

People who already eat a healthy dose of lean meats may not see as big of a boost initially, but it will eventually start to pay dividends for anyone that hasn’t used creatine as a supplement before.  Some people prefer to use creatine intermittently to let their bodies flush out any excess every few months which while not a requirement, can be useful for some people.  The most important thing you can do is listen to your body.

Related: The finest protein powders you will ever need

What’s the Best Way to Take Creatine?

Unquestionably the best way to take creatine is in powdered form. It is readily digested by the body. Mix your creatine dose with fruit juice to help it digest properly and get into your system quickly. Studies suggest that consuming 5 grams of creatine with about 70 grams of simple sugars will ensure its uptake into the muscles.

Buy the best quality creatine powder you can find. The best quality creatine powder will dissolve readily in your fruit juice and be quickly absorbed by the body.

Related: Krill oil supplements and its benefits

Wrapping Up & Brand Choices:

The bottom line of creatine supplementation? If you are healthy, go for it – you’ll likely see results you would not otherwise have seen in your strength building and lifting workouts.  As we stated earlier, you need to remember that quality makes a huge difference.

If you aren’t sure which brands to look at, take a look at our detailed creatine comparison guide that will give you a breakdown of everything you need to know about the best brands on the market today.

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