If you've been around the gym enough then you have probably heard of this supplement or know someone who is taking it. There are so many myths and misconceptions around creatine and it baffles me how it is still so misunderstood.
Here I will review the basics of creatine: what it is and how it is used, so you can make an informed decision around using it (and be informed before you make opinions of others who do.)
What it is: Creatine is a naturally occurring molecule in the body that is produced from amino acids. That's right. Creatine is already produced in your own body. When you take a creatine supplement, you are supplementing the production of creatine that your body already makes. Creatine can also be found in some food products, most notably animal based products like meat because it is created from amino acids which are prevalent in meat.
What it does: Creatine stores high-energy phosphate groups which aid in ATP production. ATP is a prime energy source in the body. Therefore, creatine aids in providing more energy to the body. Creatine is most often used to enhance strength and power during resistance (strength-based) exercises. When creatine is taken and a consistent resistance program is followed, it can help in the production of lean body mass (muscle.) It may also have a positive impact on anaerobic running capacity but the research is still mixed.
What you need to know:
Creatine is THE MOST research supplement on the market. As such, it is therefore determined to be one of the safest supplements you can take.
Creatine is NOT a performance-enhancing drug. It's just not. So now you know.
All research indicates that Creatine Monohydrate is the most effective form of creatine that you can take. It is also the cheapest. Therefore you should not be spending $$$ on creatine supplements.
Creatine can cause bloating, but this is normal and it is purely water weight. (*People often wonder if the bloating side affect is worth the positive impact that it has on muscle building. From my experience the bloating is minimal and well worth it if your primary goal is strength or muscle building.)
How do I take it:
Creatine must be taken every day in order to be effective.
It is best taken in a "loading protocol." This means that you take small doses every day in accordance with your body weight and decrease the daily dose for the following weeks as calculated for your body weight. The recommended loading protocol is 0.3 grams per kilogram of bodyweight per day for the first 5-7 days, after which you then follow with a dosage of at least 0.03 grams per kilogram of bodyweight per day. (Using myself as an example, this means that at 65 kilograms, I would take 19.5 grams of creatine each day for 5-7 days, after which I would decrease to roughly 2 grams per day indefinitely.) This is an example loading protocol. It is also common for people to take 5 grams a day indefinitely as creatine supplement is so cheap you don't often have to worry about budgeting when it comes to this supplement. I personally take 5 grams a day.
Creatine can cause gastrointestinal distress if taken without enough water intake. Water intake is extremely important regardless, but especially important when supplementing with creatine as cramping and diarrhea can occur otherwise.
Is creatine a supplement you should take?
I recommend supplementing with creatine as creatine has SO much research baking up its effectiveness, I would recommend creatine supplementation if you have a muscle building or strength gaining goal specifically. The benefits are well documented as it has been shown to increase performance. There have also been many other potential benefits of creatine supplementation including depression reduction and fatigue reductions.
You can find more research information and the specific studies sourced here. Supplementation is always a personal decision and you should never feel pressured into taking any supplements you don't feel comfortable with. That being said, creatine should be at the top of your list of safe and effective supplements. Cheering for you,