Creatine can be an effective way to get bigger and stronger. If you’ve ever considered taking creatine, you’ve probably wondered if the benefits outweigh the risks. Being that creatine is a supplement, there are risks, just like any other supplement. However, I will go more in-depth about what is creatine and its side effects so you can decide for yourself if it’s truly worth putting into your body.
Forget the Science
I’m not going to get into the complex science behind creatine. Let’s be real…most of us don’t want to sit here and read about how creatine is a natural substance that turns into creatine phosphate in the body. Or, how creatine phosphate performs a number of important roles in exercise metabolism, such as providing a limited, but rapidly accessed power system to regenerate adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Want me to keep going? Boring, boring, boring. I’ll make this simple to understand. If you want that more in-depth perspective, read a science book.
In order to use creatine effectively, you need to understand it in simple terms. Don’t just see it as a way to gain size and strength. You need to understand what is actually happening in your body and how this will have an effect on your precious muscles and organs.
What is Creatine?
The first thing to know is that creatine is a natural compound produced by the kidneys, pancreas, and liver that plays an important role in releasing energy when the body moves quickly and powerfully. Creatine is found in all-natural foods, such as meat, specifically herring and beef. If you eat meat, you consume creatine. It’s most likely already in your body. Yet, we rely on more creatine for muscle growth and strength. Now, imagine consuming this natural compound in the form of a powder. That is where the supplement comes into play.
Is Creatine Just About Adding Water Weight?
Let’s dispel a common myth here. Creatine is NOT just about adding water weight. Many people contribute weight gain with creatine as simply more water in your body. Yes, creatine does pull water into your muscle cells and can make you bigger. Yet, your muscle fibers can actually grow when you take creatine. This only happens if you take advantage of the boost in energy and workout. Otherwise, it is just water weight. Creatine increases the body’s ability to produce energy quickly. The more energy means you can train harder and more frequently, producing faster results. Not only can creatine be beneficial on your physique but it can actually benefit you health wise. Creatine is now being used in more and more clinical settings to help treat Parkinson’s disease and heart failure, among other means. Creatine may be essential for brain functioning since there have been studies that confirm that creatine can improve cognitive functioning.
Side Effects of Creatine
Studies have indicated that creatine is safe to use. Not only is creatine studied by many of the top scientists, but it’s perhaps the most researched sports supplement out there. If you had to pick one side effect most people would be concerned about, then it would be the toll it can take on your kidneys. Some people say if you take too much creatine you can get kidney stones and kidney damage. You’d have to take creatine in extreme excess to even consider having kidney stones. Even then there would be a small chance of that happening. There is very little evidence that it causes muscle tears, causes dehydration or other problems. These issues may arise due to drinking little water. The most important thing to do during any creatine phase is to drink water, upwards of a half a gallon a day. Creatine draws water away from the internal working organs and therefore if you take a lot with no water than you may experience some small side effects, like mild stomach cramps and dehydration.
How to Use Creatine Safely and Effectively
If you are interested in taking creatine, shy away from liquid creatine and creatine ethyl ester (CEE). These are unstable and break down in your blood system. Stick with 100% pure creatine monohydrate powder. When you take your creatine, it has often been noted that you should take it with sugar because sugar raises insulin levels. This can help increase creatine uptake into the muscle and help with the actual absorption of the supplement. A glass of natural fruit juice is a perfect way to get this insulin spike. Without supplementation, the body creates and uses roughly two grams of creatine per day.
There’s two ways to use creatine. You can either undergo the “loading” phase, in which you take 10 to 20 grams of creatine daily for one to two weeks. It will shorten the time necessary to see results from creatine. After the loading phase, take 3-6 grams of creatine daily for maintenance. For those who may be more sensitive to taking creatine in this higher dose, you can stick with just 3-6 grams a day. Every creatine supplement you buy comes with instructions on the label with how much to take and when to take it. Your dosage is subject to change depending on your bodyweight and tolerance level. A 200 pound man may need to take more creatine than someone who weighs 150 pounds. You need to do your own due diligence and figure out what works best for you. Everyone is different. It’s up to you if you want to cycle creatine. Many people cycle creatine because if you continue to take it without stopping then your body may stop its natural creatine production. Periodically going off creatine supplements may give your body a chance to recover and start making creatine naturally again. However, there is very little evidence to support this theory. Nevertheless, it’s always good to stop taking supplements for a while and allow your body to adjust naturally.
Creatine may not be for everyone. In fact, I don’t even use it. Some people don’t respond well to taking creatine and others feel that it just makes them bloated. Also, if you don’t train hard enough then you may not reap the full benefits of creatine and you could be wasting your time and money. Remember, if you consider taking creatine, you should speak with your healthcare professional before use. Those with pre-existing kidney problems should be especially careful and should probably stay away from supplementing with additional creatine other than that found naturally in meats.