Some athletes take a lot of health supplements before and after their workouts. Some give them more energy for their activity, some promote the healing of muscles and tissues, some provide necessary vitamins and minerals to their diets and some improve their overall performance.
One of the most talked about supplements for athletes is creatine. Known for improving muscle mass and bolstering athletic performance, creatine is a staple in many athlete’s gym bags. But what exactly does creatine do, and is it safe? And who is the right person to take creatine?
What is creatine?
Creatine is a naturally occurring substance in your muscle cells that helps produce energy during intense exercise. Most creatine is stored in your muscles, but a smaller amount can also be found in the brain, kidneys and liver.
Creatine is quite similar to amino acids, which come from protein, and can actually be created by the body using amino acids. When the body does this, it stores it as phosphocreatine. Creatine can also be ingested through meat and fish.
The amount of protein and amino acids you ingest, your hormone levels and your exercise levels can affect the amount of creatine your body creates and stores. Generally, most people don’t max out the amount of creatine their body is capable of storing through their normal diet.
Creatine supplements effectively increase the amount of phosphocreatine your body stores. Ultimately, what this does is increase the amount of ATP (energy) your muscles produce, which allows your body to perform better and with higher energy during exercise.
Benefits of taking creatine
Creatine supplementation offers numerous benefits related to physical activity and muscle growth that can affect anyone—not only experienced athletes.
Improves energy availability for high-intensity exercise
By increasing the phosphocreatine stores in your muscles, creatine allows your body to produce more ATP as you work out. This provides an extra boost during heavy lifting and intense exercise routines.
Normally, ATP from phosphocreatine is depleted within 10 seconds after beginning a high-intensity activity. With additional phosphocreatine in the muscles, ATP production can last a few more seconds, heightening energy availability.
Improved energy allows for longer or more intense workouts, which can lead to improved strength and muscle growth.
Increase muscle mass
Creatine has been proven to be effective for short- and long-term muscle growth, which can aid in strength and aesthetics.
Creatine improves cell signaling and cell hydration, which can aid in the repair of damaged muscle cells and spur new growth. Improving water content in the muscle cells can also increase cell volume.
It may also reduce muscle breakdown and lower levels of myostatin, which can inhibit new muscle growth.
Improve strength and performance
Due to the improvement in energy availability, creatine is known to improve the strength, power and performance of athletes.
Improve brain health
Preliminary studies have suggested that creatine may even play a role in reducing neurological disease risk and keeping your brain healthy by improving phosphocreatine stores in the brain cells.
This may positively affect those experiencing neurological diseases like Parkinson’s disease.
How safe is creatine?
Creatine monohydrate is the most common and popular form of creatine supplements available. It is also the most widely researched.
Although many people are wary about taking athletic supplements, studies suggest that creatine supplementation is very safe. These studies have shown that creatine has no adverse side effects for users taking the recommended dose, nor any lasting damage to organs. Experts actually believe creatine is one of the best supplements athletes can take.
Even still, people considering adding creatine to their athletic supplementation regimen should consult their physician before taking it to be certain.
Who should take creatine?
Almost everyone could benefit in some way by taking creatine. However, unless you’re extremely active or suffer from muscle degeneration, you probably get enough creatine through your daily diet and don’t need to supplement.
Thus, creatine might be best for a few specific types of people.
- High-intensity athletes: Athletes looking to improve their performance and build more muscle mass may benefit from supplementing with creatine. By increasing available energy in the muscles and improving new muscle growth, high-intensity athletes can maximize their athletic abilities.
- Vegans and vegetarians: People who follow a vegan or vegetarian diet may not get a lot of creatine in their diet because of a reduced amount of protein. If those people are highly active in the gym, creatine supplementation may benefit their performance.
- Older adults: Because of its benefits for muscle mass, energy production and potential for brain health, older adults may benefit from taking creatine supplements to stay active, fit and healthy overall.
Creatine is not a necessary supplement, but people who aim to maximize muscle mass and athletic performance may find that the substance is able to make a positive difference, both in and out of the gym.