Creatine: the facts

The world of bodybuilding is overflowing with a wealth of possible supplements, all of which promise to deliver better results.

While some supplements deliver, others don’t really add any value so it’s worth thinking carefully about any you choose to add to your regime.

Creatine has been around for a while, and although it’s been surrounded by many myths and inaccuracies, the fact remains that it really does work.

Here’s what you need to know about creatine, and why it’s a must-have supplement for bodybuilders.

How does creatine work?

Creatine is one of the most researched supplements and is one which most people have heard of, even newbies.

picture of creatine

When a muscle contracts, it is forced to snap adenosine triphosphate (ATP) off from a phosphate group. This leaves behind ADP (adenosine diphosphate). Unfortunately, ADP can’t be used as a form of energy for ongoing muscle use so it needs to find a phosphate to reconfigure into ATP. The muscles do this by taking phosphate from the body’s store of creatine phosphate.

By taking creatine, you will be bumping up your body’s own store and providing a greater supply for the muscles to use. This means that ATP can be formed more quickly and easily, allowing your muscles to train for longer.

The benefits of creatine

The above mechanism of creatine shows the very basic function it performs within the body, but the potential benefits it offers is far greater than simply improved stamina.

Here’s a look at some of the advantages that using creatine brings:

  • Enables high intensity training because the energy released is immediately available
  • Aids recovery
  • Heightens anaerobic ability
  • Promotes brain function
  • Increases the size of muscle fibres
  • Reduces the incidence of age-related muscle loss (sarcopaenia)
  • Improves glucose tolerance
  • Promotes bone healing
  • Increases muscle power

Creatine can be particularly beneficial for vegetarians who may have lower levels of creatine in their body. Research suggests that the uptake of creatine by vegetarians is much higher, and results in even greater levels of creatine stores.

Side effects

Many performance enhancing drugs, such as anabolic steroids, have the ability to deliver vastly improved results but there’s often side effects too.

There’s lots of rumours about the possible side effects that creatine causes including:

  • Liver/kidney damage
  • Dehydration and cramping
  • Compartment syndrome
  • Rhabdomyolysis (a condition where skeletal muscle breaks down)
  • Weight gain
  • Gastrointestinal discomfort

Extensive research has been carried out into the use of creatine and no significant side effects have been noted, with the sole exception of gastrointestinal discomfort. In a very small amount of cases some GI distress may be experienced but this is typically either due to the creatine being taken on an empty stomach, or a high dose. The vast majority of individuals will not suffer any GI ill effects due to taking creatine.

A beneficial supplement

Double blind studies have shown that taking creatine will not be harmful to the individual’s health in any way, providing the recommended dose is adhered to. Some people will particularly benefit from taking creatine including bodybuilders, vegetarians and anyone suffering from a neurodegenerative disease.