Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Creatine: Breaking Down the Stigma

By: Joel Luedke

Creatine as a supplement has endured a very tumultuous history dating back to the 1960s. Originally used as a performance enhancing supplement there has been a lot of confusion on what the supplement actually does and how it can actually affect the body.  The goal of this article to not persuade anyone to actually use the supplement but take a wholistic look at creatine, maybe provide some guidance and at least break down the stigma that it is something that is terrible for you and potentially unsafe.

To start off, creatine is one of the most researched supplements out there (if not the most).  There have been hundreds of studies on it and more so recently the research has been focused on going beyond performance increases to now looking at creatine synthesis deficiencies and neuromuscular disorders.

Looking at the performance side of creatine there have been significant findings showing that it does in fact increase performance both in strength and power but also with speed and explosion (in about 70% of the studies).  This research is so extensive that it has been generally accepted among the top levels of sports nutrition.  There are many ways to supplement with creatine and we won't get into all of the details of that in this article (Check out recommendations by the ISSN) but overall all of the general recommendations for utilization have been shown to be effective. Utilizing a creatine loading phase first shows a slight edge of the most beneficial to increase creatine stores faster.

One of the biggest hits to creatine's reputation is that is has a plethora of side effects and can be extremely hard on the body.  We want to take a close look at those below:

Side Effect 1: Weight Gain
Weight gain is thought to occur due to increased water retention, general excess weight, and not actually lean body mass gain.  Studies have shown that this isn't the case and scientists have determined that the weight gain resulting from the use of creatine in training was a result of the increase in muscle mass that occurred during that training sequence.  It has been thoroughly vetted that creatine use with performance training adds what is usually the desired result of increased lean body mass and not just water.

Side Effect 2: Damage to kidney/renal function
Creatine is a naturally occurring substance in the food you eat (if you eat red meat) and the remainder of the creatine in your body is creatine from a couple of branched chain amino acids.  The body stores up to 160g of creatine and utilizes about 1-2% of that day (2-3g depending on the size of the person).  If you eat red meat you get another 1-2 g a day and like we said the rest is created in your body.  When you break it down like this ingesting 3-5 g/day via supplementation is not a large amount to add to your body and something that your body can handle with ingestion from a typical diet.
Research looking at the effectiveness of creatine has shown you can directly measure the amount that gets taken up by the body and measure the excretion of the remainder via the urine.  For the excess to be excited it would have to pass through the kidneys/renal track but there have been no studies (short- or long-term) to show any damage to these structures.  Overall, the myth should be busted.

Side Effect 3: Dehydration, muscle cramps and increased injury risk
Based on the research most of this appears to have been fabricated and turned into a myth.  While there have been side effects seen in studies utilizing creatine they were in no greater occurrence than people taking a placebo.  In several studies there was actually increased side-effects with the placebo compared to creatine.  In fact, on the opposite end supplementing creatine has shown that it can decrease injury risk especially with musculoskeletal injuries in athletes.  Overall, there is little to no evidence for this side-effect.

Creatine is a naturally occurring substance in the body and one that has been through extensive scrutiny.  It has shown to have very positive effects on performance and could be a great addition a training and performance program to help facilitate increases.  Up to this point in the research nothing has shown to creatine to be dangerous to someone utilizing it for either performance or as a daily supplement for general health.  It can be a very good option for athletes looking to increase their performance without moving further down the spectrum of performance enhancing supplements.

Take Away:

Creatine has been one of the most researched supplements out there (remember studies in the hundreds) but it has caught a bad rap due to some misinformation on use by other countries (in the past) and also by potentially causing injury to individuals.  The bottom line is that it is a naturally occurring substance in your body and one that you might want to use, especially for performance.  We consume it naturally (if you eat red meat) and the research coming out on its benefit to cognitive function is hard to ignore.

I personally believe everyone could benefit from maintenance doses of creatine just like a multi-vitamin (no need to load).  Even if you aren't trying to get big or perform at an elite athletic level the other benefits, such as the neuro-cognitive help, are hard to ignore.  As with any supplement use it just like that, as a supplement to a healthy and robust diet and make sure you check in with your physician or other health professional if you have any questions.

-Cognitive Functioning
-General Health

Proposed Negatives
-Hydration Issues
-Weight Gain
-Other random ones

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