Creatine is a natural substance found in the body that helps provide energy during muscle activity and is distinct from creatinine (a byproduct of protein metabolism that is increased in kidney failure).
Creatine supplements are widely used by athletes to improve physical performance (ergogenic).
- According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition, creatine is a very effective supplement to improve endurance and exercise performance.
- The American Dietetic Association, Dietitians of Canada, and American College of Sports Medicine support the ergogenic properties of creatine supplements.
- It is used by athletes involved in various sports, including swimming, weight lifting, cycling, soccer, and high jumps.
Creatine supplements can help athletes in many ways, such as:
- Improved exercise performance including high-intensity exercise performance
- Improved lean muscle mass and strength
- Better and faster post-exercise recovery
- Injury prevention, including prevention of cramps, dehydration, and bones and muscle injuries
- Better recovery from injuries
- Reduced injury severity
- Improved injury rehabilitation
- Increased training tolerance
- Improved tolerance to physical activity in high-temperature conditions
Proper usage of creatine supplements may protect athletes from severe injuries.
Besides its use in sports, creatine is used for the management of:
- Neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s, Huntington’s disease, and muscular dystrophy
- Rehabilitation from injuries
- Inherited disorders of creatine metabolism or transport, such as guanidinoacetate methyltransferase (GAMT) deficiency and arginine-glycine amidinotransferase (AGAT) deficiency
Creatine supplementation is being studied for various other conditions, such as sarcopenia or age-related muscle loss, brain and heart diseases, pregnancy, adolescent depression, and diabetes. One must, however, consult their doctor before taking creatine for any reason to avoid any undesirable effects.
What is creatine?
Creatine is a naturally occurring amino acid found in the body. It is produced in the liver and kidney and is available in foods derived from animals, such as red meat, milk, and seafood. Thus, a vegan or vegetarian diet is typically devoid of creatine.
About 95 percent of the creatine in the body is stored in skeletal muscles (muscles that help the body move) and acts as an energy source during muscle activity. The brain and testes store a small amount of creatine.
What are the side effects of creatine?
Creatine is generally a safe supplement when taken under the recommended dosages. The most commonly reported side effect of creatine supplementation is weight gain.
There is, thus, a possibility of dietary supplements being contaminated with toxic substances, such as heavy metals. Some dietary supplements may contain harmful or prohibited substances, such as anabolic steroids. Hence, one must exercise caution and prefer buying supplements from reliable manufacturers.
Some of the possible side effects of creatine supplements include:
- Allergic reactions (hives, breathing difficulty, swelling over the face, tongue, or lips)
- Abdominal pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Muscle cramps
- Weight gain
- Worsening of liver or kidney disease
Creatine supplements must be avoided if one:
- Has kidney disease, diabetes, or heart diseases
- Is pregnant or breastfeeding
- Is aged older than 60 years
Avoid giving creatine to a child without consulting a pediatrician. A person should discuss with their doctor before taking creatine if they are using any other supplements or medications.
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Buford TW, Kreider RB, Stout JR, et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: creatine supplementation and exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2007;4:6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2048496/
Kreider RB, Kalman DS, Antonio J, et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2017;14:18. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5469049/
USADA. What Do Athletes Need to Know About Creatine? https://www.usada.org/spirit-of-sport/education/athletes-need-know-creatine/
Drugs.com. Creatine. https://www.drugs.com/creatine.html