Creatine is one of the popular supplements on the market today, as it’s potential muscle and strength-building benefits are attractive to elite athletes and weekend warriors alike. But the question remains, does it work?
Open any fitness magazine today and along with articles that deal with strength training and offer fitness tips, advertisements for personal trainer certifications and workout videos you’ll find tons of advertisements for nutritional supplements. You’d be hard pressed to find a more popular strength-training supplement than creatine.
Creatine’s – aka creatine monohydrate – biggest claim to fame is that it aids in the production of energy and possibly can stimulate muscle growth. For anyone familiar with the desires of athletes, people who strength train or other denizens of the gym, any supplement that promises to provide more energy and bigger muscles is going to be very popular.
The most interesting element of the creatine story is that unlike the vast majority of ergogenic aids (performance enhancing) and other dietary supplements, there is quite a lot of evidence to that supports creatine supplementation. However, as is the case across the entire spectrum of supplements, there are almost as many studies that present contrasting evidence.
As a matter of fact, in the last year or so studies have been published in the National Strength and Conditioning Association’s Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research that present conflicting results. In a study done in 2006, “Creatine Supplementation and Multiple Sprint Running Performance,” the researchers concluded that when it comes to creatine supplementation “the expectations of many athletes are unlikely to be realized.”
Another study from 2006, “Effects of Creatine Monohydrate Supplementation on Body Composition and Strength Indices in Experienced Resistance Trained Women” – try saying that 3 times fast! – found that creatine supplementation combined with 10 weeks of strength training may not improve strength or lean body mass greater than training only. But back in 2003 the review of existing creatine research titled, “Effects of Creatine Supplementation and Resistance Training on Muscle Strength and Weightlifting Performance” found that subjects increased their 1 repetition maximum lift in the bench press exercise anywhere from 3 to 45%, and that as a result of this and other findings, the response to creatine is “highly variable.” Gee, ya think?
So what’s a consumer to do? How do you make up your mind about whether or not you use creatine?
That’s where I come in. Your friendly neighborhood online personal fitness trainer and overall font of useful fitness tips and other related information! A little professional perspective along with a dash of anecdotal evidence is useful in situations like this.
Here’s my position on creatine. Actually before my position on creatine, here’ s my general position on supplementation of all kinds. Regardless of what research indicates and/or what is claimed in advertisements, if you are not following a reasonably healthful lifestyle that includes proper, supportive eating habits, regular exercise and plenty of rest you will not get any real benefits from any supplements.
I don’t care if it’s Omega-3 oils, creatine, a multi-vitamin, whey protein, green tea or any other supplement you can shove down your gullet, if you aren’t making an effort in the areas of nutrition, exercise and recovery you won’t derive any benefits from a pill, powder or herb.
Now back to creatine. I used creatine at least 3 different times over the past 10-12 years. One time I followed the loading program to the “T,” and the other times I winged it without regard to schedule and took it if I remembered, and sometimes if I forgot.
Creatine worked for me on all of these occasions. I definitely added size and strength in a relatively short period of time – say a couple of months – and did not suffer from any apparent side effects. In some circles there was the thought that creatine supplementation contributed to dehydration and cramps. Never experienced this and don’t know anyone who did.
When you saturate your muscles with creatine the muscles hold more water and become “volumized.” That’s fancy talk for “bigger.” Without getting into the boring details, there’s a lot of good stuff that muscles can do when they are volumized, most of which boils down to allowing the muscles to grow.
If you refer back to the review of creatine studies that I mentioned above, you’ll see where there is a mention that the creatine response is “highly variable.” One of the ways that you’ll know if you’re one of these “highly variable” types is if you gain about 8-12 pounds without making any other real changes to your diet. When I used the creatine, during the first month or so I added 8-10 pounds of what I felt was “good” weight, in that I was still able to wear a size 32 pair of pants.
Chances are if you’re not a highly variable type you won’t see this kind of weight gain, and the concomitant increase in strength.
And in case you’re wondering, there are 2 reasons why I haven’t continued to use creatine. First of all, I have a terrible memory when it comes to remembering to take any kind of supplement, and I just got sick and tired of either forgetting to take my dose or forgetting to bring it with me or forgetting to buy more when I ran out and forgetting whether or not I already took the appropriate does. But the main reason I stopped using creatine is that I didn’t like the way I felt weighing upwards of 217 pounds. The last time I was serious about using creatine was at least 7 years ago, and I got flat out didn’t like the way I looked or felt as a 38 year-old guy.
For people who have already achieved a high-level of fitness without creatine, I don’t think creatine makes you any healthier. And unless you are into some kind of competitive situation – where the jury is still kind of out with regards to creatine’s efficacy – I personally don’t see any reason to start using it.
The bottom line here is to do your homework so that you know what you are putting into your body, and educate yourself as to the proper way to administer any of these supplements. Consult with your physician, an athletic trainer or the appropriate strength and conditioning professional before using any kind of ergogenic aid.
Check out creatine monohydrate here.
UPDATE: Since late 2008, I have been following a creatine regimen. By fine-tuning my training and loading/maintenance schedule, I feel the benefits from creatine without the weight gain I experienced in the past. If anything, I’m leaner than ever at a body weight of 205-pounds.