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What is Creatine?

What Is Creatine?

In their quest to run farther, jump higher, and outlast the competition, athletes have turned to a variety of performance-enhancing supplements. Creatine is by far the most popular of these supplements, creatine enhances muscle mass and helps athletes achieve bursts of strength.

Part of the reason for creatine’s popularity might be its accessibility. Creatine powder, tablets, energy bars, and drink mixes are available without a doctor’s prescription.

Creatine is a natural substance that turns into creatine phosphate in the body. Creatine phosphate helps make a substance called adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP provides the energy for muscle contractions. The body produces some of the creatine it uses. It also comes from protein-rich foods such as meat or fish.

How Is Creatine Used?

Back in the 1970s, scientists discovered that taking creatine in supplement form can enhance physical performance. In the 1990s creatine became a popular sports supplement. According to studies, 8% of adolescents take creatine. The supplement is particularly popular among high school, college, and professional athletes, especially football and hockey players, wrestlers, and gymnasts. An estimated 40% of college athletes and up to half of professional athletes use creatine supplements.

Creatine can improve strength, increase lean muscle mass, and help the muscles recover more quickly. This muscular boost may help athletes achieve bursts of speed and energy, especially during short bouts of high-intensity activities such as weight lifting or sprinting.

There are no known side effects with proper creatine supplementation, as creatine is a natural source your muscles need on a daily basis from your diet. Creatine monohydrate absorbs water from your blood stream into your muscle cells. For those who do not drink enough water dehydration can be a negative side effect.

Creatine works. Lifters know this, professors know this, the marketers who sell the stuff know this.
Creatine, typically bought in flavored powders and mixed with liquid, increases the body’s ability to produce energy rapidly. With more energy, you can train harder and more often, producing faster results.

It’s as simple as this: “If you can lift one or two more reps or 5 more pounds, your muscles will get bigger and stronger,” says Chad Kerksick, Ph.D., assistant professor of exercise physiology at the University of Oklahoma.

Research shows that creatine is most effective in high-intensity training and explosive activities. This includes weight training and sports that require short bursts of effort, such as sprinting, football, and baseball.

There is less support to indicate that creatine improves endurance performance and aerobic-type exercise.

One thing is almost certain: If you take creatine, you’ll gain weight.

It’ll happen quickly, says Paul Greenhaff, Ph.D., professor of muscle metabolism at the University of Nottingham in England. While the initial gain is water (about 2 to 4 pounds in the first week of supplementation), subsequent gains are muscle due to the increase in the workload you can handle.

Because creatine is an “osmotically active substance,” it pulls water into your muscle cells, which increases protein synthesis, Kerksick says.

Studies in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that muscle fibers grow when a person takes creatine. The catch: This only happens if you take advantage of the boost in energy and hit the gym. Otherwise, it is just water weight.


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