Creatine works. Weight lifters know this, professors know this, the marketers who sell the stuff know this.
But nobody should put anything in their body without weighing the benefits and risks first. That goes for everything from beer to marshmallows to the amazing amino acid called creatine.
It’s not anything scary. It’s not a Barry Bonds starter kit.
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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.
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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.
By Brittany Risher, Photo by David van der Mark on Flickr, CC 2.0