Creatine is one of the most widely used sports supplements in the world of athletic competition. Although bodybuilders and power lifters are primary users of this supplement, athletes from ranging from sprinting to golf can be found using creatine in attempts to increase athletic performance. Creatine is even used in the treatment of conditions and diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, congestive heart failure, arthritis, high cholesterol, and emotional illnesses including bipolar disorder and depression. WedMD reports that creatine is also used to assist in slowing the negative effects of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease).
Believe it or not, I am so old that I remember when creatine supplements hit the market back in the 1990’s. I even did a term paper on creatine monohydrate (the most popular variety of creatine supplements) back in my Exercise Physiology class in undergraduate school! So what exactly is creatine? Very simply, it is a compound that is used in energy production within the body, in the form of ATP (adenosine triphosphate). The theory behind creatine supplementation is that it increases the amount of ATP available to the muscles, thereby helping to fuel high intensity exercise. Creatine is naturally occurring and it is found in meat sources including red meat and some fish, but most of the creatine is destroyed in these sources once they are cooked. The body also naturally produces creatine in the form of the amino acids L-arginine, glycine and L-methionine.
So what’s all the buzz about in terms of increased athletic performance? Understand that the main theory behind creatine, being that it is naturally produced and can be naturally derived from whole food sources, is this: More is Better. There is research that suggests that it can help improve athletic performance in high intensity activities such as weight lifting and sprinting because of its suggested ability to increase ATP production. Creatine is also promoted as a supplement that can increase muscle mass, and there is science to support this claim, particularly in those with injuries and diseases affecting the skeletal muscle. It does not appear to be effective at increasing muscle mass in older adults over the age of 60. Some other claimed benefits include aiding in the recovery from intense exercise, decreasing the amount of lactic acid build up after exercise, and an ability to decrease muscle fatigue. Research shows that creatine does not improve endurance performance, and that it does not have an anabolic effect on the muscles (meaning ability to increase muscle mass).
Because creatine is found in red meat and fish, vegetarians and vegans typically have a lower amount of creatine in their bodies, therefore supplementation for this population seems to offer the most benefit. Skeletal muscle can only store a certain amount of creatine and any excess consumed is excreted in the urine in a by-product called creatinine.
Insulin is needed in order for creatine to be transported and assimilated by the muscle tissue. Many creatine supplements combine it with simple carbohydrate sources (sugar) to increase uptake, so a good deal of the supplements available are sports-type drinks and the consumer simply adds the supplement powder to water and drinks it. Others suggest that you take the supplement with fruit juice.
There are some side effects to be aware of if choosing to add a creatine supplement to your diet. High doses can have a negative impact on you liver and kidneys. There is also some evidence that over-consumption can result in formaldehyde being formed in the body as a by-product (not good). It also increases water retention, which can account for some of the increase in the appearance of muscle mass. Other potential side effects include muscle cramps, stomach cramps, diarrhea, loss of appetite and nausea. Always check with your healthcare provider before adding any supplement to your diet and always do your homework J There is a potential for drug interactions if you’re currently using OTC or prescription medications, particularly those used to treat or manipulate kidney and liver functioning. So definitely use caution when using this supplement.
In Wellness and Love,
Dr. Christopher Weaver DC, PAK is a Doctor of Chiropractic and Professional Applied Kinesiologist. He's published two books on health and Wellness.