How does creatine impact your body: Helpful or harmful?

Creatine, a naturally occurring compound found in our muscles and the food we eat, has gained immense popularity in the health and fitness community.

Many athletes swear by its benefits, crediting it for their increased strength, stamina, and improved workout sessions.

While some view creatine as a magical enhancer, others approach it with caution, fearing potential risks.

This article aims to provide clear, factual information about how creatine affects the body, pulling from scientific studies and expert opinions.

Whether you’re considering adding creatine to your regimen or simply curious about its effects, this piece aims to guide you with knowledge and clarity. Let’s get started.

Is creatine good or bad for you?

Creatine, often found on the shelves of health stores and discussed in fitness circles, has a reputation that sparks both intrigue and skepticism [1].

Let’s break down what it is, its benefits, and potential concerns, so you can make an informed decision about its role in your health and wellness routine.

First things first, creatine is a naturally occurring compound. Our bodies produce it, and we also get it from foods like meat and fish. At its core, creatine plays a pivotal role in helping our muscles produce energy, especially during high-intensity activities.

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What are the benefits of creatine?

Creatine, a word frequently echoed in gyms, sports circles, and health forums, has captured the attention of many, from professional athletes to fitness novices.

This natural compound, produced by our bodies and found in foods like meat and fish, offers a range of benefits that might just make you consider adding it to your daily regimen.

1. Enhanced athletic performance

Creatine serves as an energy buffer, fueling short bursts of high-intensity activities. Whether you’re pushing through a final sprint or trying to crush your personal weightlifting record, this supplement might just be the boost you need.

  • Strength boost: Supplementing with creatine often results in noticeable strength gains. It helps muscles access that extra bit of energy, allowing for more forceful contractions.
  • Increased endurance: Not just about sheer power, creatine also aids in prolonging those energy reserves. This means you can maintain high performance levels for a more extended period.
  • Speedy recovery: The aftermath of an intense workout session can be taxing. With creatine’s support, muscles recover at an accelerated pace, prepping you better for your next challenge.

Athletes and fitness enthusiasts, from team sports players to solo gym-goers, have recognized and leveraged these benefits, making creatine a staple in many training regimens.

If optimizing performance is on your agenda, understanding creatine’s role can be invaluable.

Muscle growth and development
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2. Muscle growth and development

When aiming to add some lean muscle mass, creatine can be a significant ally. 

  • Cell volumization: Creatine increases the water content within muscle cells. This not only gives muscles a fuller appearance but also triggers processes that stimulate muscle growth [2].
  • Protein synthesis promotion: Building muscle revolves around protein synthesis – the process where cells construct new proteins. Creatine aids in ramping up the levels of certain muscle-building proteins.
  • Energy supply: During intense workouts, your muscles require immediate energy. Creatine ensures they get this energy, allowing for better workouts and subsequently, better muscle development.

While workouts and proper nutrition lay the foundation for muscle growth, supplements like creatine can amplify those gains.

With its direct impact on muscle cells and energy, it’s easy to see why many consider creatine an essential tool for muscle building.

3. Benefits beyond muscles

Creatine isn’t just for those wanting to flex bigger biceps or break personal records at the gym. This supplement offers a range of benefits that extend well beyond muscle growth.

  • Brain health support: Just as muscles thirst for energy, so does the brain. Creatine aids in maintaining brain energy levels, which could have positive implications for conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
  • Blood sugar regulation: An intriguing aspect of creatine is its potential role in managing blood sugar. It might enhance glucose transport to muscles, an essential process for overall health.
  • Antioxidant properties: Oxidative stress can be a precursor to aging and many diseases. Creatine, with its antioxidant traits, stands guard, helping to protect cells from this stress.

Beyond the gym, creatine proves its worth in several areas of health. Whether it’s ensuring the brain stays sharp or giving cellular defenses a boost, creatine’s benefits are vast and varied.

What are the issues with taking creatine?

While creatine has carved out a reputation as one of the most popular and effective supplements in fitness, it’s not without its share of controversies and misunderstandings [3].

Let’s address some of the primary concerns and myths surrounding this supplement.

1. Kidney and liver damage concerns

One of the longstanding concerns about creatine revolves around its potential to harm the kidneys and liver. These apprehensions often stem from earlier misconceptions and misinformation. 

  • Historical misconceptions

In the past, some believed that creatine supplementation might harm the kidneys, mainly because it led to an increase in creatinine levels, a waste product that the kidneys filter out. However, this was a limited understanding based on incomplete information.

  • Modern research

Subsequent research and studies have significantly altered our perspective. The bulk of scientific evidence suggests that creatine, when consumed at recommended doses, is unlikely to cause kidney or liver damage in healthy individuals.

  • Consult with experts

If you have any underlying kidney or liver conditions or are on medications that affect these organs, it’s prudent to consult with a healthcare professional before adding creatine to your routine. They can provide personalized guidance and monitor your health appropriately.

Understanding that creatine is generally safe for most people can help alleviate concerns related to kidney and liver health.

As with any dietary supplement, responsible usage and consultation with healthcare experts are vital steps in ensuring your well-being.

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2. Dehydration and muscle cramps

Two concerns often raised in connection with creatine use are the fear of dehydration and the possibility of experiencing muscle cramps. 

  • Dehydration

It’s a common misconception that creatine might lead to dehydration [4]. The concern here arises from the fact that creatine pulls water into muscle cells, potentially leaving less available for the rest of the body.

While it’s crucial to stay hydrated when using creatine, the notion that it directly causes dehydration isn’t substantiated by robust scientific evidence. Proper hydration remains an essential part of any fitness regimen, creatine or not.

  • Muscle cramps

Some individuals express concerns about experiencing muscle cramps due to creatine supplementation.

Muscle cramps can occur for various reasons, including dehydration, overexertion, and individual factors. Creatine itself is not a known direct cause of muscle cramps.

Staying hydrated and understanding that creatine is not a dehydrating agent should help put these concerns to rest.

As with any fitness supplement, it’s essential to monitor your body’s response and address any issues in consultation with a healthcare professional.

3. Weight gain worries

Weight gain is a concern that often surfaces when discussing creatine supplementation.

  • Initial water weight

When you start taking creatine, it’s common to see an initial increase in weight. This is primarily due to the enhanced water retention within your muscle cells. It’s not fat gain; rather, it’s water weight.

While water weight gain may happen initially, it’s essential to view it as a stepping stone. Over time, with consistent training and proper nutrition, this can transition into muscle mass gain – a goal for many.

It’s vital to differentiate between muscle mass gain and undesired weight gain. The former contributes positively to your physique and strength, while the latter typically involves fat accumulation.

Understanding that the initial increase in weight is due to water retention, not fat gain, should help alleviate concerns related to weight gain.

Creatine’s role in supporting muscle development can be a valuable asset for those aiming to build a stronger and leaner body.

weight gain worries

4. Digestive issues

Digestive discomfort is a concern that some individuals associate with creatine use. 

  • Dosage impact: Digestive issues like bloating or diarrhea can occur when taking very high doses of creatine [5]. It’s crucial to stick to the recommended dosage to minimize these problems.
  • Dose splitting: If you find that taking the full dose at once causes discomfort, consider splitting it into smaller portions throughout the day. This might make it gentler on your stomach.
  • Different forms: Creatine monohydrate is the most widely used form, but if you experience digestive discomfort with it, consider trying other forms like creatine hydrochloride, which some people find easier on the stomach.
  • Hydration: Ensure you’re drinking an adequate amount of water when using creatine. Proper hydration can mitigate digestive issues and is a fundamental part of overall health.

Understanding that digestive issues associated with creatine are often related to dosage and individual sensitivity should help you address and manage any discomfort.

As with any supplement, it’s wise to listen to your body and make adjustments as needed, all while consulting with healthcare professionals if necessary.

Conclusion

Creatine, a supplement widely discussed and debated in the health and fitness world, reveals itself as a multifaceted ally to those seeking improved athletic performance and muscle growth.

Throughout our exploration of its benefits and potential concerns, we’ve gained a more comprehensive understanding of this compound.

Creatine proves to be more friend than foe, offering numerous advantages for both athletes and the general population.

However, individual responses may vary, and it’s essential to stay informed, maintain proper hydration, adhere to recommended dosages, and consult with healthcare professionals when necessary.

FAQs

Is creatine safe for long-term use?

Yes, creatine is generally safe for long-term use when taken at recommended doses. Extensive research supports its safety and effectiveness.

Will creatine make me gain weight?

Initially, you might see a slight weight increase due to water retention. Over time, it can contribute to muscle gain if combined with proper training and nutrition.

Should I load creatine or take it daily?

Loading with higher doses for a few days isn’t necessary. Taking a consistent daily dose of creatine, such as 5 grams, is effective for most people.

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[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3407788/
[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8949037/
[3] https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/creatine-pros-and-cons
[4] https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12970-021-00412-w
[5] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18373286/

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