Creatine is an important acid used for processing energy within the skeletal muscles, and has become quite popular in recent years as a supplement to aid in bodybuilding. However, what are the facts surrounding this chemical? Is it safe? Is it effective? How does it work? In this article we'll answer these questions and give you a basic rundown of creatine and whether you should use it.
The skeletal muscles are the ones you care about if you are weight training; They allow you to move and give shape and bulk to your body. And in the complicated process of energy transfer within these muscles, creatine is one of the chemicals on the "assembly line." It is an acid, and it is produced naturally in your body from amino acids consumed in the food you eat. Generally, it comes from meat and animal products, although vegetarians' bodies can produce it as well from the amino acids from plants. While your body usually has enough creatine, there is some evidence that taking it as a supplement, and thus saturating the muscles with it, leads to an increase in energy levels.
And this can sometimes lead to misperceptions. Creatine is not a hormone, like steroids. It does not lead directly to gains in muscle mass. However, what it does do is a well established fact. If the muscles are installed with it from supplementation, it increases the amount of weight you are able to lift and the amount of energy you are able to do it with. There have been several scientific studies confirming this effect, which has also led to its potential use as a treatment for degenerative muscular diseases. The energy increase is slight but measurable, but only applies to short bursts of anaerobic exercise such as weight training; It will not help in the realm of long distance running, swimming, or similar activities.
In short, be sure you understand its function. It will help you lift more weight, and then make better gains, in the longterm than if you had not taken it, but it will not make much noticeable difference in the short term. Exception for one, potentially undesirable effect.
And that is water retention.
Scouring the forums of popular weight training websites, such as bodybuilding.com, you can find many discussion threads of people talking about their experiences with creatine. Several people report an immediate increase of several inches in their chest size, for instance, but then go on to say that it is bloated water weight and not muscle. Many users said they stopped using it after they noticed these effects. While the water bloating goes away with discontinuation of creatine, please be aware that this may happen to you if you decide to take it.
Creatine is a useful tool in the weight trainer's toolbox, and can indirectly lead to greater gains in muscle than would have been seen if it had not been used. It is a well-known fact that it can help you lift more and with better peak energy output if your muscles are installed with it from taking a supplement. Before taking it, please be aware of the side effect of water retention and that the actual muscle gains you'll see will be reliably small, although more than they would be if you did not take it.