Creatine is one of the most popular and most researched sports supplements.
When it comes to natural, over the counter supplements, creatine is considered by many the most effective in terms of muscle building.
If you have conducted your own research into creatine usage, you will have undoubtedly encountered a lot of myths – or misinformation, we should say.
These myths range from the aesthetic of making you look ‘puffy’, to the extremes of causing kidney disease and being unsafe for women.
We intend on dispelling these myths by breaking these down one by one to provide you with some clarity on the matter.
What is Creatine?
Creatine is an amino acid that is naturally produced by the body and is predominantly stored within our muscle tissue, although a small percentage can also be found in the heart, brain and testes. We can also obtain creatine in small amounts (roughly around 1g) from our daily diet, most prevalent in meats and fish.
In a nutshell, creatine helps make energy production more efficient for short bursts of intense exercise. This may lead to more reps performed at a given load – and subsequently, better results in the gym.
Our bodies preferred energy source for these short, high intensity bursts (such as weightlifting) is ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate). But this is in short supply.
By supplementing with creatine, we can increase our intra-muscular stores of ATP (though there is a limit as to how much) to enhance results from these short, intense workouts.
Myth One: Kidney Disease
This is a very quick and simple one to wrap up – creatine has no known links to kidney damage or disease.
In fact, one study was even performed on an individual with only one kidney, and a damaged one at that. They used a dose of 20g per day and found no correlating issues at all.
The confusion behind this myth seems to stem from the waste product creatinine (note; the extra ‘ine’), which can be used as a marker of kidney damage. False readings can derive from eating a high protein diet and weight training. This is linked to extra creatinine being produced, not a sign of kidney damage.
If you have healthy kidneys, creatine should not cause you any issues. Our advice if you have any form of kidney disease/damage and are considering supplementing creatine, is to consult with your Renal Specialist first. Although this is still unlikely to have any real effect, it’s always better to check first.
Myth Two: Looking ‘puffy’
Another myth you will likely come across is that ‘creatine makes you look puffy’ or ‘creatine bloats you’. Again, this is simply due to misunderstanding.
Part of how creatine works is by making you retain water. The general assumption here is that it will create a visible side-effect, but this is largely untrue.
Creatine retains water in the cell (muscle). This is known as intra-cellular and is different to ‘puffy’ water retention, which is held outside the cell, known as extra-cellular. This is the type of water retention people automatically think of, such as puffiness in the face and ankles.
If anything, intra-cellular water retention gives the muscles a fuller, harder look – not the opposite!
Myth Three: Not Safe For Women
Where this myth originated from, we have no idea: creatine is safe for women.
Compared to men, women do seem to grow muscle tissue at a slower rate. So, creatine can help women build muscle faster should they want to and, as a natural supplement, is considered one of the safest methods of doing so.
Myth Four: Creatine Is A Steroid
This myth perhaps comes from the word ‘anabolic’ which is used when describing the effects of both creatine and steroids. But again, this is a misunderstanding or simply jumping to conclusions.
The term ‘anabolic’ simply means to build. When we refer to something as being anabolic in these circumstances, it means it has the potential to help ‘build’ tissues within the body (not exclusive to muscle tissue).
Creatine has this capability; therefore, we can say it may assist in anabolism.
Unfortunately, performance enhancing drugs, such as steroids, are often termed AAS (Anabolic Androgenic Steroids), which is where people will often draw these connections and incorrect conclusions.
Creatine is nota hormone, it is a natural amino acid that we actually produce ourselves, therefore it is not a steroid.
Which Form Of Creatine Is Best?
Our recommendation would be the tried and tested Creatine Monohydrate, as it’s the most studied and effective.
How To Take It?
If you have decided to take creatine, then our advice here is simple: know your limit.
We all have a cell ‘saturation’ point, whereby more is not better past a certain threshold. For most, that dose seems to be around 3-5g per day – about a teaspoon.
For a first-time user, one tip that may benefit is implementing a ‘loading’ phase. For this, you’d repeat your 3-5g dose three to four times per day for about 5-7 days. This allows you to saturate the cells faster, before returning back down to your maintenance dose.
A loading phase is not necessary, it just means that it’ll take a little longer to reach that saturation point.
While creatine is natural and is safe to use, the odd side effect can be experienced. These aren’t down to using creatine necessarily, but rather how it is taken. If creatine isn’t taken with sufficient water, stomach cramps can occur. Also, too much creatine at once can result in diarrhoea and nausea, so should be taken at intervals throughout the day and with meals.