Creatine has gained much popularity in recent years as an energy-enhancing supplement for athletes. Unlike anabolic steroids, the only documented side effect of taking creatine is weight gain. Creatine is a naturally occurring amino acid (protein building block) found in the skeletal muscles of your body. When you do high-intensity, short-duration exercise, such as lifting weights or sprinting, a special chemical reaction takes place to provide a burst of energy to your muscles. Creatine is fundamental to this reaction. Your body does not store very much creatine in your muscles for normal, everyday functions. If you desire to increase your muscle strength, improve your endurance, and delay fatigue for high-intensity, short-duration sports, then creatine supplements may help you achieve your goals. It is not for everyone, however. For example, it will not help you increase your performance for endurance (aerobic) sports such as running or biking. Also, some people don't respond well to creatine supplements because of various hereditary factors.
The market is flooded with numerous forms of creatine supplements. For maximum benefit, take a formula that supplies creatine monohydrate in combination with glucose (carbohydrate).
Creatine can produce the following effects.
- Increases the availability of instant energy to your muscles
- Increases muscle strength Improves endurance for high-intensity, short-duration exercise
- Helps delay fatigue
- Promotes lean-muscle mass
- Reduces muscle wasting in post-surgical patients
- May benefit heart patients by increasing heart function and reducing heart spasms as well as allowing increased exercise capacity
Your body manufactures about half the creatine you need for normal daily functions. The other half comes from your diet. The best dietary sources of creatine are red meat and fish. These foods provide about 1 g of creatine per half pound of raw meat. However, to gain energy-producing benefits, you can't get enough creatine from your diet alone, but need to take creatine monohydrate supplements.
Creatine monohydrate is available in a variety of forms. The most common form is a powder you mix with juice or water. Manufacturers claim the new liquid preparations of creatine monohydrate are absorbed into the bloodstream faster and are more convenient to take than the powdered form. It is also more expensive than the powdered form. Creatine monohydrate is also available in tablets, capsules, energy bars, fruit-flavored chews, drink mixes, and other preparations. Taking creatine monohydrate in combination with glucose (a simple carbohydrate) has been shown to work better than taking creatine alone, so you will find many creatine-glucose combination products on the market. Consult your health care provider to determine which product is best for you.
How to Take It
In order to get maximum benefits from taking creatine supplements, it is necessary to "load" your muscles first to build up the creatine stores. A person who weighs 180 lbs. should take 5 g of creatine monohydrate four times a day (20 g total per day) for a week. Your muscles will then be "loaded" with creatine and you should begin to see some of the beneficial effects. Usually, a maintenance dose of 2 to 5 g per day is enough to replace whatever creatine you have used and keep your levels at the "loaded" point. If you weigh significantly more or less than 180 lbs, adjust the dosage up or down accordingly.
There have been no dangerous side effects shown from taking creatine monohydrate supplements to increase athletic performance. The only side effect documented in clinical studies is weight gain. This is due to an increase in water both inside and outside the muscle cells as well as an increase of lean-muscle tissue. It is not uncommon to gain 6 to 10 lbs. during the first two weeks of taking creatine supplements.
There are reports of other side effects from taking creatine supplements, such as muscle cramping, muscle strains and pulls, gastrointestinal problems, kidney malfunction, and liver damage. Some studies have already disproved these claims, and more research is being conducted. At this time, creatine supplementation is considered safe.
Avoid foods and beverages that contain caffeine, because it will cancel out the positive effects of taking supplemental creatine. Remember that caffeine is found not only in coffee, tea, and soft drinks, but also in chocolate and some over-the-counter cold remedies or pain relievers. Check the label to be sure.
Excerpt from Integrative Medicine Access Copyright © 1999 Integrative Medicine Communications
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