For decades, creatine has been the most widely used and most heavily researched sports performance supplement.
It is actually present in the foods you eat, with red meats and seafood having the highest concentrations. Additionally, your body produces it on its own in smaller doses. Far from a foreign substance, you are already experiencing some level of creatine use in your body already.
Its job is to raise your work capacity, since it is an energy source. It is touted to allow users to train deeper into workouts without fatigue. This in turn can build higher amounts of strength, muscle and power, provided you are training properly.
Does Creatine Work?
The short answer is yes.
“You should feel good about your creatine supplementation,” Men’s Health nutrition advisor Michael Roussell, Ph.D., says. “Take 5 grams of creatine monohydrate with your workout shake to help you get bigger and stronger.” (article link)
Taken in supplement form, those who tend to not eat meats and seafood are likely to experience the greatest benefits.
And of course, you must actually ramp up your training intensity to reap the benefits. Energy in and of itself does not produce results unless you use it.
Are There Side Effects?
First off, the quality of the brand you use can have a large impact on any possible side effects (gastrointestinal issues, bloating, etc). As with any supplement, do not half-ass your commitment to it. Quality supplements from reputable brands tend to cost a little bit more. Low cost options almost certainly will lead to nothing but problems.
Since creatine pulls water into your muscle cells, you will likely notice a little water weight retention (a couple pounds at most) when you first start using it, as this is how it raises your energy levels.
Due to this, if you don't want to see an ounce of weight gain even for just a brief period of time, creatine supplementation isn't going to be a good fit for you.
Other rumored side effects, however, are not showing to be true based on scientific research.
Here are 2 studies, out of many others which reached the same conclusions, that debunk the more common creatine myths
Does creatine cause muscle pulls and strains?
There is a reason why, despite generally not being a fan of supplements, that I believe creatine can be uniquely beneficial for athletes.
And on top of allowing you to safely train at higher levels, research is now showing it has other potentially valuable benefits, too.
Creatine May Lessen Concussion Damage
For athletes in collision sports (football, ice hockey, lacrosse) and for other sports like soccer where head injuries are common, supplementing with creatine can lessen the severity of a concussion.
The short explanation as to why is that creatine creates higher levels of an energy source (ATP) whose production is blocked from concussions. By returning ATP levels back to normal sooner, researchers theorize this can shorten concussion recovery time.
The trick, of course, is that you'd need to have higher creatine levels before a concussion occurs. That is why creatine supplementation is potentially valuable for collision sport athletes before and during their seasons.
Here are a few helpful links if you're interested in learning about this in more detail:
Creatine Has Positive Benefits For Women
Strength building supplements are typically marketed towards males, but female athletes have plenty of reasons to supplement with creatine as well.
Creatine has the ability to build strength without the bulking or bloating effects over the long run that some other muscle-building supplements are likely to create. Remember, though, that in the first week or so there will be some water retention.
Over the long term, research shows that when training at higher intensities creatine can have a notable effect on lowering body fat percentage. Gains in lean mass ramps up your metabolism, creating an exercise-free calorie burn for months or years thereafter.
More importantly, though, creatine has been shown to have a positive effect on bone density and preventing osteoporosis in later years.
Although not fully researched yet, there are a handful of other potentially significant positive effects for female supplementing with creatine.
These links explain them in more detail:
Are supplements necessary?
Definitely not. Hard training and a truly healthy diet are always going to represent 90-95% of the progress you see from training.
Of course, sometimes getting that extra 5-10% benefit from your efforts can be significant.
It will make a big impact at higher levels of sport, where everyone is already elite. Further, more rapid progress can be hugely motivational as you continue to push further towards your ultimate goals.
Something to think about for any athlete who has already trained hard for a year or more, and could use a bump in their strength, power and energy levels.