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Creatine: Myths and realities

Creatine: Myths and realities


Even if you're not a bodybuilder, you've probably heard of creatine, one of the most sought-after and renowned dietary supplements in the history of sport.

It's a combination of amino acids produced by the liver, kidneys and pancreas. Creatine is not a steroid; it is naturally present in muscle and in red meat and fish, but at much lower levels in powder form as found on bodybuilding supplement sites or in your local store.

How does it work? Creatine reduces fatigue by transporting extra energy to your cells. Adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, is the compound your body uses for energy. For a muscle to contract, it detaches a phosphate molecule from ATP. As a result, ATP becomes ADP (adenosine diphosphate). The problem: You can't use ADP for energy, and your body has limited quantities of ATP. The solution: ADP takes a phosphate molecule from creatine, to form more ATP.

If you have more creatine phosphate, which you do if you take creatine, this allows you to work longer and do more sets, for example for a given set you'll be able to do eight repetitions instead of six. As the weeks and months go by, you'll add more and more workload, gain lean muscle mass, be able to lift heavier weights, and eventually get stronger.

Creatine: True and false

But maybe you're worried about side effects. Does creatine make you lose weight when you stop taking it, or can it cause damage to your kidneys, as you may have already heard? Here are the essential myths and facts you need to know about creatine.

Creatine has the same effects as anabolic steroids. 

Myth. Steroids mimic the effects of testosterone and are banned at the Olympic Games and in all professional sports. On the other hand, the International Olympic Committee, professional sports leagues and the National Collegiate Athletic Association do not ban creatine.

Creatine can help you build muscle mass without even having to go to the gym. 

Myth. Creatine has beneficial effects in children with muscular dystrophy, even if they don't exercise, but the greatest effects in healthy humans are seen when creatine is combined with substantial training.

Creatine causes gastrointestinal disorders. 

True, but it's pretty rare. Studies show that 5 to 7 percent of people who take creatine suffer from stomach upset, diarrhea, or both.

Creatine will help you go faster in a 5 Km race.

Myth. Creatine helps athletes with more fast-twitch muscle fibers (muscles used for intense but short efforts) more than athletes with slower muscle fibers (like marathon runners). If you're an endurance athlete, if you're not doing an activity that involves fast-twitch muscle fibers, you don't need to take creatine.

Creatine causes weight gain.

True. Creatine causes water retention in your muscles, which results in weight gain and makes your muscles look bigger. (You don't gain muscle fibers until you train) Creatine is a molecule with a very strong attraction to water. You won't get the same results from two different people. When it comes to weight gain, about two-thirds of users experience a gain of between 0.8 and 2.9 percent of total body weight in the first few days of taking creatine. What are the consequences of this weight gain? In a study of bodybuilders taking creatine for over 20 years, one participant gained 1 kilo of muscle, while another gained almost 9 kilos, all with the same creatine intake and training. The results therefore differ from one person to another.

Creatine doesn't work for everyone.

True. One of the major factors with creatine is that some people have high levels of creatine in their muscles naturally. Meat and fish eaters are less likely to be receptive to creatine, as they already have high levels of creatine in their diet. Vegetarians, on the other hand, will be far more sensitive to supplementation, as they have low levels of creatine in their diet. The composition of your muscles is also an important factor. Most people have around 50 percent fast-twitch fibers (used for sprints and jumps) and 50 percent slow-twitch fibers (used for endurance exercise). These people will respond well to creatine intake. On the other hand, people with 70 percent fast-twitch fibers and 30 percent slow-twitch fibers will see even better results, he says.

Creatine makes you more flexible. 

There's a reason why professional bodybuilders stop taking creatine some time before a competition. Because creatine causes water retention in the body, you have more water in your muscles. This extra water may increase the volume of your muscles, but it also makes them look less defined.

Your program: You should take creatine in autumn, winter and spring to build muscle. However, you must stop in summer if you want to have absWell-defined.

People who take creatine will lose muscle when they stop taking it.

Myth. Your muscles may look smaller because they contain less water, but the real question is: "Do you keep your strength and muscle mass when you stop taking creatine? The answer is yes. Once you've built up your muscle mass, you won't lose it if you keep lifting weights.

You must not take too much creatine.

True. It makes no sense to take more than 20 grams of creatine a day a week or seven grams a day for months on end. There's no evidence that it adds anything in terms of muscle loading, so why waste money, time and effort for nothing. Excess of any substance, whether it's sugar, the consumption of foodstuffs such as coffee, fats, proteins or milk can lead to health problems.

Using creatine, coach's advice

Want to start taking creatine? Here's how to get started

You'll find that there are many different forms of creatine available in your local bodybuilding supplements store. The one you need to take is creatine monohydrate. Creatine monohydrate is the most studied compound, in almost 95 percent of studies, so why risk taking other compounds that are less safe and not really proven to work.

The first week you start taking creatine, some experts recommend a "loading phase", taking 20 grams of creatine a day for five to seven days. Then decrease the dose to just 5 grams a day.

Creatines, recommendations before taking them

Consult your doctor if you suffer from high blood pressure or diabetes, if you regularly take prescription or anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen (which can affect the kidneys), if you're over 40 (as kidney function slowly declines after age 30), or if you have a history of liver or kidney disease.

Sources : - Creatine supplementation enhances isometric strength and body composition improvements following strength exercise training in older adults
Creatine-dextrose and protein-dextrose induce similar strength gains during training

AuthorAlexandre CARPENTIER

Bodybuilding Champion N.A.C 2012

Alexandre shares his bodybuilding experience with MegaGear blog readers

Posted in: Sports nutrition