Creatine: Don't expect to gain what you don't give
Creatine is one of the most widely used workout supplements. Advertised as a strength enhancer, it's sold by itself as well as added into a lot of other products. But does its effectiveness back up the hype surrounding it?
Creatine is synthesized naturally in the body and stored in skeletal muscle as creatine phosphate for use in rapid energy production. Since creatine phosphate plays a major role in fueling short bursts of activity (think performing a set of deadlifts or sprinting 100 meters), it makes sense that supplementing with extra creatine may increase our abilities to handle the demands of sports and exercise.
Several scientific studies have been carried out to test the effects of taking creatine along with various types of exercise programs.
In a 1998 study involving 25 NCAA football athletes, researchers at the University of Memphis found that creatine promoted gains in lean body weight; bench press, squat, and power clean lifting volume; and sprint performance during a 28-day strength and agility training regimen.
Similarly, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale found in 2,000 that taking creatine during a six-week resistance training period led to increased muscle strength and size in young adults than training without supplementation.
Lastly, four institutions including Ohio University and Penn State University found that creatine was "effective at increasing several indices of muscle performance ... without adverse side effects" in older men in 2002. One repetition max bench press and leg press tests were used in the study.
The safety of creatine ingestion has been questioned; specifically regarding the load it places on the kidneys to filter the by-products of its metabolism. But while cases of illness possibly related to creatine ingestion have been filed, studies on the subject seem to agree that creatine is safe to use.
A group of organizations including Appalachian State University and the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center conducted a study in 2000 and found that their results "suggest[ed] that long-term creatine supplementation does not result in adverse health effects."
A University in Brussels, Belgium, specifically found in 1999 that "neither short-, medium- nor long-term oral creatine supplementation induces detrimental effects on the kidney[s] of healthy individuals."
While there are many products competing for our dollars on supplement store shelves, creatine is one of the most scientifically proven. However, it's important to understand that advertisements usually exaggerate the results we can expect from any product, and creatine supplements are no different.
No supplement can make up for a poor diet, a lack of rest, or a sloppy training program. But if our lifestyles are healthy, creatine may be able to give us a slight edge to help us perform better.
However, safety is a legitimate concern when it comes to any lifestyle change. Though a couple of studies have been listed that suggest creatine is safe, one should always talk with his or her doctor before using a new supplement.
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