What is Creatine?

Full rundown of the benefits, possible side effects and choices on the market

If you’ve been to your local GNC recently, you were likely met with shelves upon shelves of protein supplements. What was once a body builder’s trade secret has now become a staple on kitchen countertops across America and a hot topic of scientific studies. It seems like everyone is crazy about creatine, and if you’re not sure why, you’re not alone. We’re breaking down the questions behind the craze.

What is creatine?

Creatine is a natural compound found in low levels in the body. It can also be found in red meat and fish and, of course, in the form of a supplement. Described by Men’s Health as one of the most researched supplements in history, creatine has caused a lot of hype and sparked a few warnings.

What are the benefits?

Creatine supplements boost muscular energy, allowing the user to build more muscle by either adding weight or doing more reps. Overtime that extra energy leads to bigger gains in the gym and bigger gains in muscle.

Initially, people might see an increase in muscle size; this is due to creatine drawing water into the muscles. Over the long-term, people won’t see benefits muscular without exercise. Creatine provides the extra energy and supports muscular gains but in order for that to happen, the muscles need to be challenged. Creatine works best with strength training and explosive exercise regimens.

Long distance runners won’t see great benefits from creatine like football players and baseball players will. Creatine helps with fast-twitch muscle fibers, not slow-twitch fibers—think quick powerful movements (high jumps, lifting, and sprints).

It doesn’t work well for everyone, if you already have high levels of creatine, either naturally or through a meat and fish-rich diet, it might not be very effective for you.

Are there side effects?

Creatine has been the subject of scientific studies and scrutiny over the last few decades. Most of the research states that creatine is safe if used by adults in good health and safety is largely dependent on using recommended doses.

Some say taking more than the recommended doses could lead to issues with the liver or kidneys. Other possible issues include reports of dehydration and muscle strain or pulls. And some people experience stomach issues when using creatine, these include gas, bloating, diarrhea.

What should you buy?

Creatine monohydrate is the most widely used and extensively studied supplement form. It is almost unanimously recommended that people use this form because it is both the safest and most effective formula we know of, other forms haven’t been proven safe.

It is always best to consult your doctor when trying a new supplement, medication or vigorous exercise routine. Consultation is especially important if you have high blood pressure, diabetes, or a history of kidney or liver problems.

See also: What is Whey Protein?