Creatine is a type of amino acid produced by your body and is also found in meats and other animal products. It can be taken in supplement form to help enhance workout recovery and athletic performance, although its possible side effects mean that you should use caution if using a creatine supplement.
Amino acids are compounds that link together to form proteins. When your body digests a protein, it breaks that protein down into the amino acids that made it. According to Medline Plus, your body uses amino acids for a variety of reasons, including growing and developing, healing and repairing muscles, and digesting food. Some amino acids, like creatine and aspartic acid, are nonessential amino acids, which means your body produces them naturally. Others, like tryptophan, are essential because while your body needs them, you must get them from food.
Creatine is made by your liver, kidneys and pancreas, although it can also be found naturally in food sources. Your body converts the amino acid into a substance called creatine phosphate or phosphocreatine, and it is stored in your muscles, which use it for energy, particularly during intense, short-interval exercises. It is frequently reduced to powder form and sold as an athletic performance supplement.
Uses and Sources
Creatine can be used to enhance athletic performance by aiding recovery from intense exercise. It seems to be most effective in short, explosive exercises like weight-lifting or circuit training. Creatine seems to boost strength and muscle mass in athletes who focus on similar activities, but it does not have consistent results in the performance of athletes focusing on endurance activities like running. Creatine has also been used to treat muscular dystrophy and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, since it can improve muscle strength. Dietary sources of creatine include lean red meat — especially wild game such as venison — as well as fish like salmon and tuna.
Some have reported side effects from taking creatine supplements, including water weight gain, diarrhea and dizziness. Other occasional side effects include muscle cramps, strains, high blood pressure and kidney damage, particularly if you are not staying hydrated while taking supplemental creatine. You may wish to consult with a physician before beginning a creatine regimen, particularly since it can interact with certain medications and substances, including caffeine. Most individuals will receive plenty of creatine simply by eating a normal, balanced diet; those on extremely rigorous training regimens may need extra but should still use caution when taking it.