Creatine is a supplement often used by athletes, bodybuilders and those looking to build muscle mass. Supplements can be a tricky business, though, and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics advises being very selective when choosing your supplements. But creatine does appear to have a good body of evidence behind it, especially when it comes to muscle recovery.
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The Basics of Creatine
Creatine is an amino acid that's found naturally in any food that contains protein. Your body also manufactures it in the liver, kidneys and pancreas. Creatine's main role is to boost production of adenosine triphosphate, your muscles' main source of fuel for explosive, short-term contractions. You only have a limited supply of stored creatine, though, and this means supplementing with it can boost ATP stores, helping you train maximally for longer.
Effects on Sports Performance
The greatest benefits of creatine appear to be related to sports performance. The International Society of Sports Nutrition's stand on creatine states that supplementation can increase exercise performance capabilities and enhance muscle growth. The increased availability of ATP as a result of creatine supplementation not only means you may be able to perform an extra rep or two here and there, or work maximally for longer, but also that ATP will be regenerated more quickly. This fast regeneration could lead to quicker recovery, allowing you to perform at a higher level in your next workout.
Not So Fast
The potential benefits associated with creatine often relate more to improving performance rather than specifically aiding recovery. A study from a 2007 edition of the "Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research" found that supplementing with creatine did not reduce muscle damage or enhance recovery after a resistance-training workout. Additionally, the Australian Institute of Sport notes that creatine has not yet been widely studied in elite athletes.
Before taking creatine, or any other supplement, it's crucial you check with your doctor. If you do decide to supplement with creatine, nutritionist Alan Aragon recommends sticking to basic creatine monohydrate, while the "Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition" suggests a loading dose of 0.3 gram per kilogram of body weight -- 0.14 gram per pound -- for a period of three days, followed by 3 to 5 grams per day after that.