Creatine is a nutrient synthesized in the body from meat and fish, leaving vegetarians with naturally low creatine levels. It's made primarily in the liver and kidneys and transported through the blood to the muscles. Creatine supplements have been shown to consistently increase muscle mass and strength.
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In the 1800s, creatine was discovered to be organically present in meat, according to MayoClinic.com. In the 1970s, the Soviets discovered that it helped athletes increase endurance, especially in sprints. The general use of creatine supplements by athletes took off worldwide in the 1990s as a natural way to boost performance levels and build lean muscle mass. Carbohydrates increase the potency of the supplements, which fostered the formulation of sports drinks laced with creatine. Professional athletes use creatine supplements widely while certain collegiate athletic associations have banned its use.
Creatine primarily improves skeletal muscle formation. Other factors play a role in the formation of skeletal muscle, which make it difficult to predict the efficacy of supplementation for all athletes, including vegetarians, according to The Vegetarian Resource Group. Studies vary regarding the amount of improved performance meat eaters and vegetarians alike receive from creatine supplements. Other factors that must be considered before turning to supplements include your muscle fiber genetic type, your level of training, fitness level and carbohydrate consumption.
Vegetarians may need to take slightly higher doses of creatine for maximum effect, according to The Vegetarian Resource Group. Initial dosing for the first five or six days should be about 20 to 30 g per day, broken up into smaller portions taken throughout the day. Afterwards, meat eaters should reduce their creatine intake to 2 g per day, while vegetarians may need closer to 3.4 g to maintain its effectiveness. Sugar increases the efficiency of creatine, so taking it in sugary sports drinks or fruit juice may improve performance even more.
Creatine supplements are not safe if you have a history of kidney problems. While no serious side effects have surfaced regarding the use of creatine supplements to increase performance and muscle building, some athletes report muscle cramps and muscle tears after taking the supplements. According to The Vegetarian Resource Group, there are no reports of serious side effects in vegans and vegetarians who took creatine supplements. Because it is widely used by vegetarians, most creatine manufacturers create their formulas without using any animal byproducts.