Creatine is an amino acid supplement often marketed to bodybuilders and dieters to help build lean muscle and reduce body fat. Creatine has become so popular for these uses that sales reached $220 million in 2005, according to the “Nutrition Business Journal.” One other benefit athletes claim for creatine is its ability to boost energy levels, something research is showing may have some basis in fact.
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Creatine is found in meat and fish and also manufactured in your body by your liver, kidneys and pancreas. It’s then converted into creatine phosphate, or phosphocreatine, and stored in the muscles to be used for energy. Creatine works as a type of energy shuttle, carrying energy in usable chunks from large storage molecules to places in cells where work needs to be done. Energy lost by your body during any kind of exertion is regenerated by creatine.
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A study published in the April 2010 issue of the journal “Nutrition” set out to determine if low doses of creatine could improve muscle function. After giving 20 healthy young subjects either .03 grams of creatine or a placebo per kilogram of body weight daily for six weeks, researchers found that creatine didn’t produce any significant differences in body composition or strength. However, the group receiving creatine had more energy and was more resistant to fatigue in some of the tests.
Performance can be improved in short-term bouts of exercise requiring speed and power, like sprinting and weightlifting, with the use of creatine supplements. These results were shown in a study of female collegiate volleyball players at Northern State University, which was published in “The Sport Journal” in 2003. During such periods of short-term, high-intensity exercise, phosphocreatine was found to help regenerate levels of adenosine triphosphate or ATP, the main source of energy used by your muscles.
Creatine is also showing promise as a way to boost memory and intelligence. Researchers in Australia published study results in the publication “Proceedings of the Royal Society” in October 2003 that showed creatine increases the amount of energy available to the brain for computational tasks, improving mental ability. A similar study in the April 2002 edition of “Neuroscience Research” found that taking 8 grams of creatine a day for five days reduced mental fatigue when subjects repeatedly performed a simple mathematical calculation.
The most common side effect with creatine supplements is bloating and weight gain. Other potential side effects include muscle cramps, stomach upset, diarrhea, dizziness, high blood pressure, liver dysfunction and kidney damage. If you take a lower dose of 5 grams per day for up to six months, you’re less likely to experience these negative reactions. Note that caffeine may inhibit your body's ability to use creatine, and combining creatine and caffeine may increase your risk of dehydration. If you are considering going on a regular creatine regimen, be sure to consult your doctor beforehand.
- “Proceedings of the Royal Society”; Oral Creatine Monohydrate Supplementation Improves Brain Performance; Caroline Rae; October 2003
- “Neuroscience Research”; Effects of Creatine on Mental Fatigue and Cerebral Hemoglobin Oxygenation; A. Watanabe; April 2002
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Creatine
- “Nutrition”; Low-Dose Creatine Supplementation Enhances Fatigue Resistance in the Absence of Weight Gain; Eric S. Rawson, et al.; April 2011