Creatine is a naturally occurring amino acid that helps provide muscles with energy during high-intensity exercise. Creatine supplementation is a popular way for bodybuilders and athletes to increase muscle mass, but research suggests that size increase in muscles is actually due to water retention. Even so, some people may benefit from taking creatine supplements. You should always consult a physician before taking supplements or trying any alternative medicine treatments.
Taking creatine supplements causes your body to retain water as water enters the muscle cells along with the creatine. You may experience weight gain from water retention in as little as one to two days after taking creatine. In the initial period, you may gain as much as one to 3.5 lbs. of weight, mostly from water, according to an article by Jon Heck, M.S., A.T.C., coordinator of athletic training for Richard Stockton College.
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Retaining water in the muscles may increase the size of the muscles. Creatine may also increase muscle mass by enhancing the synthesis of skeletal muscle, according to Duke University Student Health. Other benefits from creatine supplementation include delayed fatigue and quicker muscle recovery during high-intensity exercise. Examples of high-intensity exercise include powerlifting and sprinting. These benefits, however, are temporary unless you continually take creatine.
Water retention may cause dehydration because as the muscles absorb the water, your body has less fluid to use for important functions, such as regulating body temperature through your sweat. You may also increase your risk of dehydration by taking creatine with caffeine and/or diuretics, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Sheri Barke, M.P.H., R.D. of the College of the Canyons Health Services recommends drinking plenty of water when taking creatine to prevent dehydration and the potential muscle cramping that can follow. In addition to weight gain, water retention and cramps, headaches are also a potential side effect of creatine supplementation. Side effects are more likely to occur if you take more than the recommended creatine dosage. UMMC recommends that adults interested in taking creatine for exercise benefits start with 5 g of creatine monohydrate supplements four times a day for seven days. Then, take 2 to 5 g total each day as a maintenance dose.
Creatine supplements are most helpful for people who have low levels of serum creatine. Serum is similar to blood plasma, but is the clear liquid that can be separated from clotted blood. Vegetarians, males and older adults generally have lower levels of serum creatine than meat eaters, females and younger people. Low levels of serum creatine indicate less muscle creatine. People with low amounts of creatine naturally are most likely to benefit from creatine supplements.