Creatine - Are there side effects, and will it make you stronger and give you more endurance?

Creatine - Are there side effects, and will it make you stronger and give you more endurance?

Creatine is one of the most popular bodybuilding, athletic, and fitness supplements on the market. It is used mainly to increase muscle size, strength, and endurance. It first skyrocketed to popularity when used by Olympic athletes in the late 1980’s, and has remained popular among athletes and fitness enthusiasts ever since. Despite its popularity, many people want to know about creatine side effects, if there are any, and most importantly – is it safe?

Typically there are few, if any side effects from creatine supplementation. A Belgian study was published in the September, 2000 edition of The Journal of Sports Medicine, entitled  “Adverse effects of creatine supplementation: fact or fiction?” The researchers investigated the effects of short and medium term (4 weeks) creatine monohydrate supplementation on athletes.

Some findings from that study included that there was “no evidence of dysfunction on the basis of serum enzymes and urea production”. They also examined the results from their research and other studies, concluding “We did not find any adverse effects on renal function. The present review is not intended to reach conclusions on the effect of creatine supplementation on sport performance, but we believe that there is no evidence for deleterious effects in healthy individuals. “ They did however, recommend regular monitoring to avoid any abnormalities during oral creatine supplementation.

Another study, conducted at the School of Sports Medicine, University of Trieste, Trieste, Italy and published in the December, 2004 edition of  The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness examined the effects of oral creatine monohydrate supplementation on gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, renal and liver functions. That study concluded that “The only documented side effect is an increase in body mass. “ That sounds pretty good from where I’m sitting, as long as it is lean body mass, not fat.

Other findings from the Italian study are that, although some individuals have reported side effects such as cramping  and gastrointestinal problems, these incidents are anecdotal and “do not represent well-controlled trials, so no causal relationship between creatine supplementation and these side-effects has yet been established” They did, however point to the fact that an unexpected result of their studies was that contaminants have been found in some creatine supplements, so it behooves one to only use creatine from well respected sources. Since the substance is considered a supplement, and not a drug by the FDA, regulation is not as strict. This is great for dramatically reducing the cost and increasing availability (of all nutritional supplements), but you have to ensure your creatine supplements are produced by reputable manufacturers.

Is creatine a safe and effective as a performance enhancing and physique enhancing supplement? A study was completed in 2002 at the Department of Physiology, School of Medicine, University of Granada, Granada, Spain that attempted to answer exactly that question. It looked at oral creatine monohydrate supplementation with respect to muscle performance and endurance. Some of their conclusions include that an effective supplementation scheme is a dosage of 20 g/day for 4-6 days, and 5 g/day thereafter. The researchers found that, when used as recommended, oral creatine supplements are indeed, safe. In fact, they concluded “There is a shortage of scientific evidence concerning the adverse effects following creatine supplementation in healthy individuals even with long-term dosage. Therefore, creatine may be considered as a widespread, effective and safe ergogenic aid. “

A 2005 study conducted at the Neuromuscular Research Laboratory, Department of Health and Sport Sciences, University of Oklahoma was entitled “Creatine supplementation and exercise performance: recent findings” That study was an effort to update, summarize, and evaluate the findings associated with creatine supplementation, related to safety, and and it’s effects on sport and exercise performance.  They found that “When maximal force or strength (dynamic or isotonic contractions) is the outcome measure following creatine ingestion, it generally appears that creatine does significantly impact force production regardless of sport, sex or age. “  In addition, their research discovered “….activities that involve jumping, sprinting or cycling generally show improved sport performance following creatine ingestion.”

Improved performance and strength is great, but not if the substance that enables you to achieve it is unsafe. The UO study found a lack of creatine-induced side effects. They noted “There appears to be no strong scientific evidence to support any adverse effects but it should be noted that there have been no studies to date that address the issue of long-term creatine usage. “

It appears that scientific studies point to the safety and efficacy of creatine monohydrate supplementation. However just because creatine has no side effects doesn’t mean that you can use  the “if a little is good, than a large amount should be even better” approach to dosage. Use only the recommended amount, and train hard. The fact is that if you sit on your butt, no amount of creatine (or any other kind of) supplementation will help you lose fat, gain muscle, and improve your athletic performance. Train hard, eat right, and supplement correctly and you’ll maximize your fitness potential.

Have a great weekend!