Whenever someone asks me what I think of creatine, I always sense a really negative tone. It usually is followed by a statement of what they have heard such as, “I heard creatine causes: muscle cramps, muscle tears, weight gain, headaches, kidney failure, etc”. The thing about creatine is that it is a naturally occurring nitrogenous organic acid in the body found mainly in your muscles. Your body produces it at a rate of about 1 gram per day, and its function is to assist in energy production for the body, primarily muscle. Although your body makes its own creatine, it can be consumed through animal meats, and the highest concentrations are seen in beef, pork and herring. Aside from consuming it from whole foods, it can also be supplemented usually in powder or pill form.
The cool thing about creatine is that in most people it can be really beneficial to your fitness or performance goals. Amongst the numerous studies on creatine, it has been found that by supplementing additional creatine can promote the following:
- Muscle size
- Enhances cognitive function and memory
- Protect against brain injury
- May decrease total cholesterol and a drop in LDL cholesterol
Amid all of the preceding accusations made on creatine, the only one with some merit is that it can cause water retention under certain dosing protocols (high daily doses over 20+ grams). The other accusations have not been substantiated and in fact, in 2003 a study by Baylor University showed that football players taking creatine over the course of a season had a much lower incidence of muscle cramps.
The bottom line is that if you are a healthy individual looking to include creatine in your daily diet to take advantage of these benefits, I recommend a low daily dose of 3-5 grams of creatine monohydrate added to your post workout beverage on workout days or in a warm beverage in the morning, such as green tea, on non-workout days. This low dose of creatine will ensure that you see benefits without noticeable water retention and any upset stomach.