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Fitness & Health

15th Oct 2018

Creatine supplements: what the science says

Your family and friends may think it's a steroid, but what does the research really say about creatine?

Alex Roberts

It’s not without its scare stories, but what does the science really say about creatine?

Billed as strength and muscle builder, creatine is one of the most widely-recognised sports supplements around. It’s extremely popular among athletes, bodybuilders and recreational gym goers, but still attracts a fair amount of skepticism.

What is it?

Creatine is a molecule that acts on your body’s ATP energy system. It increases the water content of your muscle cells in order to increase strength, which boosts your lean muscle size as a by-product.

The ATP energy system is generally used when lifting heavy weights for low reps. This is in contrast to activities with a much lower intensity, such as walking, which use the aerobic energy system.

Picture: Getty

What are its benefits?

Creatine is best used for powering your strength training sessions in the gym due to its impact on ATP. The scientific data reinforces these pros.

16 studies were grouped together and analysed by American researchers. On average, gym goers supplementing with creatine gained 6.85kg on their bench press and 9.76kg on their maximum squat.

What are its side effects?

News reports have linked creatine to a variety of ills, from cancer to anger management issues. Generally speaking, these are without substance and not backed by any credible evidence. Any associations made are likely explained by other health problems, not creatine use.

When it comes to disease, most evidence suggests the opposite of problems. One particular study found creatine provided a form of protection from damage to your cells’ DNA.

If you have any concerns regarding creatine, consult your GP first. Those who suffer from pre-existing medical conditions should talk to a doctor when considering any change to their regular fitness regime.

How do I take creatine?

It’s best to stick to the advice given by manufacturers on pack, but generally, most creatine supplements advise either:

  • A loading phase of 10-20 grams per day for around a week [followed by a maintenance phase of 3-5 grams per day]
  • 5-6 grams daily

This regimented structure is best for serious athletes who have to peak in time for an event or competition. If you’re just a gym goer looking to get the most out of resistance training, you can make do the with the maintenance dosage and still experience the same benefits.

Read more: an office worker’s guide to weight loss