Creatine: pros and cons
What is creatine?
Creatine is a non-essential amino acid (which means that the body makes, so it is not essential to find in the diet). Creatine monohydrate is a dietary supplement used by athletes, both amateur and professional, to improve physical performance. The typical user of creatine is looking for a product that allows him to obtain more results from the exercise he practices: a well-cut musculature (aesthetic appearance) as well as an increased strength (performance aspect).
Creatine slightly increases strength, volume, mass and muscle definition, (1.3) but has no effect on endurance. A bodybuilder, a boxer, a hockey player or a person who trains to have a cut physique can benefit from the use of creatine. On the other hand, a runner, a cyclist, a swimmer or a triathlete who especially wants to improve his endurance will not benefit much from it. In fact, they are more likely to suffer discomfort (cramps and others) due to dehydration (see side effects below).
Creatine is found naturally in meat (about 5g / kg) and is synthesized in the liver, pancreas and kidneys at about 3g per day. The products sold on the market are obtained by synthesis (from sodium sarcosine and cyanamide). Supplements are sold as powders, tablets, capsules and liquids. We must first know that these forms are not all equivalent (it’s not because it sells that it’s good!): Creatine is not stable in liquid medium. Moreover, Consumer Lab did not find any liquid product containing the quantity displayed on the label!
The mechanism of action of creatine is twofold. On the one hand, it increases the intracellular water, which has the effect of inflating the muscles. On the other hand, it serves as a precursor to ATP (intracellular energy), which helps to increase strength and reduce muscle fatigue, especially during so-called anaerobic exercises such as weight training and weightlifting. The increase in muscle mass is therefore due to both the direct effect of creatine and the effect on ATP that allows the athlete to train more vigorously and longer. The intensification of training alone may explain some of the effects seen with the supplement.
The International Olympic Committee, as well as the majority of sports and athletic associations, allow the use of creatine. The safety of the supplement may explain this approval, but since it is a natural metabolite, there are no tests to detect the use of the supplement.
Creatine causes very little adverse effects: three potential types are listed. The first is due to its mechanism of action which is to increase intracellular water. When sweating a lot, the risk of dehydration is increased because the water is mobilized inside the cell. Dehydration can lead to problems such as cramps, sunstroke, muscle fatigue, etc. It is therefore very important to drink plenty of water during training.
The second type of side effect is digestive. Many companies suggest that the packaging take creatine on an empty stomach, but it can cause stomach irritation and nausea. I have not found any evidence that it is better absorbed on an empty stomach. Personally, I consider it better to take creatine with a fruit juice (carbohydrates increase its absorption and its effect) and I suggest taking it 1 hour before training. In this way, the peak of blood concentration is obtained at the most useful moment: during training.
The third type of side effect comes from the metabolism of creatine. Creatine is the direct precursor of a molecule that serves as a marker for kidney failure: creatinine. Creatine supplements therefore increase blood creatinine production transiently and can lead to falsely alarming creatinine test results. On the other hand, at the end of the supplement, everything comes back in order. However, we must be careful: creatine is not indicated in patients with renal insufficiency whose less functional kidneys have difficulty eliminating this excess creatinine.