Supplement Spotlight: Creatine for Muscle Growth, Athletic Performance and Brain Function

Creatine is one of the most popular supplements in the world but often one of the most misunderstood. Experts in the fitness community generally agree that creatine supplementation can be a safe and effective way to increase athletic performance, muscle growth and even brain functioning.

As a personal trainer I don't make specific supplementation recommendations, but in this post I'll provide links to helpful information from credible industry experts so you can decide what's right for you. I personally use creatine and have found it to be effective alongside a consistent training program, sound diet and adequate rest and recovery. 

What is creatine? 

For those who want to geek out on the science, check out this article, All About Creatine, from the experts at Precision Nutrition. As the article states, "Creatine is an amino acid derivative constructed from arginine, glycine and methionine. It is produced naturally by the body in the kidneys, liver, and pancreas at a rate of about 1-2 grams/day. Creatine can also be obtained from food (particularly red meat) and supplementation. The uptake of creatine into muscle cells is an active process. 90-95% of creatine in the body is found in muscle. Creatine is degraded into creatinine and excreted in the urine at a rate of around 2 grams/day."

Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?

Ok, ok... Here's what you need to know. Creatine is naturally occurring in the body and in food. It's job is to take energy stored in food and transfer it to energy our bodies can use to do work (i.e. lift more weight, do more reps, run faster, etc.) 

So it must be like a steroid or something only meatheads or performance athletes use, right? Wrong. Check out Body Fuel: Creatine Myths, again from the good folks at Precision Nutrition. A little known fact is that our brains use it too. So supplementation can improve thought and brain processes.

Want to get even more into the nutty gritty? Checkout this scientific review from Examine.com that features 693 unique references to scientific papers. And this list of Precision Nutrition Approved Nutritional Supplements. Creatine: The Complete Guide is also helpful.

Key points

For those short on time, here are the key takeaways (directly from All About Creatine).

If you decide to use a creatine supplement:

  • Use the monohydrate form
  • Consume 3-5 grams of creatine per day
  • Dissolve the creatine in a warm beverage like green tea
  • You can also take your creatine before and/or after workout sessions with your workout nutrition
  • Take a break from creatine supplementation after using for 12-16 weeks