We've heard of athletes using creatine, but what is it? Should we be taking it for occasional workouts? We asked a few of our Hy-Vee dietitians that specialize in sports nutrition for answers. Here's what they had to say.
First of All, What Is Creatine?
Creatine is a substance found naturally in muscle where it's used for energy. Most people get creatine through their diet—from protein sources such as red meat, seafood, poultry, or pork. Creatine is also produced in the kidneys, liver, and pancreas from various amino acids. However, it can also be made synthetically and taken as a supplement. This is mainly used for athletes with higher intensity workouts who are looking to build muscle.
How Much Creatine Does Someone Take?
According to Hy-Vee Registered Dietitian Julie Gallagher, "a typical maintenance dose is 3 to 5 grams daily." For athletes, this amount is often followed by a short "loading" period of higher amounts (up to 20 grams a day, spread out throughout the day, for about 5). The idea is to prime the muscles for creatine storage.
It's important to remember that, in general, muscle can hold about 2 or 3 grams of creatine per kilogram of muscle mass. A dietitian can help you determine a safe amount based on your body composition, level of workouts, and overall goals.
Some athletes prefer to take creatine as part of a Pre-Workout supplement; others prefer to take it with a protein shake immediately following a workout.
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Is Creatine Safe?
"It's the grand daddy of sports nutrition supplements," says Hy-Vee Registered Dietitian and Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics Ryan Weiler. "It has decades of research to demonstrate its safety and effectiveness." When taken as directed, it can be especially effective for explosive activities, like tackling in football, short-distance sprits, and deadlifts.
In terms of safety, "It's important to know that supplements are not regulated by the FDA and to do your research beforehand," he says. "I like to look for a yellow checkmark called 'Informed Sport' or a green checkmark called 'Informed Choice.' These are third party assurance programs for sports nutrition supplements that test for banned substances and ensure products are made in safe facilities. Performance Inspired Creatine, for example, is certified by Informed Sport.
What Are Potential Side Effects?
"The potential challenges of supplementing with creatine is that everyone responds differently. Some individuals show no improvement at all," says Julie Gallagher, RD. "Creatine supplementation may also cause temporary weight gain due to increased lean body mass or total body water, which can be a concern for weight category athletes," she says, adding that this is not an indication to limit fluid intake. Athletes need to stay well-hydrated for optimal performance.