Creatine - Uses

Author: Joe Cannon MS, CSCS
Creatine, a natural substance that is made in the body as well as found in meat and fish, is arguably one of the most highly researched dietary supplements in history. Over the last several years creatine has enjoyed unprecedented popularity in the fitness community because it tends to make people stronger and more powerful. However research is finding that creatine may have uses that go beyond its application in the gym setting.

Creatine and Exercise

As was mentioned above, creatine is a supplement that people use to help make them stronger and more powerful. This effect has been validated by a large number of published, clinical studies. Most investigations find that creatine helps when combined with high intensity exercise, lasting less than 30 seconds. Examples of such activities include powerlifting, martial arts, javelin throwing and sprinting to name a few. Creatine does not seem to improve athletic ability that in events that are not high intensity such as jogging, low intensity circuit training or hiking. With respect to how much to use, it is normally recommended that people start with a loading phase of about 20 grams a day for a week followed by a maintenance phase of between 2-5 grams. I am of the opinion that the loading phase is not necessary in light of a 1996 study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology showing that one month of using 3 grams of creatine per day elevates muscle creatine levels as much as using 20 grams for a week. It should be noted that not all studies find that creatine works. The reasons for this inconsistency are not well understood. Today many creatine products exist. It should be noted that most of the research to date has been done using creatine monohydrate. For the moment, I would steer clear of liquid creatine supplements because they tend to break down faster.

Other Creatine Uses?
Gyrate Atrophy: Gyrate atrophy is a rare genetic degenerative eye disorder that can result in near sightedness, night blindness and cataracts. Some evidence suggests that using 1.5 grams of creatine may improve and delay the progression of gyrate atrophy.

Congestive Heart Failure. Congestive heart failure results when the heart can no longer pump enough blood to sustain normal activities. People with this condition usually become tired and short of breath during activity. Some studies have found that creatine may improve the way people with congestive heart failure deal with the stress of exercise.

Cholesterol Reduction. Preliminary evidence from at least one study suggests that several weeks of 5 grams per day of creatine may help lower cholesterol, LDL (the so called bad cholesterol) and triglyceride levels in some people.

Muscular Dystrophy. Muscular dystrophy actually refers to a family of related syndromes characterized by a progressive degeneration and weakness of muscle. Some studies have found that creatine can mildly improve strength in people afflicted with some forms of muscular dystrophy.

Side Effects

Aside from occasional nausea, and diarrhea, most studies to date have not found any serious negative side effects associated with creatine use. The most consistent side effect that has been observed is a gain in water weight where people can expect to gain between 1-3 pounds following creatine use. Creatine should be used with caution by people who have kidney disorders because it is broken down by the kidneys. Creatine is metabolized to small amounts of formaldehyde. While this has not yet been shown to be a problem, more research is needed to better ascertain what effect, if any, this may have in humans.

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