In the past few years, creatine supplements have acquired a reputation as something of a wonder 'drug' - safe, effective, legal, inexpensive. Can one supplement really be all those things?
Creatine is an amino acid, like the building blocks that make up proteins, that is used in the muscle cells. Studies indicate that regular supplementation during training promotes significant gains in sprint performance, strength, and lean body mass. Body builders are of course big users of creatine supplements because its greatest benefit is for increasing muscle size - if you are someone who lifts heavy weights regularly, creatine definitely will help you grow stronger quickly.
It has also been shown to be of benefit in sports as diverse as basketball, soccer, hockey, swimming and running, though the American College of Sports Medicine released a statement noting, "creatine supplementation has not been shown to improve longer-duration aerobic-type exercise." Finally, there is also some evidence that used on your off days it can help with muscle recovery.
So how does it work? Rather than actually building muscle tissue - like anabolic steroids - it works by helping your muscles work for longer. By working out harder, squeezing out those extra reps, you make greater gains. It is recommended that you use this supplement in moderation - 2 to 5 grams a day an hour before your workout to allow time for it to be absorbed into the bloodstream. Use it daily for three weeks, then switch to 5 grams two or three times a week, for periods no longer than four months.
Finally, a word of caution - some doctors believe that there is a possibility that an excess can place stress on both the kidneys and the liver - it should therefore not be used if there is any indication of kidney problems.