Creatine pros and cons all explained! What is creatine and should you take it? Short of protein powder, creatine is the supplement of choice more often selected by individuals looking to build muscle size and increase physical strength. But what exactly is creatine and is it something you should be included in your dietary regimen?
We’ve got all the creatine pros and cons for you right here.
If you’ve spent any time at the gym and talked with the bodybuilders walking around, chances are you’ve heard them mention creatine time and time again.
Alright, so before we dive into the pros and cons of creatine, let’s focus on what in the world it is, to begin with.
What is Creatine?
Creatine is naturally produced within every muscle cell in your body. It is used to generate energy during quick, explosive movements.
It works with your fast twitch muscle fibers as a way to generate that quick burst of energy. Everything from sprinting to lifting weights uses this quick burst of energy.
However, the quick twitch muscle fiber energy is burned up quickly.
It’s why you jog for miles at a time but you can only sprint for at most a few hundred meters before you’re completely exhausted.
Think of it as a fuel source. On one side you have a pool of gasoline. On the other, you have a stack of logs.
When you light both on fire the gasoline will explode with a rush but then burn out quickly. The logs will take time to catch, but once lit it will burn for a long period of time.
The same is true with your muscle energy sources. Fast twitch muscle fibers burn through this explosive creatine energy quickly.
When you lift weights you burn through creatine quickly.
The heavier the weights and the harder it is to lift, the more creatine energy you burn through.
So while you’re wearing out your muscles you’re also burning through the naturally produced creatine energy. When you hit that bodybuilding wall there isn’t much you can do (Healthline, 2018).
Now, let’s dig into the pros and cons of creatine to determine if it is a supplement that should be included in your diet.
Creatine Pros And Cons
The bodybuilders at your local gym swear by creatine, but does it really do what they say it does (and what the side of the packaging says it does)?
In short, yes, when you’re consuming creatine you’re adding in what your body naturally produces.
By consuming creatine you’ll increase the available amount your body has.
The muscles absorb this additional creatine when you consume it, which gives you the additional explosive energy.
Now, it is important to focus on the recommended dosage.
This is because your body can only hold so much creatine per cell. While cells can stretch some, you can only pack so much material into that one cell.
A muscle cell isn’t a clown car. You can’t just keep packing and packing items in (although that would be great if you could because then you’d really see incredible results!).
If you go over the recommended limit your muscles will not be able to absorb the excess creatine and you’ll pass it through.
There’s no need to waste the creatine supplement, so follow the recommended dosage to stretch your workout dollars further.
We dig a little deeper into the creatine pros and cons below and decide whether or not it is worth taking.
When you increase the amount of creatine in your body, you get an additional explosive energy that helps you push through those last reps.
Individuals who consume creatine as a supplement will tell you it helps them squeeze off a few more reps during a set, which forces their muscles to remain engaged longer, which helps build more strength and size.
But, is it safe? Can you take too much?
We talk in more detail about these questions below.
#1 Creatine Increases Your Strength
You will increase strength as long as you put in the work. This is critical.
You still need to work hard and put in the time.
As long as you do you’ll put up additional reps per set, which helps you boost your strength. You get more out of the last few reps of any set than you do the first.
That’s because the harder your muscles work the stronger the muscles get. So one main benefit from taking creatine is you will see strength improvements (Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 2015).
#2 Creatine Increases Your Size
When you’re taking creatine you will see an increase in size in two different ways.
One way is the actual muscles themselves increasing.
When you’re taking creatine and you increase the number of reps you’re putting up you in turn will break down your muscles further.
When you break your muscles down more you open up the opportunity to build the muscles back up.
As your muscle fiber is rebuilt with incoming protein your muscles will become larger (as long as you’re consuming enough protein).
Second is the in an increase in the cell walls.
You’ll also see an increase in muscle size because of the creatine itself.
As creatine is absorbed by your muscles it brings on more water. Creatine doesn’t just push into your cell walls in its powdered form. It requires water.
So your cell walls will increase in size in order to hold the added creatine. So not only will you add muscle fiber to your body but you’ll also increase the size of the muscle cells as well.
#3 Creatine Is Perfectly Safe
Creatine is completely safe to take and to add into any diet.
Your body already produces creatine on its own. It’s also something you can’t over-use as any excess of creatine and your muscles simply won’t absorb it and you’ll pass it through.
So you can’t overdose and you’re not adding anything into your body that you don’t already have.
Creatine has been proven to be a safe supplement not just short term but long term as well. This way, no matter how long you’re taking creatine you will also be able to use it.
Plus, it doesn’t lose its potency.
It’s not something your body becomes accustomed to and, as such, it no longer has the same influence on your gym performance.
It’s like any energy source. You add it to your body and your body uses it as necessary.
This way, you don’t need to continually increase the amount of creatine you’re taking in order to get the same result out of it (Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry, 2009).
#4 Creatine Is Inexpensive
Working out can quickly become expensive.
If you start adding on the different kinds of supplements you want to take, plus the vitamins, pre and post workout mixes, in addition to gym memberships and other odds and ends, it’s possible to really go nuts with how much money you spend.
Thankfully creatine, which is one of the best supplements you can add to your diet, is also one of the least expensive options.
You can purchase creatine from any grocery store, so not only is it an inexpensive option but it’s easy to find.
When deciding which kind of creatine to take though make sure to keep in mind the flavor of the creatine.
You can get flavorless creatine, which looks like a find flour, or you can get a flavored creatine. If you’re mixing your creatine with other beverages you don’t want to add in a fruit punch creatine flavor into chocolate protein powder.
So other than this you should be fine getting your creatine just about anywhere.
Creatine doesn’t have too many negatives.
Your body produces it on its own, so it’s naturally something your body knows how to use.
Although we’ll look at some of the negatives and some of the supposed negatives so you know the full truth (and nothing but the truth) with regards to creatine.
#1 Creatine Can Make You Retain Water
This is the only disadvantage of the creatine pros and cons.
There will be people who tell you that they don’t like creatine because it causes them to bloat or it forces them to retain water.
This is a partial truth.
First, yes, you will retain water weight.
Your muscle cells retain water in order to hold onto the creatine. However, this water remains inside the muscle cells and only the muscle cells.
So you will gain some “water weight” in your muscles, although this makes your muscle cells look larger. It does not make you bloat.
Bloating from eating an extra large pizza the night before is different from the water your body retains consuming creatine.
When you consume a large amount of sodium your fat cells enlarge, which causes your entire body to expand. If you consume a large amount of carbs your body may hold on up to three or four grams of water for every carb gram you consume, so this can make you feel bloated.
Bloated is water that is retained not just in your cells but around your cells.
This is not what happens with creatine.
So yes, you will hold onto some water weight in your muscles, but it’s not bloating and you won’t look or show bloating.
You’ll just look like you have larger muscles (which doesn’t make it a con, but if you’re looking to drop as much weight as possible you should consider not using the creatine) (Lancet, 2004).
#2 I Was Told Creatine Is A Steroid
We wanted to put this one in just because we’ve been asked it more than once.
Someone may have, at some point in time, told you that creatine is like a steroid.
After all, you can do more reps and lift more weight with creatine, so it obviously must be a steroid.
We’ll go over this one time here just so you know what’s up and how to respond should someone bring it up.
The answer to this is no, creatine is not a steroid at all. It’s not even close.
Creatine is the combination of three different amino acids, all of which your body creates on its own.
There’s a reason why you can go to the grocery store and purchase creatine powder for a few bucks.
When you go to the corner drug store and you need creatine and cough syrup, which one do you have to ask to be unlocked? The cough syrup.
Creatine is 100% as natural as vitamin C or any other vitamin you buy (Science, Nordic, 2013).
This isn’t a con, but it’s something that someone will likely ask you if you ever tell them you take creatine, so it’s worth bringing up.
Creatine couldn’t be any farther from a steroid and there’s a reason why no athletic sporting organization has a problem with it. Banning creatine would be like banning eating cabs.
#3 Does Creatine Cause Kidney And Liver Problems?
Much like protein powder, as long as you follow the recommended dosage there are no issues at all to be had with creatine.
Now, whenever you’re adding something new to your diet it is important to not dive head first and max out the amount you’re taking.
You want to slowly work your way up. So don’t take four servings of creatine the very first day. Take one for a few days, then move up to two and so on.
There is no connected problems between creatine and kidney or liver problems unless you take the product in excess.
But this isn’t a creatine specific issue. If you take or consume anything in excess you may develop kidney or liver problems.
You can take too much vitamin D and it can cause problems with other organs simply because your overwhelming the body with too much of one thing.
so much like the case with any of your other supplements or dietary additions, just make sure to not overdo it and follow the recommended dosage. As long as you do this you’ll be good to go.
After reading through this article of the creatine pros and cons, you can see that the benefits clearly outweigh the one disadvantage.
Your body produces creatine naturally, you just burn through it quickly when lifting weights.
So if you want to boost your muscle size and strength creatine really is a supplement you need to add creatine into your daily dietary routine.
It’s easy enough to mix into protein shakes in the morning and combine in your pre-workout mix before heading to the gym.
Whatever you decide to do, make sure you always follow the recommended dosage on the product labeling. This will keep you safe and ensure you get the most out of the supplement.