Taking creatine to enhance fitness and performance has become second nature for a lot of professional players. Former England team nutritionist Roz Kadir explores the pros and cons of this supplement.

A creatine supplement can help build power and energy. But is it the right supplement for you?

Creatine is made from amino acids (animal produce) in the liver and kidneys, and transported to the muscles, where 95% of it is stored. The other
5% is stored in the brain, heart and testes.

In the 1990s it became extremely popular, often being the subject of extensive research, with over 200 peer-reviewed studies advocating its safety. Evidence shows that it’s not just an energy source for muscles but that it can also increase your strength.

It’s believed that muscle stores of phosphocreatine are increased by taking a creatine supplement. This improves the ability to maintain power output during intensive exercise, so it’s recommended for anaerobic bursts of exercise, such as sprints.

More recent studies at Louisiana State University show that it may delay muscle fatigue in endurance athletes, by boosting the lactate threshold and aiding recovery.

However, it has also been blamed for causing dehydration, cramping, muscle strains and pulls, and kidney problems. The British Journal of Sports Medicine reviewed the literature, and found no scientific basis for any of these claims. It’s more likely that such injuries are the result of misuse, or over-enthusiastic increases in workout regimes, which can cause muscle tears or discomfort, so be aware of this risk.

Creatine is not a magic potion that will miraculously add lean muscle to your body, but it can increase the speed and efficiency at which your body replenishes ATP (the fuel source muscles use).

There are many products on the market: creatine monohydrate, creatine ethyl ester, creatine phosphate and creatine citrate. Some people find one works better for them than another but, as with any supplement, purity is essential, so buy from a reputable source that can guarantee this.

Until recently, it was advised to have a loading phase, followed by a four to six-week cycle, but recent studies suggest this isn’t necessary.

It’s best taken under the supervision of an expert. And it’s advisable to take it with protein and carbohydrate, and avoid using citrus fruit drinks as the acid will break it down. Have water instead.

Those under the age of 18 shouldn’t take it, as there aren’t sufficient studies to show that it’s safe for younger athletes. Stick to diet until you’re older. And if you’re diabetic, or have any liver or kidney problems, then it’s also best avoided.

And remember: creatine is not the Holy Grail. It doesn’t work for everyone, and to get the best from it you need to be eating a healthy, wholesome diet, free of junk food, and stay well hydrated at all times.

Key Points:

A supplement that can increase your strength and energy levels

Not right for everyone

Only effective when the athlete is well hydrated and on a healthy diet