If you’ve done even any basic reading on diet and nutrition, you’d have read all about the importance of different proteins, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats. But today, our Nutrition Expert, Chandni Haldurai, is here to talk about a nutrient that’s not discussed nearly as much - creatine.
So, let’s get right into it.
What is creatine?
Creatine is one of the body’s natural sources for energy needed for muscle contraction.The natural substance turns into creatine phosphate body, which in turn helps make a substance called adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP provides the energy for muscle contractions.
Creatine exists in a steady state with a similar compound named creatinine that can be measured in lab tests as a marker of kidney function. It is passed out of your body in the urine. This means your body must release stored creatine each day to keep normal levels, the amount depending on your muscle mass.
While the body produces some of the creatine it uses, maintaining an optimal level will require you to consume protein-rich foods such as meat or fish. In a normal omnivorous /carnivorous diet, you consume one to two grams/day of creatine. Vegetarians, therefore, may have lower amounts of creatine in their bodies. On the other hand, though, since vegetarians have lower intramuscular creatine storage, they may see greater gains from taking the supplements. However, it may take longer to build up levels in the muscles.
How does creatine help?
What is creatine used for, is probably one of the most common questions people have. Creatine is known to improve strength, increase lean muscle mass, and help the muscles recover more quickly during exercise. This muscular boost may help athletes achieve bursts of speed and energy, especially during short bouts of high-intensity activities such as weight lifting or sprinting.
Research shows that taking creatine supplements may:
- Improve your exercise performance
- Help your recovery after intense exercise
- Prevent and/or reduce the severity of injury
- Help athletes tolerate heavy training loads
- Increase your fat-free muscle mass during training
Want to know more about types of fitness supplements? Find all the information here.
How much creatine should I consume?
A person needs between 1 and 3 grams of creatine a day. Around half of this comes from the diet, and the rest is synthesized by the body. Food sources include red meat and fish. One pound of raw beef or salmon provides 1 to 2 grams of creatine.
According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), larger athletes who train intensely “may need to consume between 5 and 10 grams of creatine a day” to maintain their stores. People who cannot synthesize creatine because of a health condition may need to take 10 to 30 grams a day to avoid health problems.
When to take creatine?
There seems to be a lot of confusion around when should creatine be taken.
On days you exercise, there are three main options you have as to regarding when to take creatine,
- Shortly before your workout
- Shortly after your workout
- At some time that isn’t close to when you workout
Another option is to split your daily dose and take it throughout the day.
What about rest days?
Taking supplements on rest days is as important as active days - primarily to keep the creatine content of your muscles elevated. The best time to take creatine of a rest day is with a meal, since you're not working out.
Does creatine have any side effects?
Researchers still don't know the long-term effects of taking creatine supplements, especially in young people. Adolescents who take creatine often do so without their doctor's advice, which can cause them to take more than the recommended dose.
Although most healthy people can take it with no problem, creatine can, in rare cases, have adverse effects, particularly when used in excess.
Side effects can include:
- Weight gain, Anxiety,
- Breathing difficulties
- Kidney problems
- Nausea, vomiting
- Upset stomach
A well-rounded approach to health and an optimal diet includes awareness of nutrition - what to consume and how much. Creatine is an essential part of an individual’s diet, whether they are athletes or not - and when taken in the right amounts, can improve your strength, muscle recovery, and overall well being. Just remember to consult a qualified dietician before you make any drastic changes to your diet!