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Charlotte Personal Trainer for Women Answers: Should I be taking creatine?

We’ve gotten this question several times lately so wanted to share with you too!

Q & A: Should I be taking creatine?  Been hearing a lot of good things about it.

A: It might be worth trying. It’s effective for some women, however, the downside is that, if it is effective, it will usually cause the scale to go up 2-4 pounds.  The weight gain is not fat, but this can be demoralizing to some people, and you want to keep that in mind.

What is effective?
Creatine supplementation might increase strength levels, FFM (fat free mass), and bone density in women, as well as improve cognitive function.  Results do vary, and some people are what researchers call “non-responders*,” which means “people that don’t seem to respond to the supplementation.”

*Speaking of non-responders, in exercise research some participants are called non-responders, which is a misnomer because the name implies that exercise doesn’t work for some people.  When researchers take the non-responders and increase the amount and/or the intensity of the exercise done they become responders.  Despite popular claims to the contrary, more is more (and less is less). 
Does it help with fat loss?
Not really.  It might help you keep a bit more muscle while you lose weight (which is a good thing!), but it doesn’t increase calorie expenditure or decrease appetite.  (Wearing a weight vest daily, however, does increase calories burned and decrease appetite.)

The 2-4 pound weight gain is because the extra creatine finds it’s way into your muscles, and brings water with it.  Water is heavy, so a little bit of extra water in each of your millions of muscle cells adds up to some pounds.

How does it work?
Your muscles have short, medium and long term energy systems.  Creatine supplementation is most popular with strength athletes (power lifters, Olympic lifters, etc.) because it helps our short term energy systems.

Your muscles store energy in something called ATP.  The T is for “tri” as in 3, and here’s an artist’s rendition: A-P-P-P.  When your muscles do work the energy come from snapping off the last P.  This used ATP now has 2 P’s (A-P-P), so the “tri” becomes a “di” for 2 and gets called ADP. When all of the 3’s have been snapped into 2’s your muscles feel exhausted.  With some rest the muscles regenerate the 3’s from the 2’s. Creatine speeds this up because it holds an extra P (C-P) to make it easier for your muscles to reassemble.

In a nutshell creatine speeds up the rate at which your short term energy system replenishes itself.

Is it safe?
Yes.  We’ve got more safety data on creatine than we do on ketchup. You can read more about that here, here, here and here.  With that said, if you have bipolar, kidney disease and Parkinson’s then it’s probably wise to avoid.

How to take it.
5-10 mg per day.  Less than 5 mg per day increases your odds of being a “non-responder”.  I like the mix-with-water-powdered versions over the tablets because powder versions don’t have any  IBS-aggravating fillers.

Do I take it?
I do.  I have taken it off and on since the mid 90’s because I wanted to make my muscles look like the dudes in the ads, which never really happened. (Where is my wambulance?!?)  It’s not like caffeine where you feel the affects quickly… so it’s pretty hard to answer “does it work?”  I think I am a “responder,” but I’d need an identical twin and a time machine to know for sure.  It seems that when I’m inconsistent about taking creatine is when the InBody shows me down 1-2 pounds of LBM (lean body mass). 

For me it is cheap, safe, and doesn’t hurt my tummy, so it is worth the potential.  You can decide if it is worth experimenting for yourself.

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