Thinking about trying creatine? This is what you need to know: think of creatine as muscle medicine—the extra strength formula.When you supplement your diet with this amino acid, you spur the production of proteins your body uses to weave muscle fibres, says Dr Douglas Kalman, a sports nutritionist at Florida International University.
“Using creatine while weight training typically enhances strength gains by five to 15% in the first month, with no side effects,” he says.
In fact, a landmark study from Belgium confirmed that daily use of creatine by healthy adults for as long as five years does not affect the kidneys. That said, people with diabetes or a kidney disorder should steer clear, since their already overworked organs may have trouble processing the extra fuel.
You’ll see a bunch of different forms of creatine on your supplement store’s shelves. As for which type to buy, Kalman recommends sticking with classic creatine monohydrate – it’s as effective as newer formulas but less expensive. For the first month, take five grams a day, mixed into your post-workout recovery shake.
“Creatine monohydrate is the exact compound that more than 95 percent of the studies used, so why take a chance on another compound from a safety and effectiveness perspective?” says Dr. Mark Tarnopolsky, professor of paediatrics and medicine and director of the neuromuscular and neurometabolic clinic at McMaster University Medical Center in Ontario.
The first week you go on creatine, some experts recommend a “loading phase” of 20 grams a day for five to seven days. Afterward, go to 5 grams per day. On rest days, consume your five grams at any time. After the first month, drink five grams after training.
The Fine Print
See your doctor first if you have high blood pressure or diabetes. If you regularly take any prescription meds or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen (which can tax the kidneys), if you’re over age 40 (since kidney function slowly declines after age 30), or if you have a history of kidney or liver disease.