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What is Creatine?

It's the ultimate supplement superhero, a bodybuilder's secret weapon, and a critical tool in every athlete's arsenal. It can take your performance to the next level, skyrocket your endurance, and finally get you the results you've been looking for.

But what exactly is creatine? And is it worth all the hype?

The short answer: yes.

The long answer: Creatine is one of the most researched nutritional supplements alongside whey protein. If your workout buddy is singing its praises, it's probably not the placebo effect--hundreds of studies show creatine could improve everything from athletic performance to energy and strength.

The longer answer: Read on to find out why creatine is the go-to supplement of the fitness world.

WHAT IS CREATINE?

Contrary to popular belief, creatine is not an amino acid (although the amino acids glycine and arginine produce it). It's a compound found naturally in muscle cells that produces adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a substance that gives your body the energy it needs for fat-burning, explosive exercises like jumping and sprinting.

Creatine is generally sold as a powder or in capsule form. Most people prefer to take it before they workout. Here's why:

CREATINE IMPROVES ATHLETIC PERFORMANCE

You can thank ATP for the energy boost you feel when you take creatine.

High-intensity, explosive movements like jumping and sprinting are kryptonite for those pesky extra pounds, but they deplete your ATP levels after only about 10 seconds, making it difficult for you to keep going and potentially plateauing your progress. (You know...that "I literally cannot do another sprint because I will fall over and not get up for at least 24 hours" feeling.)  (x)

This is where creatine comes in; research shows it can increase ATP concentration in your muscles by 15-32%, which will seriously improve your energy--and this means overall improved athletic performance. (x)

If your weightlifting has plateaued, creatine could also help improve your strength. In one study, participants who took creatine improved their strength by up to 15%; in another, 19 men took either creatine or a placebo during a 12-week workout program. At the end of the program, those who supplemented with creatine increased their bench press weight by 24% and their squat weight by 32%--8% more for both exercises than those who took the placebo. (x)

Yet another study found that participants who took creatine before they worked out increased bench press volume by a whopping 43%. (x)

So if you're fatigued or just sluggish at the gym, your energy levels could benefit from creatine--and so could your muscles.

CREATINE IMPROVES MUSCLE MASS

Creatine doesn't just boost your energy; it may also build muscle. Researchers think this is because it may reduce levels of myostatin, a protein that can inhibit muscle growth. (x)

As a result, adding this supplement to your preworkout could increase your muscle mass by up to 35% and your lean body mass by 6%. (x) One study found that athletes who took creatine over a 12-week period gained almost twice the amount of lean body mass than those who took a placebo. (x)

By the way, don't listen to naysayers who insist creatine makes you gain weight--it may make you temporarily retain water, but that should dissipate, and forms of creatine like ethyl ester are designed to prevent bloating and water retention.

DYNAMIC DUO

Every great superhero needs a sidekick. Enter beta-alanine, a supplement superhero in its own right. When taken with creatine, it could skyrocket your endurance, improve body composition, and even alleviate post-workout muscle soreness. (x) Mix both into your preworkout drink for an extra performance boost.

WHICH TYPE OF CREATINE SHOULD YOU TAKE?

There are multiple types of creatine available. So which one should you take? As is true with most supplements, it depends on your fitness goals and what works best for your body. Here's the lowdown on the most common types:

Creatine Monohydrate (Micronized) is one of the most popular forms of creatine as well as the most researched. "Micronized" means it's standardized to a finer powder, which allows it to dissolve easily in water. It may also reduce potential side effects like bloating or gastrointestinal discomfort.

Creatine HCL contains hydrochloride to help it dissolve in water. Its HCL content also makes it easier for the body to absorb it and reap its benefits.

Creatine Ethyl Ester HCL is less likely to cause cramping, bloating, or water retention than other forms of creatine. This form may be best for you if you have a sensitive stomach or are prone to indigestion.

HOW TO TAKE CREATINE

Creatine works best when taken about 30 minutes before exercise. Some forms of  powdered creatine may dissolve more easily than others, but they all should mix well in workout drinks or shakes. Dosing also depends on the type of creatine.

Avoid taking creatine with caffeine, as it could cause unwanted side effects like anxiety, stomach upset, and dehydration. Some studies also suggest that caffeine and creatine may counteract each other, so skip using them at the same time. If you do want to use both in your preworkout, be safe and alternate days: add creatine to your shake one day, and caffeine the next.

THE TAKEAWAY

There's a reason athletes and fitness junkies swear by creatine--it's backed by science and proven to take your endurance and overall workout performance to the next level. Even better news? There are little to no side effects associated with its use, provided you stick to the recommended dose.

So why add creatine to your preworkout? Maybe the better question is, why not?

 

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