Creatine Supplements: Function, Safety and Efficacy

Creatine was discovered as an effective muscle booster in 1912 and made commercially available to the public in the 1980s when Jane Fonda and Arnold Schwarzenegger were at the height of fitness popularity. Creatine is commonly known as an inexpensive way for slender men to transform into buff, toned beefcakes.

Unlike many supplements on the market, creatine has been heavily studied and researched, primarily to determine if this supplement offers an unfair advantage to the athletes who use it and if bodily harm is a possibility from long-term use. Creatine has not been banned in any sport and is heavily used among college, professional, Olympic and recreational athletes worldwide.

In multiple studies, including a 1999 study published in the Journal of the American Pharmaceutical Association, short-term use of creatine showed to have either a positive or no effect on study participants. Positive effects were reported in subjects during short-duration, high-intensity activities. When subjects participated in endurance sports however, no evidence of improvement was observed. These findings are consistent throughout years of study.

It has been a common belief that the effective muscle-building achieved from the supplementation of creatine is attributed to water retention in the muscles. Studies in 2001 and 2006 refuted this belief when researchers observed an increase in the activity of satellite cells surrounding muscle fibers. A boost in the number of myonuclei of these cells are donated to damaged muscle fibers which supplements growth.

It is important to note that continuous, excessive use of creatine has been linked to adverse effects on the body, such as weight gain, cramping, dehydration, diarrhea, and dizziness.  In some cases, renal failure has been reported, but multiple studies have proven that in appropriate doses, creatine is not harmful to a healthy renal system. Users are cautioned to be aware of the “load limit” of creatine, which varies from person to person.

When choosing a creatine supplement – several forms are now available – read the label carefully for dosing instructions and research your options. Creatine ethyl ester (CEE) was once believed to be more effective than creatine monohydrate because of improved absorption rates. In 2007, this theory was disproven, when a study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition proved that CEE is rapidly degraded by stomach acid. In 2009, creatine hydrochloride was patented and deemed as an improvement over creatine monohydrate due to greater solubility and therefore lower dosage requirements. The studies on creatine hydrochloride were funded by the company that manufactures the product.

Like any supplement, choose your creatine supplement wisely. Remember that supplements are not required to adhere to any standard of regulation. Supplements with seals from USP, NSF International or must adhere to certain safety and manufacturing practices – these regulating bodies are the gold standard of “quality-control” in the industry, although companies pay for their services.

This was a question from a follower on my Facebook page. Feel free to send me your nutrition and fitness related questions on Facebook or at


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