Creatine is often taken by athletes and non-athletes alike to help boost sports performance and aid recovery. In almost every health food shop in the country and in many gyms and sports clubs, large tubs of creatine in various guises can often be found.
However, what exactly is creatine and does it really live up to the claims and are there any drawbacks?

What is Creatine?
Creatine is a naturally occurring substance made up of amino acids which are also the building blocks of proteins. Our liver and kidneys make most of the creatine and it is largely stored in our muscle. The creatine can be derived from meat in our diet especially from game. The amino acids that help make up creatine can be found in vegetarian sources of food such as soybeans and chick peas.

What does Creatine do and how is it supposed to work?
In terms of sports performance, the claims attributed to creatine intake include increased muscle size, increased performance in short term high intensity exercise and quicker recovery rates post-exercise.

Essentially, it is not clear how creatine works to give the benefits mentioned above. Studies have postulated that it makes our energy stores recover quicker so we can do intensive exercises more easily, it has been thought to directly stimulate muscle synthesis and also it acts as an antioxidant and therefore “mops up” the muscle-damaging free radicals that are produced after exercise.

But does it actually work?
Due to increasing use as a supplement, there has been a fair amount of work on creatine’s benefits to sports performance. Unfortunately, a lot of the studies use very small numbers of participants and often when there is a benefit shown to fusing creatine, it is often relatively small. On looking through many scientific papers, there seems to be a some agreement that creatine seems to aid performance with short-intensive exercises and also in promoting muscle gain/weight gain. However, on reviewing the literature for every study claiming a benefit, it easy to find one that says the contrary and vice versa.

Are there any down sides or side effects?
The most commonly talked about side effects are that taking creatine supplements can affect your liver and/or kidneys. One aspect that all the scientific papers agree upon is that if the supplement is taken according to the manufacturer’s instructions, then there is no evidence of any adverse effects. However, the studies are careful to note that this cannot be said for long term use, ie years as no study has ever followed the sportsmen and sportswomen for such a long period of time. Also, some studies have suggested that the weight gain seen in people taking it may only be attributable to increase in water uptake to the tissues rather than muscle mass.

So should I start taking creatine?
From my personal standpoint, there is not enough conclusive evidence to justify taking it on a regular basis. However, I am well aware that many people who use the supplement are convinced that creatine has been the key to increasing or maintaining their sports performance. I would only counter that by saying there are plenty of other variables to optimise such as hydration status, sleep quality and quantity, their natural diet before a supplement is needed to be bought