Our bodies are like cars. In order to operate at their best, they need the proper fuel. When we are younger, we tend to fuel ourselves thanks to a seemingly endless reserve of energy and motivation. But like any automobile, our systems need more maintenance as they get older. Enter creatine. This ingredient is a longtime staple for weightlifters and bodybuilders around the world. But even some who take the stuff religiously lack a true understanding of what creatine is and what it does.
What is Creatine?
It’s nitrogenous organic acid naturally produced by humans. Creatine works to provide energy to cells and supports muscles specifically. As we age our innate ability to power through a tough workout or exercise session begins to decline. Many factors contribute to this — ranging from hormonal changes to chemical alterations to basic wear-and-tear — but it’s inevitable for everyone. If you find that you can’t get nearly as much done at the gym as you could five years ago, you’re not alone and there’s nothing abnormal about it.
And this is why creatine is such an important component of a muscle building program. It often comes in a flavored powder that you can mix with water to create a pre-workout shake. There are also numerous capsule and pill based versions of creatine supplements, and some experts argue that this is a more efficient and effective delivery method. However, as long as you’re getting the ingredient in your body, your workouts are going to benefit.
When to Use
It’s best to use creatine ahead of high-intensity and explosive exercises. Mainly this applies to strength training, such as bar lifts, bicep curls, squats and so forth. But any activity requiring short bursts will benefit from supplementation. Sprinters and athletic performers swear by this ingredient. When properly absorbed creatine provides a meaningful edge and helps you conquer heavier weights and more reps. As any bodybuilding enthusiast knows, this is critical to making fast and produtive gains.
When Not to Use
There isn’t a significant amount of research to suggest that creatine is especially helpful with cardio or aerobic exercise. If you’re trying to run long distances or spend a chunk of time on the exercise bike or stair master, it’s not clear that creatine will be especially helpful. This ingredient works far more effectively for boosting acute movements requiring strength and explosiveness, and isn’t really suited for cardiovascular endurance.
Creatine supplements and powders are considered to be among the safest workout amplifying products. Some people report an increase in cramps, and in very rare cases there are examples of kidney damage, heart issues and digestive problems. But the emphasis here is on “rare.” For the vast majority of users there will be minimal drawbacks if any.
Should I Use Creatine?
If you are over the age of 18 (and especially if you’re over the age of 30) and you are a regular exerciser with a focus on building muscle, creatine is a great option. There are many different substances and ingredients that can assist workout progress, and of course different things work for different people. Give it a shot and see if it works for you. If not, there are plenty of other safe, natural and healthy solutions for bolstering your strength program.
Interested in learning about other popular muscle supplement ingredients? Check out our post on the most common ingredients in muscle.