This is adapted from the book, Eat Smart, Play Hard, by RW USA Nutrition Editor Liz Applegate.
Creatine may be one of the best-selling supplements ever, with more than $100 million in annual sales. Athletes everywhere are using it, with good reason. According to manufacturers labels, loading up on creatine for several days boosts muscle strength and sprint performance. When taken for a few weeks, creatine may even pump up muscle size.
All of this hype is real. Many studies suggest quite strongly that creatine works. The only catch is that it might not work for everyone.
Manufactured by your body, creatine is a proteinlike substance also found in fish, beef, and other meats. In your muscles, creatine acts much like the cylinders in your cars engine, helping fire up your muscles during high-intensity exercise such as weight lifting, jumping, or sprinting. Load up with creatine from a supplement (20 to 25 grams daily for 5 to 7 days), and you boost the number of cylinders in your muscles.
After the loading phase, a maintenance dose of 2 to 5 grams a day helps maintain those high levels, resulting in more strength and a greater ability to do single or repeated bouts of high-effort exercise such as sprinting. As an added benefit, creatine supplements taken over several weeks may boost levels of HDL (good) cholesterol. And since men typically have lower HDL levels than women, this possible benefit of creatine increases its appeal to male athletes.
It sounds alluring, but it doesnt work for everyone. Endurance athletes are the clear losers in the creatine story. For starters, creatine loading may make you gain weight, which can make you feel sluggish. In fact, creatine loading in swimmers does not appear to consistently boost sprint performance, and it may even have a negative impact because weight gain can change body position in the water.
Research shows only that loading up on creatine helps during weight lifting and during brief, high-intensity exercise typically lasting less than a minute. Dosing with creatine has not been shown to have any performance-enhancing powers for longer efforts, especially continuous exercise such as long-distance running and cycling.
My recommendation: Give creatine a try if youre interested in increasing the size of your muscles or if you want to run sprints. But if youre keeping your weight down for the next marathon, stick with a high-carbohydrate diet.