Creatine is a molecule that's produced in the body from amino acids. It's primarily made in the liver and to a lesser extent in the kidneys and pancreas. It stores high-energy phosphate groups in the form of phosphocreatine which are donated to ADP, regenerating it to ATP, the primary energy carrier in the body. This role in energy production is particularly relevant under conditions of high energy demand such as intense physical or mental activity.
Creatine can be found in some foods and is most prevalent in meat and fish. Athletes commonly take it as a powder or in capsules.
The primary benefit of creatine is an improvement in strength and power output during resistance exercise. For this purpose, creatine is well-researched, and the effects are quite notable for a supplement. When used in conjunction with resistance exercise, creatine may modestly increase lean mass. It has also been tested for anaerobic running capacity in many studies, the results of which are fairly mixed but generally suggest a small improvement in performance.
While creatine has been researched far less for cognitive performance than physical performance, it may have benefits in some contexts. A reduction in mental fatigue has been observed in various scenarios such as demanding mental activity, sleep deprivation, and traumatic brain injury. Creatine may improve working memory, though likely only for those with below-average creatine levels such as vegetarians and the elderly. We need more research in these areas and other cognitive measures before creatine can be said to be effective.
When taken without sufficient water, stomach cramping can occur. Diarrhea and nausea can occur when too much creatine is taken at once, in which case doses should be spread out throughout the day and taken with meals.
Most of the supposed dangers of creatine are unfounded. Due to the bad reputation of performance-enhancing drugs, it has been wrongfully equated with the worst examples. It also increases levels of creatinine in the body, which are a marker of poor kidney function. However, the increase in creatinine isn't due to kidney damage, but simply more creatinine being produced. There is a lack of long-term studies in people with reduced kidney function, however, so caution could still be taken in that instance. Besides the minor gastrointestinal issues from excessive creatine, it is unlikely to be unsafe or bad for you.
Creatine is very safe, and has been proven to increase power ouput (which lets you build more muscle). Do note that it can cause bloating, but this is purely water weight.
There is promising yet very preliminary evidence for certain neurological benefits.
Taking into account efficacy, safety, and cost, creatine is among the surest supplement bets.
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