Can creatine supplements help you build muscle? What experts say

There is no shortage of pills and powders that claim to help you maximize your workout. One of the most popular supplements is creatine.

Its main benefit is that it “helps you train harder” while you work out, Jose Antonio, a professor of exercise science at Nova Southeastern University in Florida, told CNBC Make It. That’s because it gives your muscles a boost by stimulating the production of adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, which your cells use for energy.

These longer, harder workouts can help you build more muscle.

“In general, within four to eight weeks of taking creatine, you will likely gain between two and four pounds of lean body mass,” says Antonio.

However, creatine alone will not help your muscles grow. To see gains, you’ll need to make sure you’re using that extra energy to produce a few more sets than you otherwise would have.

“You have to combine training and creatine,” explains Antonio.

It’s not just your muscles that could benefit from taking creatine. A 2018 study published in Elsevier suggests that taking creatine supplements could improve short-term memory and reasoning skills in healthy individuals.

Creatine can impact your athletic performance in terms of energy and endurance, according to Harvard Health Publishing. “There is evidence in endurance athletes that (creatine) also helps with endurance,” says Antonio.

What to look out for in terms of security

The amount of creatine you consume is important, as a high dose could put strain on your kidneys. In fact, Harvard Health Publishing recommends that people with kidney disease consult their doctor before taking a creatine supplement.

Experts generally recommend ingesting between three and five grams per day. But if you’re new to creatine, you may be able to base your initial intake on your weight. “You want to ingest about 0.3 grams per kilogram of body weight per day for the first three days,” says Heather Milton, clinical exercise physiologist and supervisor of the Sports Performance Center at NYU Langone.

This is because the effects of creatine can vary from person to person. After the first few days, you may be able to increase your dose gradually over time to see how your body responds, she says.

Although creatine supplements have been widely shown to be safe for healthy people, Milton still suggests consulting your doctor before taking creatine supplements if you are taking other medications.

The type of creatine also matters. Look for powder labeled “creatine monohydrate.” Other types of supplements like creatine nitrate and creatine pyruvate don’t have as much scientific evidence supporting their benefits or safety, Antonio notes.

“Start by making sure you eat a well-balanced diet.”

You can incorporate more creatine into your diet without purchasing powders. Creatine is found naturally in protein-rich foods like fish, beef, chicken and cow’s milk.

Indeed, Milton says, gym-goers looking for an extra boost should first examine the foods they eat before adding creatine to their routines.

“You always want to start by making sure you’re eating a well-balanced diet before worrying about taking supplements,” says Milton.

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