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Creatine

Creatine is primarily used as a bodybuilding supplement to help improve workout performance and muscle gain.  However, creatine has been gaining popularity as a supplement for people who want to lose weight.  To call creatine a weight loss supplement would be drastically inaccurate though, especially since this supplement is known to produce weight gain almost immediately.

If your overall objective is to reduce your body fat and replace it with lean muscle, then creatine supplements may help your goal.

What is Creatine?

Creatine is a natural compound which is found in our bodies and helps provide energy to cells, especially muscles.  It works by boosting levels of a coenzyme called ATP which is the common pathway of all energy used in metabolism.  Creatine supplements are typically made synthetically from enzymes and available as powders which get mixed with fluids and drunken.  Creatine supplements are incredibly popular amongst athletes, especially those who perform low-endurance, high-impact sports like bodybuilding or sprinting.  Aside from supplements, creatine can also be found in many foods, particularly meats and fish.

How Creatine Enhances Workouts

Creatine is one of the few bodybuilding supplements which is proven to do exactly what it claims: build up muscle size.  It will also produce these results incredibly quickly, in just a few days to weeks.  The way that creatine works is by drawing water into your muscles.  Some critics claim that creatine does not actually increase muscle mass but only water retention.  However, studies do support that creatine helps build muscle mass because water is important for protein synthesis.

Since creatine is critical for transporting energy, it can provide a major boost to a high-impact workout such as weight lifting.  There have been hundreds of studies on the efficacy of creatine in supporting workout performance and they overwhelmingly show that this supplement boosts performance.   However, it is important to note that creatine is only effective in enhancing high-impact, low-endurance types of workouts.  It will not help fuel your energy levels for longer sessions of aerobic exercises – the types of exercises which are important for burning fat.

Is Creatine Helpful for Dieters?

For people who are looking simply to burn fat, creatine will not help weight loss in any way. In fact, this supplement can cause nearly immediate weight gain, even if the gain is just from water retention.  In just about a week, most people supplementing with creatine will gain about 2-4 pounds.

The draw of creatine for those looking to burn fat is that it can cause a surge in energy which can help fuel a workout. While creatine is not effective for longer session of exercise, it can benefit short yet high-impact aerobic session for burning off fat.

Over the long term, creatine may have some benefits for people looking to lose weight.  The reason for this is because body mass is directly linked to metabolic speed.  The more body mass you have, the more calories your metabolism burns daily even without exercising.  If dieters just focus on losing fat but not increasing lean muscle mass, then their metabolisms will slow down after the weight loss and they will have a harder time maintaining their weight. Experts generally agree that a pound of muscle will burn about 35-50 calories daily, though some more modest estimates put it at 7-10 calories daily.  At any rate, a pound of muscle burns at least 2-3 times the calories than a pound of fat.

If you want to lose weight yet are thinking of the long term, then creatine may help you get the lean, fat-burning body that you crave.  However, it is important to realize that there are some risks associated with creatine use, including liver damage.  Studies show that creatine is safe for short-term use but side effects like cramps, diarrhea, or dehydration could occur.  People with liver problems should not use creatine without talking to their doctors first.   Don’t forget that you only get benefits from creatine supplements if you also hit the gym.  Otherwise, you are just going to end up with a lot of water gain.

References:

Engelhardt, M; Neumann G, Berbalk A, and Reuter I. “Creatine supplementation in endurance sports”. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 30;7 (1998): 1123–9.

Bryant, Dr. Cedric X. “Q: One of the more common perceptions in some fitness circles is that strength training individuals lose weight because one pound of muscle can burn approximately 30-50 calories per day. Is this claim valid?” Acefitness.org. ACE Fitness.  March/April 2006. Web.

Graham AS, Hatton RC. “Creatine: a review of efficacy and safety”. J Am Pharm Assoc (Wash) 39;6 (1999): 803–10.

Poortmans J. R., Francaux, M. “Adverse effects of creatine supplementation. Fact or Fiction?”. Sports Medicine, 30;3 (2000):155–70.

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