Physiological and Health Effects of Oral Creatine Supplementation
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Creatine (Cr) supplementation has become a common practice among professional, elite, collegiate, amateur, and recreational athletes with the expectation of enhancing exercise performance. Research indicates that Cr supplementation can increase muscle phosphocreatine (PCr) content, but not in all individuals. A high dose of 20 g x d(-1) that is common to many research studies is not necessary, as 3 g x d(-1) will achieve the same increase in PCr given time. Coincident ingestion of carbohydrate with Cr may increase muscle uptake; however, the procedure requires a large amount of carbohydrate. Exercise performance involving short periods of extremely powerful activity can be enhanced, especially during repeated bouts of activity. This is in keeping with the theoretical importance of an elevated PCr content in skeletal muscle. Cr supplementation does not increase maximal isometric strength, the rate of maximal force production, nor aerobic exercise performance. Most of the evidence has been obtained from healthy young adult male subjects with mixed athletic ability and training status. Less research information is available related to the alterations due to age and gender. Cr supplementation leads to weight gain within the first few days, likely due to water retention related to Cr uptake in the muscle. Cr supplementation is associated with an enhanced accrual of strength in strength-training programs, a response not independent from the initial weight gain, but may be related to a greater volume and intensity of training that can be achieved. There is no definitive evidence that Cr supplementation causes gastrointestinal, renal, and/or muscle cramping complications. The potential acute effects of high-dose Cr supplementation on body fluid balance has not been fully investigated, and ingestion of Cr before or during exercise is not recommended. There is evidence that medical use of Cr supplementation is warranted in certain patients (e.g.. neuromuscular disease); future research may establish its potential usefulness in other medical applications. Although Cr supplementation exhibits small but significant physiological and performance changes, the increases in performance are realized during very specific exercise conditions. This suggests that the apparent high expectations for performance enhancement, evident by the extensive use of Cr supplementation, are inordinate.