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Is creatine a steroid? This is a common question people have about this exercise and fitness dietary supplement. No, creatine is not a steroid. Below we go into everything you should know about creatine.
Learn about the benefits of creatine supplementation, how creatine works, and how the different aspects of creatine supplementation could have performance benefits for you.
What is Creatine?
Any form of creatine is one of the top nutritional supplements used by weight lifters, professional athletes, or people who want to perform their physical performance and muscular strength. There are a number of benefits of creatine that research backs and there are minimal side effects associated with this particular supplement.
- Creatine is a combination of amino acids.
- Your liver, kidney, and pancreas produce creatine naturally.
- Creatine is in your muscles, and also in the fish and meat that you eat.
- The natural levels in your muscles and food are much lower than the powdered creatine you might buy.
- When you take creatine, it’s a nitrogen-based compound.
- You’ll usually find it as a white powder, which can be flavored or unflavored.
- Some people take it in capsule form.
Your liver, kidneys, and pancreas make around a gram of creatine a day.
The creatine your body makes is stored in your muscles mostly, and it’s used for energy. The idea behind taking it supplementally is that you can increase your muscle mass and improve your athletic performance by raising the levels of creatine in your muscles.
- If you’re doing high-intensity exercise, for example, if you’re a creatine user it helps your muscles provide the energy you need.
- Around 95% of the creatine your body stores in your muscles is in the form of phosphocreatine.
- When you take it as a supplement, you increase phosphocreatine stores. As you increase phosphocreatine stores, your body is better able to produce something called ATP.
- ATP is a high-energy molecule. When you have higher ATP levels, your body can perform better when you exercise.
Creatine Benefits and Effects of Creatine Supplementation
Below is an overview of some of the big benefits of creatine, which are supported by research and evidence.
The biggest reason people choose creatine dietary supplements is to help them gain muscle. Creatine helps with muscle gain through several mechanisms including:
- Creatine lets you do more volume or work in a training session, promoting the long-term growth of muscles.
- Taking it before a workout such as weight training or intense exercise helps improve signaling in muscle cells. With increased cell signaling, it helps muscle growth and repair.
- There’s evidence creatine raises anabolic hormones like IGF-1. That’s one of the reasons people ask is creatine a steroid, but we’ll talk more about this below.
- Taking supplements with creatine can reduce your protein breakdown, which means you’re cutting your muscle breakdown and potentially increasing your muscle mass.
- If you have high levels of protein myostatin, it can slow or block muscle growth. Taking creatine as a supplement reduces myostatin, helping promote muscle growth.
Taking creatine is good for short- and long-term muscle growth. This supplement isn’t just for bodybuilders. In fact, evidence shows it can help people who are older or sedentary.
One large-scale review found oral creatine supplements are the most beneficial supplement available to add muscle mass.
If you do any type of high-intensity exercise, creatine can improve your power and strength. The effects of supplementation on performance can be very significant.
- For example, in one 28-day study, supplementing increased bike sprint performance by 15%.
- The benefits on exercise performance are likely due to the increase in your body’s ability to produce ATP.
- Typically if you’re doing high-intensity exercise, your body’s ATP is depleted after 8 to 10 seconds.
- Since creatine helps up your production of ATP, you can keep up optimal performance for a few seconds longer with supplementation.
Brain Health and Function
One of the perhaps most fascinating areas of benefit with creatine supplements is the fact that it can help improve brain function.
- Research finds higher creatine levels are associated with reduced mental fatigue and improved recognition memory.
- The idea is similar to exercise. When you increase the available brain energy, which creatine does, you can increase your brainpower. Increases in brain power can translate to more overall ability.
- Your brain stores phosphocreatine just like your muscles and requires a lot of ATP to function optimally.
- There’s been a good deal of animal research showing creatine supplementation may help in the treatment of neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, brain or spinal cord injury, and ischemic stroke, as well as memory and brain function in older people.
Creatine for Mood
There’s another interesting area of research doctors and clinicians are looking at right now, which is the potential for creatine to help with mood and depression.
- In one study of adult females taking an antidepressant, participants taking creatine as well had a better effect from their medication.
- Researchers think in particular creatine may be helpful for people who aren’t getting a benefit from their antidepressant drug.
- In the research study mentioned above, researchers gave half the women participating five grams of creatine. The other half of the participants got a placebo.
- By the second week of the study, the women who were taking creatine had a better effect. Scores indicated they were no longer clinically depressed.
- The placebo group had some improvements but were still scored in the depressed zone.
Is Creatine a Steroid?
Now that we’ve covered some of the things creatine is, back to our original question. Is creatine a steroid?
There’s a myth that creatine is a steroid or is chemically similar to anabolic steroids, which isn’t the case.
- Anabolic steroids are synthetic hormones that resemble testosterone.
- Sometimes people take them to promote muscle growth and muscle strength.
- This muscle-building supplement is also used by athletes illegally to improve physical performance and can be used as a way to lose weight.
Basically, an anabolic steroid is a synthetic variation of testosterone, which is a male sex hormone. Anabolic means muscle-building. These are also called androgenic steroids or anabolic-androgenic steroids.
Steroids can be prescribed to treat hormonal issues or conditions causing muscle loss and wasting like cancer and AIDs.
When they aren’t prescribed, people are abusing anabolic steroids.
- Steroids have a certain molecular and chemical shape and structure, according to the International Society of Sports Nutrition in the United States.
- Creatine is not a steroid and it has a completely different structure.
- Creatine is made up of three amino acids, which are L-arginine, L-glycine, and L-methionine.
- There is no influence of creatine on your hormones like there is with anabolic steroids, and creatine is legal while steroids aren’t.
Creatine, such as creatine monohydrate is much more like a vitamin or mineral than an anabolic steroid, particularly since it’s found in some foods. It’s not a vitamin in the traditional sense because you don’t require it for survival, but the way it works in your body is not similar to steroids and is more similar to a nutrient.
Is Creatine Safe?
Creatine is considered a safe supplement overall, although you should talk to a health care professional if you have concerns.
- Many people who use it will start with a loading phase.
- During that loading phase, your muscle stores of creatine go up quickly.
- Loading would mean taking around 20 grams per day for 5 to 7 days of supplementation depending on body weight.
- That 20-gram dosage would be split into four servings throughout the day as oral creatine supplements.
You can improve oral creatine supplementation absorption by having it with a meal high in protein or carbs.
- Once you’ve finished the loading period, you might take anywhere from 3 to 5 grams a day to keep the levels of creatine up in your muscles and improve the efficacy of creatine supplementation.
Creatine products are very researched, and there have been animal and human studies looking at their safety finding no adverse effects with long-term use. You should talk to your doctor before you take it if you have kidney or liver problems, such as renal insufficiency.
Summing Up—Is Creatine a Steroid?
To sum up, creatine is not a steroid but it does have beneficial effects on intramuscular creatine stores.
The myth that it is likely coming from the fact that it’s widely used in the workout world and to boost athletic performance and muscle mass.
However, creatine works completely differently from anabolic steroids. Creatine can help performance during resistance training and general muscular performance. These popular supplements may also improve cognitive processing according to scientific studies.
Even if you aren’t a bodybuilder, creatine is a safe way to see gains in strength and athletic performance.