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Hey I'm relatively new to weight lifting and I have friends who take Creatine before working out. They said it really helps build muscle. But I've also heard it can be bad for you. How true is it, and is it worth the risk?

  • Makes some people, including myself, break out badly. – TestWell Nov 6 '15 at 16:04
  • @TestWell How sever is it when you break out, and do you know why? – trippt02 Nov 6 '15 at 16:07
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    It's pretty bad. I get painful cystic (deep) acne on my face. I do not know the cause, but I have read others stating similar side effects. One theory is not enough water intake, but I've tried guzzling water while on it with the same results. I would recommend buying the smallest possible amount to test. You could ask one of your friends if you can try a couple doses before making a purchase. I noticed side effects within 2-3 days of being on it. – TestWell Nov 6 '15 at 16:22
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    As always, if ONE person tells you they have a bad experience with it, don't let that make your decision. And at the same time, if ONE person says they have a good experience, don't let that make your decision either. Creatine is something a lot of people use, and it's legal because most people don't experience adverse effects. So yes, you should at least give it a try. And if you're still unsure, consult a doctor. – Alec Nov 7 '15 at 0:22
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    Also, as I noted down in my answer, the supplementation industry is highly unregulated, so a bad reaction to one batch of creatine may not mean that you'll react the same way to another batch. – Sean Duggan Nov 7 '15 at 4:36
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TL;DR: There don't seem to be many negative side effects besides water retention and the need to take in more water, although the benefit is limited for people who aren't already up against their limits and it doesn't seem to help for endurance training.

Per WebMD:

Creatine is LIKELY SAFE when taken by mouth appropriately for up to 5 years.

When taken by mouth in high doses, creatine is POSSIBLY UNSAFE. There is some concern that it could harm the kidney, liver, or heart function. However, a connection between high doses and these negative effects has not been proven. Creatine can also cause stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea, and muscle cramping.

Creatine causes muscles to draw water from the rest of your body. Be sure to drink extra water to make up for this. Also, if you are taking creatine, don't exercise in the heat. It might cause you to become dehydrated.

Many people who use creatine gain weight. This is because creatine causes the muscles to hold water, not because it actually builds muscle.

There is some concern that combining creatine with caffeine and the herb ephedra (also called Ma Huang) might increase the chance of having serious side effects such as stroke.

There is concern that creatine might cause irregular heartbeat in some people. But more information is needed to know if creatine can cause this problem.

There is concern that creatine might cause a skin condition called pigmented purpuric dermatosis in some people. But more information is needed to know if creatine can cause this problem.

BodyBuilding.com comes up with similar results:

  • Creatine does not cause damage to skeletal muscle or the heart, liver, or kidneys.
  • Creatine, at this moment in time, seems to be fine for kidney disorders that are not characterized by edema and tissue swelling.
  • Based on limited research, it is probably wise to avoid creatine supplementation if you have polycystic kidney disease, focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, or another kidney disorder characterized by tissue swelling.

Lastly a medical study found the same things, but also warns that commercial supplies may have other additives due to how badly regulated the supplementation industry is.

  • Ok that makes sense. As long as I stay hydrated there's not real problem. – trippt02 Nov 6 '15 at 16:02
  • This is the best source for creatine: examine.com/supplements/creatine That link gives you the actual studies (plural) ranked by quality, and a lot more detail of the information. In the doses highly recommended in most cases, there is no issues with creatine. – Berin Loritsch Nov 7 '15 at 11:59
  • water retention and take in more water. Doesn't is sound illogical? If creatine causes water retention, why do you need more water? There is extra water in your body, why do you need more? – Green Mar 18 '18 at 12:30
  • @Green: It makes more sense when you consider that creatine causes the water to migrate to your muscles rather than all of the spots where your body also needs it. It's a bit like planting a water-hungry plant in your yard. You'll have to water your yard more, because that plant is drawing in more water, and meanwhile, your lawn will be boggier because of that added water, and that the plant keeps it from escaping. – Sean Duggan Mar 18 '18 at 15:49
  • @SeanDuggan Thanks! This is one good association for understanding. – Green Mar 18 '18 at 19:23
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most people resort to creatine after an extended period of training where they're not getting bigger, or stronger, or both. as a beginner, you should see pretty rapid gains in both size and strength as long as you've got a solid workout plan and you're eating a ton. i don't think it makes sense for a beginner to take it. creatine isn't that risky compared to, like, anabolic steroids...but way, way riskier than a bunch of chicken breasts and whole milk.

if you do choose to try i would recommend against a "loading phase," which is several weeks of very high daily creatine intake (around 20 grams), followed by a moderate daily dosage (some call it a "maintenance" dose) of 5-ish grams, continued indefinitely. most of the creatine horror stories i've read are dosage-related.

  • Do you have any evidence that creatine is "way, way riskier than a bunch of chicken breasts and whole milk" ? – Eric Nov 10 '15 at 7:12
  • ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25984094 – blacklab Nov 10 '15 at 14:09
  • You have misinformation and one isolated case study. Yes, there are people with sensitivities or preexisting conditions that may react badly to creatine. However, the loading phase is 5-7 days, not "several weeks". – JohnP Nov 10 '15 at 14:32
  • 'several weeks' was sloppy on my part, you're right about that. thanks for the correction. is that the misinformation you're referring to, or the mayo clinic site, or something else? – blacklab Nov 10 '15 at 21:01

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