Last year, after
reading about some studies that found creatine consumption to be safe for
diabetics, I decided to give it a try. Long story short, I subjectively
determined that creatine helped me feel fresher and better-able to do my
workouts. So, I stuck with it.
What does creatine
do? Well, in so many words, it helps muscles retain water so that they have
more ready access to ATP, i.e. energy during exercise. Because these muscles
have more energy at-the-ready, every time a person exercises, each round of
exercise does more good than it would under a status quo scenario. How much
more good? Well, studies tend to show that body-builders who use creatine are
able to build about 6% more lean muscle mass than non-users, and that the gains
are real. That is, the 6% more mass doesn't go away when you stop using
creatine, it appears to be a real gain.
On the label of
every package of creatine, you'll see that the directions indicate that anyone
taking creatine should drink extra water. That got me thinking, "Drink
extra water and take this harmless substance, and you will retain more
water" sure sounds a lot like, "Combine this placebo with a diet and
exercise regimen to lose weight." In the latter case, the placebo
obviously isn't doing the work, it's the diet and exercise that is helping a
person lose weight. So, what if the former case is analogous? That is, what if
creatine is a harmless placebo that evinces users to drink more water? What if
you can obtain the same benefits of creatine merely by drinking more water?
I put the question
to my social circle, and no one seems to be aware of any creatine studies that
specifically controlled for water consumption. Never mind the fact that such a
study would be extremely difficult -- every two human bodies are different and
thus have different hydration requirements, so how exactly could water
consumption be held constant for the purposes of the study?
If my reasoning is
correct, then, at least on a personal level, athletes interested in creatine
supplementation should start by increasing their water consumption and testing
whether this gives them 6% more gains, plus-or-minus an acceptable error rate. If
so, there is no point to taking additional creatine.
Of course, since
creatine is cheap and virtually harmless, there will always be a "what
if." What if good hydration improves athletic performance by a full 6%...
And then creatine supplementation could increase it another 6%? Athletes who are interested in such things will
always be keen on experimenting to see whether they can squeeze out a little
better performance. And there are almost no downsides to using creatine.
Still, this line of
thinking was enough to convince me to stop using it.