Creatine Versus Mere Hydration

Here's a quick post about creatine.

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.

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