The nutritional supplement industry generates close to $37 billion annually, and that number is expected to keep growing.  For guys who take their fitness goals seriously, supplements are necessary to push the body beyond its natural limitations.  However, with so many products on store shelves, it’s hard to know what’s effective and what’s a waste of your money.  Creatine is one of the most popular supplements in the fitness community but not many men understand its benefits and risks.  How do you know if it’s right for you?

What Is Creatine?
Creatine is a natural supplement created from a series of amino acids found in our bodies and protein-rich foods. Often sold in powder form, the body turns the supplement into creatine phosphate.  Creatine phosphate is used to create adenosine triphosphate (ATP).  ATP is the energy source for muscle contractions.

What Are the Benefits of Creatine?
Studies have shown that creatine helps increase both muscle size and strength, improve sprint performance and enhance the body’s recovery.  It even improves brain function.  

Because creatine increases the body’s production of ATP, you have more fuel to power through heavy lifts or sprint faster.  Guys who take part in high intensity workouts on a regular basis will see added value from creatine supplementation.  After exhausting your muscles during these workouts, creatine aids in faster muscle tissue repair while reducing inflammation.  That means harder workouts and less soreness.

Some researchers are studying whether creatine can help treat heart conditions, Huntington’s disease and ALS.

What Are the Risks?
The side effects of creatine are rare.  You’re more apt to see poor improvement than serious setbacks.  However, some creatine consumers have suffered from weight gain, diarrhea, fatigue, rashes, fever, breathing problems, anxiety and kidney problems.  They may sound serious but they’re the exception to the rule.  

Men who suffer from diabetes, kidney disease or liver disease should avoid it.  It can cause further complications for these pre-existing conditions.

Creatine once generated serious controversy when it became popular among guys under 18.  Many high school athletes were using the supplement to boost performance.  However, there are very few studies on the effects of creatine on underage guys.  It was believed to cause heart problems in these young athletes—a development that raised a red flag.

Is Creatine Right for You?
Determining if creatine is right for you depends on your fitness goals.  The supplement’s proven benefits affect short-duration cardio and intense lifts.  If you’re looking for an improvement in these activities, you could see some positive changes.  However, if you’re a distance runner or find that your workouts are low in intensity, creatine is probably unnecessary.

As with any supplement, you should do further research and possibly consult a doctor before adding it to your regimen.

If you aren’t keen on using a new supplement, you can find some similar benefits from upping your protein intake.

The verdict on creatine?  It’s safe and produces real results but it’s not required.  Keep that in mind before adding another tub to your supplement shelf.