Creatine Effectiveness

Creatine is an acid that is involved in processing energy in the skeletal muscles, and has become a popular supplement. So many people take it, but does it really work? Does it actually lead to better gains in muscle development? Let's take a look at the evidence, both scientific and anecdotal, to see if we can figure out if there's anything to this or not.

On the popular discussion board at forum.bodybuilding.com, several users chimed in with their personal experiences with creatine. One weight trainer said he had been taking creatine supplements for awhile and it left him feeling big and bloated, but not in a muscular way. Another trainer in response said his chest increased by 3 inches, but it was most likely water weight. Yet another said he took 10 grams of creatine a day for a month and a half and gained 11 pounds of weight. Since a gain of six pounds in that time would be normal, the other 5 may have simply been water. There are many, many discussion threads just like this one, with users reporting weight gains of mostly water.

Does this mean it's useless?

Not if you know what to expect from it. Creatine will not lead directly to fast muscle gain, and its effects may not be directly noticed, but it's fairly well established that it will help you lift more weight, for more reps, and with more energy than if you don't take it. Over time, this translates to more gains in lean body weight.

So does it really work?

The increases in energy and amount of weight lifted are small but measurable. This has been confirmed in a few scientific studies. A notable one was published in 1997, and tracked female volunteers performing resistance training. The study concluded that muscle strength was improved by 25% over the placebo group, and that lean body mass increased 60% more than the placebo group. Another study published in the same year followed 15 men doing bench presses and squats, giving some creatine and some a placebo. The ones taking creatine had a measurable higher peak energy output compared to the placebo. So there is no doubt that creatine works.

Just don't expect to see instant results, and know that any noticeable increase in weight over the short term is most likely water retention. Just know that if you continue to take creatine over the long term, your energy levels will be slightly higher and you will thus make better gains than if you hadn't taken it.
References

J Appl Physiol 83: 2055-2063, 1997; 8750-7587/97
http://jap.physiology.org

J Am Diet Assoc. 1997 Jul;97(7):765-70.
Does Creatine Really Work?