This article will be discussing all you need to know about creatine. Creatine is one of the most sold workout supplements. No, it is not illegal! But does it really work?
Let’s dive in.
What is Creatine?
Creatine is not only a supplement, but a bodily substance as well. It’s an intermediate product in the energy supply to muscular and nerve cells. Needless to say: your body has a small stockpile of creatine, which can be supplemented.
What Foods Contain Creatine?
Creatine is often found in meats and fish. Examples include beef and tuna, which both contain about 0.5 to 1 gram of creatine per pound.
Your own body needs between 1 and 3 grams of creatine per day in order to restock its own supplies. Half of this comes from the foods you’re eating, while the other half gets synthesized by the body itself.
Creatine is synthesized in the kidneys, liver and pancreas. The building blocks are arginine, methionine and glycine, which all three are amino acids.
So How Does it Work?
As we all know, your body uses energy during training sessions. During short and explosive bursts of power, creatine is heavily involved.
Let’s take a small step back.
When you eat carbohydrates, they get converted into glucose, which is then broken down into ATP (adenosine triphosphate). This is the universal fuel for your cells.
As the name suggest, ATP contains three phosphate groups. When ATP is used, ATP is converted into ADP (adenosine diphosphate) and free phosphate. The molecule now has two phosphate groups left.
This phosphate group, together with creatine are then converted into creatine phosphate (also known as phosphocreatine). Creatine phosphate can then ‘give’ its phosphate group back to ADP to once again create ATP.
A creatine supplement often comes in the form of creatine phosphate. This means that your body will have more phosphate molecules to refuel ADP.
In other words: creatine makes it easier for your muscle cells to endure heavy, explosive contractions.
The Effects of Creatine
Creatine causes a wide array of effects. These include but are not limited to:
- More explosive strength
- The ability to train with a higher volume
- More fat free body mass
- Better sprinting performance
- Possible positive effects with regard to endurance training
- Better brain function (especially memory)
Using creatine can also be interesting to athletes that want to gain more muscle mass. Researchers think that creatine causes an increased production of insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1). This is a growth hormone that comes naturally in your body.
In addition, creatine allows for muscles to recover faster, because of increased muscle protein synthesis. Thereby comes the fact that this reduced recovery time allows for more and heavier training, which in turn increases muscle mass.
Finally, studies have shown that creatine can lead to a faster recovery from injury, as well as a decreased risk of getting injured.
Creatine and Endurance Training
To this day, it is unclear whether creatine leads to better performance with endurance training, for example running. This should be the case for medium long distances. For very long distances, the effects of creatine remain unclear.
This has to do with two effects that counteract each other. On the one side, creatine causes an increase of your weight. This is disadvantageous to most endurance athletes. On the other hand remains the fact that creatine may give increased muscle strength.
In addition, creatine causes muscular glycogen levels to increase. This is used as fuel during most endurance workouts. Another positive effect of creatine, is that it increases the anaerobic threshold of your muscles. Your muscles will be able to deliver more at the cost of less oxygen.
This may be useful for sprinting or running at a faster pace. In the end, endurance athletes should check for themselves whether creatine has an effect on them, as there simply hasn’t been done enough research on this topic.
Does Creatine Work For Everyone?
No, it does not. In general, most people become a bit heavier and stronger though the use of creatine. However, not everyone’s performance increases.
Studies have shown that people with low creatine levels experience greater effects of creatine supplementation, than people with high creatine levels.
The same can be said for people with relatively much type II muscle fibers. These fibers deliver on explosive, raw force. The more of these fibers you have, the bigger the effect.
What Types of Creatine Are There?
There are a lot of brands and types of creatine on the market. The difference in price can sometimes be quite large. Let me tell you though, that the added value of super expensive products is not proven often enough.
If you want the biggest bang for your buck, just go with a creatine monohydrate.
The forms in which creatine is sold include:
- Creatine Monohydrate
This is the most popular kind of creatine on the market. It increases muscle strength and muscle cell volume, which translates to bigger muscles.
- Creatine Ethyl Ester
The creators of this product claim that creatine ethyl ester is absorbed faster. However, this has never been proven. A recent study compared creatine monohydrate with creatine ethyl ester. The results pointed out that there are no differences between the two kinds of creatine. However, ethyl ester dissolves slower in water. Therefore, monohydrate wins the race.
- Kre Alkalyn
This patented form of creatine is a monohydrate (98%) mixed together with baking powder, magnesium concentrate, sodium carbonate and artificial sweeteners. It is claimed that this causes a faster absorption. However, recent studies have shown that it doesn’t work better than monohydrate at all, even if you pay a lot more for this product.
- Creatine HCL
The HCL variant is claimed to be absorbed faster in the stomach than monohydrate. However, both of these sorts of creatine dissolve equally fast in water. It therefore is not better. People tend to think that more expensive products have better effects. Well, guess again.
- Creatine Nitrate
This is a blend of monohydrate and nitrate. The monohydrate causes an increase in strength, while nitrate causes a bigger muscle pump. Whether you like it is up to you. Some people get motivated more by pumped up muscles than others.
What About Negative Effects?
Up until now, there are no studies that prove any negative side effects from the use of creatine. Therefore, creatine is considered to be quite a safe supplement, as it has no direct negative effects on the liver, kidneys, blood pressure or cholesterol.
There has not done been a lot of research on the long term effects of creatine, so this is something I am not going to deny nor confirm. A possible negative might be an increase in your weight, if you care about that being a certain number.
A high intake of creatine (10-20 grams or even more) can lead to diarrhea, flatulence or cramps. You therefore can easily become nauseous if you take too much.
Furthermore, I don’t recommend taking creatine if you have (had) any problems with your kidneys. If you still want to do so, please contact your physician prior to starting creatine.
How Much Should You Take?
In general, it is advised to take between 3 and 5 grams (or 0.14 grams per pound of body weight) per day. You could take more though, during what is called the loading phase.
It’s a waste of money to just take 10-20 grams per day. Excess creatine will not be absorbed by the body, and therefore it will be excreted though the urine.
If you are an advanced athlete, you might want to take between 5 and 10 grams per day, as your muscles might need more creatine for an optimal performance.
Vegetarians might have a better response to creatine supplements, as a vegetarian meal plan doesn’t contain meats.
Can Young People Take Creatine?
Young lifters can take creatine and experience positive effects:
- If they participate in relatively intense sports
- If a balanced and health diet is maintained
- If they are familiar to what creatine is and does
- As long as they don’t take too much
If one of these four is missing, I would not recommend giving creatine to people under 18.
Should Creatine be Ingested With Protein and Carbs?
Yes, this is the case as creatine gets absorbed faster if it is accompanied by carbs and protein. However, studies show that intake without carbs or protein doesn’t necessarily lead to better performance.
If you want to be certain, you can take your creatine while having a meal, like cottage cheese and fruit. This has another positive side to it, as many creatine products taste quite sour.
Is it Necessary to Load on Creatine?
The use of creatine is all about muscular saturation. Your muscles get filled up faster if you start your supplementation with high dosages.
The golden rule is to take about 0.14 grams per pound of body weight for about 5-7 days. You don’t have to take anymore, as it will just get excreted with the urine.
After this loading phase, you can switch to maintenance mode, during which you will take 3-5 grams per day.
If you don’t respond all that well to heavy creatine loading, just lower the pace.
Creatine is quite a wonderful supplement in my experience. No, it is not a miracle supplement! However, it does have some positive effects.
Monohydrate is by far the best creatine supplement on the market. It’s the cheapest, and just as effective if not more, than the rest. Don’t waste your money!
There are near to no negative side effects, as long as you don’t take too much. You can still do so during the loading phase, but it’s no necessity.
So, to answer the question I asked in the beginning of this article: yes, creatine works.
Please, leave your thoughts and questions in the comment section below.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is creatine?
Creatine is a chemical compound that is found in your body, as well as meat and certain fish. It is involved in the energy supply to muscular and nerve cells.
What are the effects of creatine?
There are multiple effects. These include an increase in explosive strength, the ability to train with a higher volume, and more fat free body mass.
Does creatine work for everyone?
No. Most people tend to gain a bit of weight due to water retention, but not everyone’s performance increases. This has to do with the standard creatine level that a person has. The higher it is, the less the effect from a creatine supplement will be.
Does creatine have side effects?
To healthy people: no. There are no studies that have shown any short term side effects to the liver, kidneys, blood pressure or cholesterol. A possible negative for the long run may be an increase in weight.