If you’ve been anywhere near the gym or on the internet looking at the ins and outs of fitness, you’ve undoubtedly heard the word creatine. In fact, any man (or woman) that you notice has a well-chiseled body is probably putting creatine to work for them by regularly taking a creatine supplement. Whether you understand exactly what creatine is and why or how to use it is another story. By the end of this article, you will feel much more comfortable with the word creatine. You may even be able to share your wisdom with those at the gym and elsewhere since creatine seems to be a supplement with very little mystery around it.
What is creatine and how does it work?
Creatine and its effects have been researched hundreds of times. In fact, it is one of the most researched supplements in sports nutrition of all time. All studies have concluded one thing: it definitely does what it’s supposed to do. So what is that exactly?
Creatine is a compound naturally found in your body and in some foods that supplies energy to the muscles when you need it most. When this compound is released from the organs in which it is produced (the liver, pancreas, and kidneys) into the blood and arrives at the muscles being stressed, creatine helps the body restore lost ATP (adenosine triphosphate) in these muscles. ATP is responsible for keeping the muscles contracting during strenuous exercise. Without ATP, your muscles would in a sense give out and you would suffer from muscle fatigue.
So, short and sweet, supplying your body with plenty of creatine will boost ATP production and help you complete your workout like a boss instead of fizzling out halfway through. This, in turn, will result in many other benefits.
What are the benefits of creatine?
Benefits of creatine go far beyond just bigger muscles. The amazing effects this compound has on our bodies and metabolism is a no-brainer on the value of supplementation. But since we can’t argue that having bigger, stronger muscles is a really big reward let’s talk about that benefit first.
Get bigger and stronger muscles
Many studies like this one show that using creatine regularly with exercise helps to develop muscles with more volume and power than without creatine. It also helps to ensure that your muscle gains are pure muscle and fat-free resulting in a more chiseled body. This is one of the reasons why bodybuilders love creatine.
Creatine helps to plump up the muscle cells and aids in protein synthesis, which in turn grows even bigger muscles! Also, by giving your muscles extra energy when you need it most, you can do one more rep, set, or explosive move that will stress your muscles further and result in a greater gain in muscle mass and strength.
Also, creatine has been proven to increase the size and body composition even on a skeletal level. Studies show that creatine helps to develop the skeletal muscles and may even help strengthen and regenerate bone tissue.
Improve your sprinting or intermittent workout performance
Another study showed that creatine is best used when your body will be doing quick powerful movements since creatine restores the body’s ATP levels in less than 30 seconds.
By having a full store of creatine in your body, you can quickly supply ATP to your muscles and improve your speed and agility when performing exercises like sprints, HIIT workouts, Tabata workouts, and plyometrics like jump squats, burpees, etc.
This type of workout has proven to really shed fat and retain muscle mass. When you combine the benefits of supplementing with creatine you will see results much faster.
Improve brain health
There was a significant study done on 45 individuals, who happen to be vegetarians, on the effect of creatine supplementation for cognitive skills and intelligence. Vegetarians are usually lacking in creatine and for this reason, he supplementation showed great improvements.
This study proves that just as creatine can increase the energy in the muscle fibers in the body, it can also improve the energy levels in the brain in the same way. All subjects who took creatine supplements showed remarkable improvements on a series of tests that measure brain memory and aptitude.
Because of these studies, doctors are looking into the use of creatine supplementation to help fight neurodegenerative disorders in the elderly.
Given all these benefits there are certain people who should make it a priority to supplement with creatine:
For athletes that participate in sports that require quick bouts of physical exertion, creatine can greatly increase their performance levels.
When looking to build size and minimize fat, creatine is a no-brainer.
Since most food sources of creatine are animal based, vegetarians don’t get as much creatine through their food as the rest of the population. This can lead to a slower metabolism and low supplies of energy.
Anyone suffering from a neurodegenerative disease
Creatine supplementation can kickstart your brain.
Since muscle mass and bone mass start to shrink when you age, using a regular creatine supplementation can help to keep your bones strong and improve muscle mass. This will also improve the quality of life by giving vitality and preventing injury from falls.
Different types of creatine
There are natural sources of creatine and these are always the best sources (though not always convenient).
Here is a list of good creatine food sources and the amount of creatine they deliver per pound:
- Herring – 3 to 4.5 grams
- Pork – 2.25 grams
- Beef – 2 grams
- Salmon – 2 grams
- Tuna – 1.8 grams
- Cod – 1.35 grams
- Milk – 0.05 grams
Just like protein supplementation, many people opt to supplement their creatine intake to ensure the most effective dosage and optimal timing and for the convenience of the quick availability of just stirring a cup and being able to bring it with you wherever you go.
One scoop of creatine supplement provides 5 grams of creatine (usually). This is like eating two and a half pounds of salmon. That’s a lot of fish. Being able to eat that in one sitting is impressive, to say the least, but also not very likely.
Most people who are looking to get the most benefit from creatine opt to supplement.
Here are the different types of creatine supplements available on the market today:
The most popular type of creatine, creatine monohydrate is the one that most scientists and researchers use to determine its abilities and risks so it’s a safe choice. It is 88% pure creatine and still crushing the newer types of creatine supplements in sales, even though it is the oldest form.
This type of creatine is the same as the creatine monohydrate only the molecules are smaller and supposed to be easier to be absorbed. It was developed for several reasons.
It was developed for several reasons. Some people have minor stomach issues when they take creatine and some have bloating. These smaller particles of creatine are supposed to minimize this effect. Also, some people have found that they are non-respondent to creatine. Their bodies just can’t absorb it. This type of creatine, since it is easier to absorb, is an answer to this problem.
In the process of body absorption, creatine monohydrate is turned into creatine phosphate which can then be used by the body. This type of creatine was designed thinking that skipping that step and just introducing creatine phosphate into the body would make the absorption of the creatine quicker.
Studies have yet to prove this to be true. You also pay more for creatine phosphate than creatine monohydrate and you get fewer grams of creatine per scoop. The economics just don’t add up here.
This is another type of creatine that is supposed to minimize stomach discomfort but it is way too much money and is only 40% creatine. Unless you’ve used it and love it, I wouldn’t waste my money on it.
Creatine ethyl ester
This is supposed to be a new revolutionary product that binds creatine with an alcohol to allow the absorption of the creatine to be much faster since the chemical makeup of the compound is changed. This type of creatine is also supposed to do away with the common bloat associated with creatine since the water is pulled into the cell instead of around the outside.
Before getting too excited, wait for more studies to show its actual abilities. There are contradicting studies so far. This study claims no improvement in absorption and in fact, it claims that creatine ethyl ester is less effective than creatine monohydrate. This study claims the opposite.
Kre-Alkalyn is supposed to be another revolutionary product that will greatly increase creatine absorption. This product is basically a higher PH level of creatine. It supposedly does this by reducing the byproduct creatinine during absorption compared to creatine monohydrate.
This product’s claims as the new wonder creatine were proved false through a study done by a competitor who is the main producer of creatine monohydrate. Although the reasons behind the study were purely monetary, the science behind it looks pretty hard to refute.
Basically a liquid form of creatine, this is a very controversial type of creatine. Science says that creatine will break down into creatinine, which is a chemical waste byproduct of muscle use and is useless. Creatinine holds none of the benefits that creatine does.
However, many claim that creatine serum has done wonders for them, go figure.
Effervescent Creatine and Creatine Titrate
These types of creatine are supposed to be a better mix and take option since the effervescent of the bicarbonate and titrate preserves the creatine for longer in a liquid than creatine monohydrate which turns into creatinine rapidly when placed into water.
I suppose if you can’t mix your pre and post workout drinks at the gym, these might be good options for you.
This is supposed to be the purest form of creatine. It is 94% pure creatine.
There are so many different forms of creatine but the tried and true is the creatine monohydrate. It is available in powder or pill form. Be aware that the pills are more slowly digested which makes them a good choice for morning or evening loading but I wouldn’t recommend pre or post workout as this is when your body needs a quick supply of creatine.
How to take creatine?
Creatine is best taken with carbs because the carbohydrates help the body to absorb the creatine at a higher rate. This study showed that taking creatine with carbs results in 60% more creatine uptake and less wasted through the urine.
The best way to make sure you get enough carbs to your creatine dosage is to mix it with a fruit juice. These juices have plenty of sugar to count as carbs. Plus, you will have the added bonus of making it taste good!
Pro tip: consider taking creatine along with beta-alanine for better results.
When to take creatine and how much?
It is important to take creatine at the right dosage or you won’t see the desired results. The best way to ensure quicker results is by loading your body with a good reserve of creatine. Since most people don’t get enough creatine through their diet, supplementation is needed.
After your muscles are fully saturated with creatine, you can move onto the maintenance phase. How much should the average man or woman be taking for sufficient loading of creatine?
The most accepted answer is to take 5 grams of creatine four times a day for five days to a week. This means you take one scoop at breakfast, one pre workout, one post workout, and one before supper. This has to be done consistently or it won’t have the desired effect.
If a person decides that this load is too intense for them and they are suffering from stomach discomfort or bloating, they can always cut the dosage in half and double the days taken.
For example, instead of 20 grams a day (5 grams x 4) you can take 5 grams twice a day or 2.5 grams four times a day. Whatever works for you, works… for you! As long as your body has the creatine dial pointing to full, you are good to go.
After this loading phase is over, it is time to maintain that creatine reserve in your body. This is different for everybody. It depends on how intense and frequent your exercises are since physical stress depletes the creatine levels in the body. It also depends on muscle mass and gender and age and weight, etc, etc, etc. Also worth mentioning is that if you regularly eat foods high in creatine (check back at the list above), you won’t need as much for maintenance.
Typically, people will maintain on anywhere from 2-5 grams of creatine per day, some may need more. Listen to your body and pay attention to energy levels during your workout. This is the only real way to know.
It is best to take creatine in 8-week intervals. One week is used for loading and the other seven for maintenance. After that, you can take a 4-week break and then start the maintenance cycle again.
Many people have conflicting ideas as to when is the best time to take your maintenance creatine dose but in reality, it doesn’t matter when. As long as your body is consistently supplied with a healthy dose of creatine your muscles will draw from that reserve when you need it most.
There is no scientific formula that proves pre-workout supplementation better than post workout. It all works.
Creatine side effects and risks
There have been plenty of accusations on the dangers of taking creatine but none of them stuck. In fact, all of the claims were proven false by scientific studies. Because of all the suspicions of efficacy and risks of creatine supplementation, the International Society of Sports Nutrition had to make an official declaration of where they stand.
To quote the article they had written:
“These studies show that short and long-term supplementation (up to 30 g/day for 5 years) is safe and well-tolerated in healthy individuals and in a number of patient populations ranging from infants to the elderly. Moreover, significant health benefits may be provided by ensuring habitual low dietary creatine ingestion (e.g., 3 g/day) throughout the lifespan.”
There are minor side effects to be aware of and we’ve touched on some already. For sure, you need to be careful of your dosage not being too high because you could upset your stomach and get bloated.
It has been proven that taking creatine will make you gain weight. At first, this will be water weight but it will quickly be turned into muscle mass gain and you will start to see the difference in your body composition. You have to work out consistently to see these improvements, otherwise, you will just stay bloated.
What to look for when buying creatine?
There are so many different types of creatine and creatine blends that it can get confusing when you try to decide on which one to buy. Many people like a creatine blend with added benefits and that’s ok but the most important thing to look for is the purity of the creatine itself and how much of that you will have in the product.
One of the most popular sources of creatine is called Creapure. It is the purest product on the market today. If the supplement that you are looking to buy contains Creapure, chances are you are getting a high-quality product.
When it comes to creatine, the more the product costs, the better it will be. If companies take shortcuts to offer their product at a lower price, they usually have to sacrifice on quality and purity of creatine. To make your job easier, we put together a list of 10 best creatine supplements so be sure to check it out.