Creatine is one of the most effective supplements on the market. Learn the facts about creatine and find out why it’s so beneficial for athletes.
There are practically an endless amount of supplements on store shelves marketed toward bodybuilders. With so many to choose from, it can be rather confusing trying to decide which to take and which to leave. While creatine is something most people have at least heard about, there are few that known much about it.
In order to safely achieve your goals of building strength, lean muscle mass and improving athletic performance, it’s important to take an in-depth look at this supplement before making a decision. To help save you time, we have done the legwork for you.
What is Creatine?
Creatine is a molecule produced by the liver that helps rapidly supply energy to cells throughout the body, particularly muscle cells. It is made up of three types of amino acids: L-arginine, glycine, and L-methionine. When your body needs energy, it turns ADP (adenosine diphosphate) into ATP (adenosine triphosphate) as its fuel source. If your body cannot keep up with your energy demands, it requires an alternative source of energy, turning to creatine.
Creatine is transported through the body by an active system and then used by the muscles that have a high energy demand, such as skeletal and brain muscle – in fact, about 95 percent of creatine is stored in skeletal muscle. In addition to being naturally made by the body, it can also be obtained from some foods and supplements. The compound is mainly used by athletes to boost their ability to produce energy more rapidly, ultimately improving performance as well as to allow them to train harder.
How Does Creatine Work in the Body?
As you are probably already aware, high intensity is a must for achieving natural strength gains, muscle growth and better athletic performance. Muscle growth occurs when the muscle has been overloaded. Without heavy sets, the muscles will remain small. Creatine helps to promote intense lifting by recycling the necessary energy molecule ATP. It also buffers the development of lactic acid that allows for a longer workout. Lactic acid buildup, of course, is one of the main factors in exercise-related muscle fatigue.
Once consumed, creatine then travels to the muscles through the bloodstream. When it enters the muscle cells, it is turned into a substance known as creatine phosphate. This is what’s used for short-term energy bursts like strength training, as well as other sports that require short, quick bursts of energy. It helps to replenish your reserves of ATP, the molecular fuel that supplies the power for muscular contractions.
Numerous studies, including a UK study published in the August 2000 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, have proven that dietary creatine supplementation can play a role in skeletal muscle metabolism and performance. Researchers in this particular study concluded that creatine supplementation:
Affords a legal and scientifically proven means of improving performance during exercise of high to maximal intensity.
Benefits of Creatine
Increases Muscle Strength and Growth
If you’re trying to build strength and find yourself doing a lot of high-intensity interval without seeing much change, creatine may be able to help you get through that plateau, boosting you to the next level. A 1999 study out of San Francisco, California, found that by consuming creatine, you’ll assist your muscles in building phosphocreatine, which gives you the ability to perform better at shorter, intense strength-building exercises.
There have also been numerous studies reporting significant improvements in the one-rep max strength of those who took creatine, including research out of Belgium published in the 1997 issue of the Journal of Applied Physiology. Researchers discovered that subjects taking creatine while following a 10-week weight-training programme were able to increase their one-rep max on the squat by 25 per cent more than those taking a placebo while following the same programme.
Creatine has also been extensively studied in recent years for its post-exercise muscle regeneration properties. In 2004, RVT Santos and his colleagues studied its effects on muscle cell damage inexperienced endurance athletes. They concluded in a paper published by Life Sciences, that supplementing with creatine was able to reduce muscle cell damage and inflammation.
Improving Anaerobic Capacity
In an impressive 2002 study, Tim Ziegenfuss and fellow researchers were able to demonstrate that creatine loading over only three days was able to significantly improve muscle volume and cycle sprint performance in elite power athletes.
Speeds Up Fat Loss
While there is no direct correlation with creatine and fat loss, taking it is likely to decrease your overall fat percentage as it helps to increase and maintain muscle mass, which then raises the metabolism.
There Are Numerous Other Proven Benefits, Including:
- Enhancing bone regeneration
- Improving performance and muscle mass in vegetarians
- Reducing age-related muscle loss
- Improving glucose tolerance
- Enhancing brain function
Are Creatine Supplements Safe?
Creatine is a natural amino acid present in the body. No adverse side effects have been found throughout the extensive research that has been conducted using recommended levels of supplementation.
Despite the ample research showing that it is safe for most people to use, there are still myths regarding its safety and purported side effects, such as that creatine can cause muscle cramps. A number of studies have debunked this, including a 2003 study out of Arkansas State University. Common misconceptions that creatine might lead to impaired liver and kidney function have also been debunked through numerous scientific studies such as research out of Truman State University in Missouri.
What Kind Should You Take?
There are numerous forms of creatine available. The type one uses will determine the results, but it can be confusing to understand which type of creatine is the best to take. Creatine monohydrate is the most common form, and the one most scientific studies use. Despite some of the newer creatine products to hit the market, this form remains the most used and is still the best value as the standard by which all other forms are still judged.
When and What With?
Creatine is most effective when taken at the right time. Although there is some controversy surrounding the ideal time, research published in the August 6, 2013 issue of the Journal of the International Society found that subjects who took creatine after working outgained more lean mass and increased their one-rep max on bench press over those who took the supplement before working out. This makes sense, as this is when muscle glycogen is most susceptible to filling its stores. Of course, taking it both before and after your workout is an option that helps to cover both bases.
Also consuming creatine along with other supplements or food is also recommended. Whether it’s a post-workout shake made up of protein and carbs, or a full meal, if you’re concerned about an upset stomach, this is the ideal route to take. Some experts recommend taking it with a simple sugar base like grape juice, which is naturally rich in glucose, as it will create a large insulin spike that helps push creatine into the muscle. Don’t, however, take it with orange juice as the acidity will negate its positive effects.
Is Creatine for Everyone?
Like most supplements, not everyone should take creatine. Creatine may interfere with certain drugs like Glucophage that alters blood sugar levels. It also shouldn’t be taken by those who use diuretics due to the risk of electrolyte disturbances.
To be safe, if you’re taking prescription drugs, it’s always wise to speak with your physician or pharmacist before taking any supplement, including creatine.
The Bottom Line
Creatine is the one of the most researched supplements on the market today. For most people, it is both safe and effective for enhancing athletic performance. And with the amount of ineffective supplements available in the stores today, creatine is sure by one of the safest products you can purchase to ensure your money is well spent.