Creatine – it’s a never ending battle between moms and teens, lifters and non-lifters and bro science vs real science. We have put together this short creatine guide to educate you and help you make informed choices when it comes to supplementing with creatine and choosing a supplement. Put your pencils down and listen, because the CHROME creatine class is about to start.
Creatine has been around for ages. I think creatine first hit the fitness scene around the 1920’s, when researchers found that the intramuscular stores of creatine can be increased by actually ingesting creatine. Creatine is also probably one of the most researched supplements today, but why is there such a big hype around it and why are so many individuals against it? Let’s start from scratch.
WHAT EXACTLY IS CREATINE?
Creatine, in short, is actually just a compound that helps supply energy to working muscles. Yes, it’s natural, in fact, foods like meat and fish contain creatine and the human body manufactures creatine in the pancreas, livers and kidneys from L-arginine, glycine and L-methionine (all amino acids) where it transports creatine in the bloodstream to the muscles. (1) Once the creatine reaches the muscle it’s converted into creatine phosphate (CP or PC) where it can then be used as an energy source called ATP. You should know that when you work out, your ATP levels deplete and supplementing with creatine can help to restore those levels and provide you with more energy during your workout.
HOW CREATINE CAN ASSIST IN SPORT AND PERFORMANCE
When you are serious about your sport or physique you will know that when training, fatigue is your biggest enemy. Fatigue can lower workout performance and also cause you to cut your workout short, and this is where creatine can make a huge difference. Like I mentioned, creatine is a compound which can help supply energy to the body, it helps replenish ATP stores which are one of the main energy sources; and this means that you will eventually be able to train harder for longer. You will also be able to recover quicker between sets or rest periods. (2) (3)
- Creatine can help enhance the body’s ability to perform high intensity workouts (4)
- Creatine can also increase aerobic capacity (5)
- Creatine can enhance brain function(6)
- Creatine can increase muscle fibre size – we are going to get to this just now… (7)
- Creatine can also be seen as an anti-oxidant
- Creatine can help speed up muscle recovery (8)
- Creatine can help improve alertness when you lack sleep (9)
- Now this is a big one, creatine can also help prevent certain diseases like Alzheimer’s and heart disease. How you might wonder? In a nutshell creatine helps to lower serum homocysteine levels, which are linked to neurological, psychiatric disorders and coronary heart disease. (10)
OTHER BENEFITS OF CREATINE:
CREATINE INCREASES ENDURANCE AND STRENGTH
Numerous studies have shown that creatine can help increase muscle strength and one rep max. Belgian researchers have reported that subjects increased their one rep max squat with approx. 25% by supplementing with creatine. Studies also show that subjects can complete more reps using their normal training weight. Researchers of the University of Queensland has reported that subjects increased their number of reps with approx. 40%.
HOW CREATINE CAN HELP YOU BUILD LEAN MUSCLE
Now think about it, if you are able to lift heavier weights for more reps eventually you are going to force your muscles into hypertrophy mode. At the end of the day, to build muscle you need to overload them with weight, and creatine is able to assist you in that aspect. Researchers from the University of Queensland found that powerlifters supplementing with creatine were able to add 3-5 kilograms of lean muscle in a period as short as 4 weeks. The study also shows that they didn’t have a significant increase in overall body weight, and this is where we can make the conclusion that not only did creatine assist in building lean muscle, but it also helped them burn fat!
HOW CREATINE WORKS
According to researchers, there are a few ways that creatine can assist in athletic performance, endurance , strength and muscle gains, but the most important one being that it’s able to provide a quick and fast release of energy due to an increase of PC in the muscle cells. This enhances recovery times between rest periods and sets and can help athletes to execute more reps with a heavier weight, which can ultimately lead to increased muscle size.
Then there are other methods like muscle cell volumization, which in a nutshell means that the muscle cell gets filled up with water. This is not a bad thing! This can cause muscle cell membranes to stretch which increases long term muscle growth through a process called protein synthesis (method in which a muscle cell recovers and grow)
INCREASE IN SATELLITE CELLS
A what cell? Satellite cells can be seen as muscle stem cells, and adding them to existing muscle fibres leads to muscles growing bigger and stronger! Creatine can assist in increasing the number of satellite cells in muscle fibres. Researchers from the University of Copenhagen found that subjects experienced almost 100% increase in satellite cells after 8 weeks, when supplementing with creatine and following a structured training program.
CREATINE AND GROWTH FACTOR IGF-1
IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor) is similar to in the way that it’s mainly produced by the liver. IGF-1 can help increase growth to muscles and organs as well as support cellular division. Researchers from the University of Francis Xavier in Canada reported that subjects who supplemented with creatine and followed a strength training program for approx. 8 weeks had more IGF-1 in there muscle fibres than the placebo group. Looking at the above it seems like creatine is a miracle worker, but is it safe?
IS CREATINE SAFE?
There are a lot of myths regarding creatine safety, and whether it’s bad for you. I personally think one of the biggest rumours running around is that creatine can cause kidney (11) and liver damage. Yeah, hectic! But, before we get all revved up about it, let’s have a look at what science says. Back in the 90’s numerous studies showed that creatine is actually safe when supplemented by healthy individuals, and to back that up, recent studies in Uruguay showed that football and soccer players who supplemented with creatine over a period of 8 weeks, showed no heatlh risk symptoms.
BUT WHAT ABOUT LONG TERM YOU ASK?
Researchers from the University of Truman State reported that football players who supplemented with creatine for over 8 years (which is pretty long term if you ask me) showed no kidney and liver health implications. I think it’s safe to say that creatine is safe when taken by healthy individuals when the correct and suggested dosages are used, while staying hydrated. (12) (13) (14) But, like with most good things in life, creatine might have some minor side effects on some individuals, which might include:
- Upset stomach
- Dehydration (this is why it’s important to drink a lot of water when supplementing with creatine)
DIFFERENT TYPES OF CREATINE
Yeah you guessed right, there is more than one form of creatine, at the end of the day, they all have the same main functions, but they just work in different ways
Creatine monohydrate is the oldest and most researches creatine today. Up until the accidental founding of creatine HCL, monohydrate was proven to be most effective. This is also a golden oldie and is probably the cheapest form of creatine today. Creatine mono’s water solubility is not that high, which means that not a 100% of the amount you are ingesting will get absorbed, and unlike newer generation creatines this one requires a loading phase. If you do decide to go with a mono, make sure to choose a micronized creatine! The creatine molecule is smaller which enables better absorption by the body and also mixes and dissolves easier in water.
This is one of the newer generation creatines. It was actually conducted in a lab by accident only a few years ago. Researchers quickly realized it’s potential and today it’s very popular in the sport and fitness industry. Studies have shown that HCL gets absorbed in the body a lot better than monohydrate, actually, approx. 60% better, that’s huge! This allows you to take lower dosages. Also, HCL doesn’t require any loading phase! HCL has shown to immediately aid in cell volumization and can dramatically increase muscle size and strength in just a few weeks. Just keep in mind that this only works when combined with a proper eating and training plan.
CREATINE ETHYL ESTER
This is a creatine that has got an ester group attached to the molecule. This is believed to enhance the ability of the molecule to pass through the cell membrane so that it’s easier absorbed by the intestines, however more studies are necessary to back this statement. According to PhD. Jim Stoppani two recent studies have shown that ethyl ester is in fact inferior to monohydrate when it comes to its ability to increase muscle creatine levels.
This is different to other creatines due to the fact that it’s formulated at a higher pH level which is supposed to enhance its absorption and effectiveness; it also produces less waste products than other creatines. Some benefits are that it doesn’t require a loading phase and that there is a lesser chance of retaining water or bloating.
At first, it was arginine with the molecule alpha-ketoglutarate attached to it which formed arginine (AKG). This made arginine more powerful enabling it to get absorbed more efficiently. Now we see it in creatine, creatine alpha-ketogluturate (CAK). With the alpha-ketogluturate molecule attached to it, CAK is supposed to be better absorbed than monohydrate.
This is basically a creatine which consists of a creatine molecule and a glucose molecule. This combination allows more rapid absorption due to the glucose. Glucose by itself is rapidly absorbed and now in this case it takes creatine with it all the way to the muscle cells within minutes after ingestion.
This is basically just a creatine with pyruvate attached to it. This combination increases endurance and also helps to buffer lactic acid build up in the muscles cells. The end goal is being to train harder for longer.
CREATINE OROTATE A.K.A. TRICREATINE OROTATE
Yip it’s a mouthful I know, but it’s basically just creatine with orotic (not erotic) acid attached to it. In a nutshell orotic acids helps to buffer the amount of waste product build up in the muscle cells during exercise. This will allow your muscle to go harder for longer.
HOW CAN I MAXIMIZE CREATINE UPTAKE
Creatine uptake can be enhanced by taking your creatine with high glycemic carbohydrates like dextrose, maltodextrin, glucose and waxy maize starch. This will allow quicker absorption and will help to drive creatine right into the muscle cells where it can get to work. For best effects studies suggest that you combine your creatine with a protein and glucose source. (15) Another study showed that Alpha-Lipoic Acid can help increase the effects of your creatine supplement. (16)
BEST TIMES TO TAKE CREATINE
This depends on what for you are taking but in general it’s advised to take your creatine first thing in the morning, before and after training, however, some studies have shown that taking creatine post-workout can lead to greater results. (17)