Whether you’re just starting to get into fitness or you’re a gym addict, creatine is a supplement you will have most likely heard of- but what actually is creatine? And what does it do? Other than our favourite supplement whey protein, creatine is the most researched and scientifically studied supplement on the market- so much so it’s claims are endorsed by the European food standards agency. Despite this fact, many gym goers still don’t have a knowledge of what creatine is and how it should fit into their training regime. This article will hopefully clear up some of your most commonly asked questions and also some misconceptions.
What is Creatine
When it comes to supplements many people just go off hear say… not really knowing exactly what’s going into their body. But it’s important to understand exactly what supplements you are consuming and for what reasons.
Creatine is actually a chemical compound that occurs and can be synthesised directly in the body to supply the muscles with a particular type of energy. This energy is called- adenosine triphosphate, ATP- known to be one of the main components of the body’s powerhouse!
Creatine is a combination and stack of three different amino acids: glycine, arginine and methionine which is naturally synthesised when we consume foods such as red meat and fish. However, unfortunetly there are no significant dietary sources for vegetarians.
ATP is used rapidly during exercise and therefore not only are demands increased- but stores also need to be replenished. An increase in creatine demand can be difficult to achieve from the diet alone which is why supplementation is usually recommended. Consuming creatine monohydrate can enhance the storage and availability of creatine phosphate in the body so it is readily available to make more ATP during exercise.
What Does Creatine Do & How Does Creatine Work?
The path that creatine takes once consumed in the body is related to as the phosphocreatine (PCr) system, which is generally used to describe its involvement in “high-energy phosphate” metabolism of cells and tissues with high-energy demands.
Creatine is mainly found in fast-twitch skeletal muscles, whereby in those who consume considerable amounts of creatine, a large pool of PCr is available for immediate regeneration of ATP during short periods of intense work. Not only this but during intense high intensity exercise the high creatine activity in these muscles, means the creatine to ATP reaction remains in a near-equilibrium state, allowing the body to keep an almost constant energy supply(over several seconds). Essentially, this additional creatine donates the extra energy to power the cells as we exert ourselves during intense exercise and in turn reduces the rate at which we fatigue.
What are the Creatine Benefits?
1. Power, Strength and Muscle Increase
The phosphocreatine (PCr) system acts to provide the main source of energy for sporting activities which require short bursts of high intensity exercise, making creatine known to be the most useful, must have supplement when it comes to supporting activities such as weight training, sprints and any other activity that requires explosive movement.
Due to the large amount of scientific studies that have been performed observing the effects of creatine, there is a whole host of evidence that illustrates how creatine can boost performance, strength and power through various mechanisms (Bird, 2003). Because creatine is a fuel source; it is your body’s first choice of energy when performing anaerobic exercise. By supplementing with creatine you can act to increase creatine stores, providing your body with more energy for your training, which in turn can allow you to lift heavier and increase the number of repetitions.
By pushing your body that little bit further, extra micro tears in your muscles can occur (the ache that you feel in your muscles from training) whereby once repaired your muscles will be bigger, faster and stronger. Therefore creatine supplementation combined with an effective level of training can act to increase strength and lean muscle mass and to improve the performance of high-intensity activities in men and women. However, low-intensity, long-duration exercise may not be affected by creatine monohydrate.
Not only this, but during diets and periods of energy restriction, anaerobic performance and body protein can decrease when practiced by some athletes for weight loss. However, in a study by Rockwell et al. (2001) the effect of creatine supplementation during energy restriction was assessed. The study tested the effects of creatine on exercise performance ,including 10 sprints of 6 s, with 30-s rest, nitrogen balance, and body composition. In this study candidates were either given creatine or a placebo for 4 days. Results showed that there was an increase in the work done in sprints and increased muscle during energy restriction for those who consumed creatine- with unaffected protein loss.
2. Improved Aaerobic Capacity
Another benefit of creatine supplementation is that it can act to improve aaerobic capacity. For example a study by Bleue & Goodman (1997), investigated the effect of creatine consumption on anaerobic exercise capacity (reflected by the maximal accumulated oxygen deficit). To do this they carried out a double blind study whereby 26 subjects were either assigned to ingest 5g of creatine 4 times a day or to consume a placebo (artificial sweetener) for 5 days. Each day the subjects were exercised to exhaustion whereby the study revealed and increased time to exhaustion and increased vo2 max for up to 7 days after participants were supplemented with creatine.
3. Weight Loss
Creatine is not a weight loss product specifically, however, supplementing with creatine can increase your exercise workload and therefore increase the number of calories burned. Not only this, but by increasing lean muscle mass creatine can act towards increasing your metabolism. However, while creatine may help you lose weight by increasing your muscle mass, it is not a magic diet pill and will not allow you to lose weight unless you are pushing yourself and performing exercise at high levels of intensity.
Creatine For Women
Another question associated with creatine is who is creatine suitable for? Can women use creatine, or will it make them big and bulky? The benefits of creatine mean it can be effective in all kinds of individuals from gym goers, sprinters and cycylists to bodybuilders, powerlifters and even vegetarians.
For women the structure and force potential of muscle fibers is identical to that of men and this means the effects of creatine monohydrate on muscle tissue adaptation and ATP production is exactly the same for men and women!
When Should I Take Creatine?
The next question that is usually on gym goers lips is when should I take creatine? Currently there is still a debate of when is the best time to consume creatine- is it before a workout, after or during and what’s the difference!?
Supplementing with creatine before a workout is based on the idea that the greater the creatine concentration in muscles, the more ATP energy is available- meaning you can achieve a greater level of power during your workouts allowing you to sprint faster or lift more weight- meaning more muscle can be gained!
However, during a workout the body’s naturall supply of creatine is easily depleted- therefore it is suggested that consuming creatine post workout can help replenish the muscles and allow you to continue receiving all creatines benefits- especially when consumed with carbohydrates. It is thought that creatine should be taken with simple sugars like dextrose and alpha lipoic acid in order to elicit an insulin response — which can result in more creatine being transported to the muscles. Generally it is recommended to consume creatine after a workout, with the next best option being first thing in the morning prior to a workout- but why not try it yourself!
How Much Creatine Should I Take?
In the body the liver produces approximately 2-3g of creatine per day and we can also find low concentrations in red meat, however supplementing with extra creatine can significantly increase the concentration of creatine in the muscles. But How much should we take?
Generally two 3-5g doses a day is recommended for 2 to 6 weeks alongside a good weight training regime and diet. However the debate is still out to whether we should “load” with creatine and whether this is really necessary.
According to some studies that have addressed this question, going through a loading phase appears to be an effective and fast way to increase the amount of muscle phosphocreatine. Creatine loading involves supplementing with large doses of creatine, such as 20g for around 5 days in order to fully saturate the muscles phosphocreatine content.This loading phase is then followed by a maintenance phase whereby supplementation is reduced to a single daily dose of 5g.
For example, the International Society of Sports Nutrition states the quickest method of increasing muscle creatine content is by consuming 0.3 gr / kg for at least the first three days (which in a 70-kg person would be the equivalent to consume 21 gr of creatine), followed by a maintenance period of 3 to 5 grams per day.
On the other hand, other studies including one by Earnest et al (1995) contradicts this, stating that a creatine “load” in skeletal muscle of humans can be achieved by ingesting 20 g of creatine for 6 days, however, alternatively, the ingestion of 3 g of Cr/day over a minimum period of 4 wk is also likely to be as effective at raising tissue levels the same as creatine loading- just at a slower rate.
What Are The Side Effects of Creatine?
Side effects of creatine are uncommon- especially harmful ones, providing there are no pre-existent renal condition that can cause stress on the kidneys.
However there is one tricky side effect of supplementing with creatine for women- and this is bloating! Bloating is something that all women hate, whereby consuming creatine may cause an increase of water rention and water weight in the muscles. This means that sometimes the scales may appear to go up… rather than down!
The good news is you can still make progress in building lean muscle and weight loss goals while supplementing with creatine- and once the creatine cycle is complete the water weight from muscles can be lost within 2 weeks.
The Best Creatine Supplement
So out of all the creatine supplements on the market- which one is best?
For starters it is advised not to buy liquid creatine monohydrate whereby this form of creatine is thought to be ineffective due to its instability. That is, it becomes essentially useless by molecularly transforming into creatinine (not creatine) when dissolved and stored in a liquid…. It’s also pretty expensive!
Most creatine comes in powdered forms- nothing special just plain and simple mixing with water!
Creatine monohydrate is simply powerdered creatine with no added thrills – but it works, plain and simple.
You can also purchase creatine monohydrate capsules that contain either creatine powder or micronized forms of creatine monohydrate. But be aware there is nothing unique about these tablets… the capsule simply acts as a vessel to hold the creatine making it convenient for those who are pushed for time or prefer not to drink their creatine.
Some have suggested that creatine capsules and tablets are ineffective because they don’t allow the creatine to dissolve in water. However, there’s no proof behind that assumption and stomach acid is likely to be effective at dissolving creatine as good any liquid could.
Creatine Ethyl Ester
Creatine ethyl ester (or CEE) is a more soluble form of creatine whereby it is thought that this solubility can affect the transport of creatine over biological membranes in the muscle cells, meaning it can be taken up into your muscles more effectively. Therefore, it is thought that supplementing with creatine ethyl ester can allow you to load faster than with creatine monohydrate.
Creapure is a form of micronized creatine monohydrate- this type of creatine is thought to be a pure form of high quality creatine monohydrate that has smaller creatine particles than regular creatine powder- meaning it can act and be mixed faster.
It is thought that creapure is an effective type of supplement because the purity of creatine has a huge impact on how well this is absorbed into the muscles as well as other factors such as acidity in the muscle and the build-up of potential by-products in the blood- which can in fact be detrimental to performance.
A Take Home Message
Creatine can be taken for a number of different goals, by different individuals, in different amounts and different ways. It’s important to take this advice and find out what’s best for your body- test the methods out for yourself and record your changes, after all if the results aren’t what you desired you can change and tailor your supplementation to suit your goals. So there you have it- hopefully all your questions on creatine answered- if you have any other questions feel free to comment and we will get back to you.
Jacobs, I., Bleue, S., & Goodman, J. (1997). Creatine ingestion increases anaerobic capacity and maximum accumulated oxygen deficit. Canadian Journal of Applied Physiology, 22(3), 231-243.
Volek, J. S., Kraemer, W. J., Bush, J. A., Boetes, M., Incledon, T., Clark, K. L., & Lynch, J. M. (1997). Creatine supplementation enhances muscular performance during high-intensity resistance exercise. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 97(7), 765-770.
Rockwell, J. A., Rankin, J. W., & Toderico, B. (2001). Creatine supplementation affects muscle creatine during energy restriction. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 33(1), 61-68.
Earnest, C. P., Snell, P. G., Rodriguez, R., Almada, A. L., & Mitchell, T. L. (1995). The effect of creatine monohydrate ingestion on anaerobic power indices, muscular strength and body composition. Acta Physiologica Scandinavica, 153(2), 207.
Hultman, E., Soderlund, K., Timmons, J. A., Cederblad, G., & Greenhaff, P. L. (1996). Muscle creatine loading in men. Journal of Applied Physiology, 81(1), 232-237.