3 Key Takeaways
Creatine is the most researched supplement there is.
We have yet to see any negative side effects from creatine and research continues to prove that it is safe and effective.
Creatine improves physical and mental performance.
I love Creatine Monohydrate and recommend it to all my athletes and clients! Why? Because every one, and I do mean everyone, can benefit from it.
If you're going to start taking creatine, I highly encourage you to find a product that has Creapure© in it. This is the highest quality and most pure form of creatine monohydrate found on the market and manufactured at a lab in Germany.
Table Of Contents
What Is Creatine?
Creatine is a molecule in the body that's produced by specific amino acids primarily in the liver and somewhat in the kidneys and pancreas. It stores phosphocreatine (high energy phosphate groups) that is used to create ATP (adenosine triphosphate) which fuels our performance.
Research continue to shows that creatine increases recovery, performance, and mental cognition! It can mainly be found in meat and fish, but is more beneficial and easily accessible when supplemented.
We just learned that creatine is used to create ATP which fuels our performance, so lets chat about HOW it helps:
- Creatine is stored in the muscle.
- There's a phosphate group that easily attaches to creatine which forms phosphocreatine (also stored in the muscle).
- Muscles use ATP to produce energy and actually lift and move the body.
- For the muscle to actually use ATP, it needs to be broken down by removing a phosphate group, creating ADP (Adenosine Diphosphate).
- Now that we've used ADP, we need more ATP again (it's a cycle). This is when phosphocreatine comes in (formed from creatine) to bind to ADP to create more ATP.
The first 7-12 seconds of any activity, primarily explosive activities, is fueled by ATP. This is an extremely fast process, and the faster an athlete can replace ATP, the more energy they have available to perform high intensity activities. This is why it's so important.
Increase Recovery, Decrease Fatigue
Part of what makes elite athletes elite is their ability to buffer/delay muscular fatigue. How does creatine help in that process? Lets go over it:
- During high intensity activity, hydrogen ions are released.
- The accumulation of these hydrogen ions leads to acidosis (not lactic acid) in the muscle which is associated with fatigue.
- When ADP converts to ATP, those hydrogen ions are also being used. If supplementing with creatine can increase the speed of which that conversion happens, that also leads to an increased rate of hydrogen ion usage, thus delaying fatigue.
You might have heard that creatine causes water retention. It does. Not in a negative way though or in a way that makes someone bloated. Creatine (like carbohydrates) is known to be osmolytic, which is a fancy way of saying that it draws water into the cell. Remember, creatine is stored in muscle cells, so any water mention will happen in the muscle.
By increasing muscle hydration via creatine supplementation, the muscles are in a better position to perform and recover optimally. There are also some hormonal responses that facilitate muscle protein synthesis and growth.
Improved Cognitive Performance
The top of my college graduation cap said "brains need gainz t00" and here's how creatine can increase brain health and function.
Research has shown that creatine improves memory and decreases cognitive decline and mental fatigue. Not only would this make athletes better decision makers, but this can improves anyones health in their day to day life.
The brain relies on ATP for energy production and stores ~5% of the total body's creatine stores. Might I remind you that the brain is always on. Even when we're sleeping, the brain is functioning. Making a pretty sound argument for the importance of creatine.
There is research showing that ~10-15% of people who supplement with creatine will be "non-responders". This doesn't mean that they don't actually respond, it just means that genetically they have higher baseline levels of creatine and might not feel the effects when they supplement.
Anecdotally, I don't really "feel" the effects of creatine, but I've been taking 5 grams every day for the past 5 years because the research shows it to be effective and I want the benefits associated with it.
Potential Risks And Side Effects
There has been no research to prove any dangers to taking creatine on a daily basis. Even in the youth population it has been shown to improve physical and mental development.
People tend to express concern about creatine's effect on the kidneys. Creatine does increase levels of creatinine in the body, and high levels of creatinine can be a marker for poor kidney function. However, these high levels aren't due to poor kidney health, it's simply because more creatine is being consumed in the diet. Intense activity and an increase in consumption of protein rich foods also increase creatinine levels, and neither are harmful to the kidneys. There's no need to be worried unless you've had prior kidney issues, failure, or surgery.
Recommended dosage of Creatine Monohydrate is 2.5g - 10g per day, and a common dose is 5 grams per day. 2.5 is fitting for youth and small humans, where 10g would be more appropriate for a very large human with a crazy amount of muscle mass (not your average person).
As with most supplements, everyone wants to know "when is the BEST time to take this?".
Well it doesn't really matter... Like at all. Creatine works by saturation. What does that mean? When you first start supplementing, it won't do a whole lot, but after about 1-2 weeks your phosphate circulation will saturate and the actual benefits of creatine will start to happen. How does this relate to timing? Once it's in your system, it's in there. There may be a slight benefit to taking it post workout over consuming it pre workout, but not enough that it will make or break your training. What's important is that you take the correct dose on a consistent basis.
Creatine Loading And Cycling
The concept of creatine loading is taking a higher dose than needed when you first start supplementing to saturate the body with it. Eventually leading to the adaptation of the supplement, requiring the person to cycle off and on to avoid being a non-responder or failing to experience the benefits.
Makes sense, right? Not so fast...
Loading does increase the rate of saturation, however it has no greater effect on performance when compared to taking a regular does on a consistent basis. So if you decide to cycle, you will experience the exact same benefits as someone who takes it daily.
A normal loading phase starts by supplementing the first 4-7 days with 20g - 25g, split up into 4 - 5, 5g doses (take 5g, 4 - 5x per day, for the first 4-7 days).
Again, I love creatine and I encourage everyone to take it, especially athletes! The benefits far outweigh the nonexistent risks. I personally take, and am associated with, Bare Performance Nutrition. All of their products are third party tested for banned substances and what I recommend. Bottom line: if you are thinking about taking creatine... DO IT!