When our muscles require an intense burst of energy, but have used up their store of ATP (the chief source of energy in the body), they use a chemical known as Creatine.. Since the 1990s, creatine has become one of the most well-accepted performance enhancers taken by athletes.
So, why is creatine so popular? Let's takde a look at what creatine is, how it works and the benenfits and costs of using it.
What Is Creatine
Creatine is a naturally-occurring amino acid (a protein building block) that is present in fish and meat, and also produced by the human body in the kidneys, liver, and pancreas. It is converted into phosphocreatine or creatine phosphate, and primarily stored in the muscles, where it is utilized for energy.
The body generates about half of the creatine it requires (1). The other half comes from foods, especially meats and fish, which implies that vegetarians often have reduced levels of creatine compared to people who eat meat.
Although people on an animal-free diet may struggle to meet their entire creatine requirement, it doesn’t mean they cannot maintain the condition. Under normal circumstances, a healthy person can preserve sufficient creatine levels, even if they decide to follow a vegetarian or vegan diet.
Creatine acts to revitalize the cells in the body, shifting energy around the cell, from where it is produced to where it is needed. It is naturally found in flesh and obtained through a diet rich in meat, fish, and other animal produce, such as dairy. As creatine is significant for all cells to function, our body also generates its own supply.
The majority of the creatine in the body is stored in the skeletal muscles, which are the muscles we control to move our body. The rest is accumulated in the brain, heart, and other tissues.
Creatine is of particular importance when a person has to make quick, powerful movements, just like the ones necessary for weight lifting and high jumping. For this purpose, creatine supplements are well-liked among male athletes that need quick bursts of energy. Football, sprinting, weightlifting and wrestling are examples of activities that would allegedly benefit from creatine.
Summary: Creatine is a naturally occurring amino acid (protein building block) that is found in meat/fish but also produced by the body. The body generates half ot its creatine requirements. It is stored in the muscles as creatine phosphate and utilized for energy.
How Does Creatine Work?
Creatine is implicated in a system known as the creatine phosphate system, where creatine phosphate and creatine interchangeably contribute or accept a phosphate group.
This phosphate group can voluntarily restock other molecules that misplace theirs and need a replacement.
The most noteworthy example of this is replenishing ATP (adenosine triphosphate) from ADP (adenosine diphosphate). ATP is the primary ‘energy currency’ of a cell.
Creatine allows you to refill ATP directly without needing to go through an extensive procedure of breaking down other molecules into it.
Supplementation with creatine provides an increase in creatine supplies and phosphate creatine availability in the body, ensuing in faster ATP formation. In other words, the more PCr an individual has, the more work they can achieve before fatigue sets it.
Summary: Creatine allows you to refill ATP quickly without going through an extensive procedure of breaking down other molecules. ATP is the primary energy currency of a cell.
Types Of Creatine
Creatine enhances performance, improves strength results and increases lean muscle mass. However, selecting the best type of creatine for your specific needs can be challenging as there are different creatine formulas available on the market.
The most common forms of creatine are creatine monohydrate, creatine phosphate, creatine citrate, creatine ethyl-ester, creatine malate, creatine pyruvate, creatine alpha-ketogluatarate and creatine gluconate.
- Creatine Monohydrate is the most widely used type of creatine and is present in many supplements. Each molecule comprises of 88% creatine and 12% water, which means every gram of creatine monohydrate contains 880 milligrams of creatine.
There is a heap of research to back up its success. The only drawback to creatine monohydrate is that it does lead to water retention and bloating in some users.
- Creatine Gluconate is a creatine molecule connected to a glucose molecule. When both molecules are united, the outcome is a kind of creatine that is absorbed roughly like glucose, which means a hefty amount of the ingested creatine gets to the muscles, escalating its benefits.
In this sort of creatine, the glucose molecules operate as an internal transport system, mounting the creatine absorption in the muscles.
- Creatine Citrate - Amongst the available types of creatine, creatine citrate is, for most part, soluble in water. It also comprises of citric acid, which is likely to increase the creation of muscular energy. This kind of creatine encloses only 40% creatine, thus, each gram of this type of creatine has 400 milligrams of real creatine.
- Creatine HCL-The latest trend to hit the market is Creatine HCL, which is creatine bound to hydrochloric acid. It is declared to be the most sophisticated form of creatine available.
The chief advantage creatine HCl provides over all other forms of creatine is superior solubility. Since creatine HCl is more soluble than other types, the dose required is much smaller. So, rather than taking 5 to 10 grams every day, it is only essential to consume one to two grams.
This prevents water retention, gastrointestinal problems, and bloating.However, the reality is that creatine HCl is turned into a usual creatine molecule by stomach acid. Many athletes and bodybuilders have consumed it without any considerable gains compared to other, more effectual forms.
- Creatine Malate - Creatine Malate is creatine bound with malic acid and is an additional popular form of creatine. Malic acid alone has been associated iwth strength and performance in competiive athletes (2). However, once more, there is no decisive evidence to propose that creatine malate is a better form of this supplement.
- Creatine Ethyl Ester (CEE)- CEE is creatine with an ester attached to it. This kind of creatine was in trend for a short time, as it was believed to provide superior absorption. The reputation of CEE did not last very long as most users established it to be no more valuable than creatine monohydrate, but much more expensive.
What Is The Best Type Of Creatine?
Simply put, creatine monohydrate is an old fashioned, beneficial and reliable form of creatine that has been confirmed to be effective for over 30 years (3). This creatine is by far the most researched and proven form of this magical supplement.
Cost And Benefits Of Creatine Use
Similar to all performance enhancers, creatine has its benefits and side effects that one must understand before using the supplement.
Although athletes mainly use it, creatine proves to have promising outcomes outside of athletic and performance setting (4). Here are just a few advantages of this supplement.
- Increase In Muscle Size – Creatine supplementation results in an increase in the water content of muscles, which make them look larger.While this is not a result of an increase in muscle fibers, creatine can add to “real” fat-free mass after some time as its power-boosting and strength properties permit higher quality training and thus, better gains.
- Quicker ATP Re-Synthesis Equates to Frequent Training Sessions - Creatine allows you to train at an elevated frequency, which also means faster and more noteworthy muscular gains.
The more frequently you stimulate a muscle, the sooner it will grow bigger, given that it has had the chance to fully grow back after the initial stress load that was positioned upon it.Since creatine aids the increase of recovery of the muscle cells, it means less rest time in between each workout.
- Parkinson's Disease, Depression, and Creatine - Creatine might help slow the development of Parkinson's disease. According to research on mice models of Parkinson's disease, creatine was proficient enough to avert the loss of the cells that are affected by the condition.
Research which was published in the Journal of Neurochemistry, suggested that a combination therapy using creatine and Coenzyme Q (10) may be functional in the treatment of neuro-degenerative diseases (5).
Likewise, this popular supplement for athletes has elements that can help in alleviating the symptoms of depression. Investigators at three different South Korean universities discovered that women with depression who increased their daily antidepressant 5 g of creatine responded faster and experienced remission of the disease at twice the rate than women who took the antidepressant alone (6).
- Creatine Boosts Brain Power - Researchers from the Macquarie University and the University of Sydney discovered evidence that creatine can improve memory and intelligence (7).
- Creatine For Women – Creatine is a supplement that women must consider. A big part of this is because women tend to cut red meat out of their diet. Thus, their natural stores are likely to be more reduced. However, studies have demonstrated that women might not hold as much creatine in their muscle cells in comparison to men.
Side Effects Of Creatine
Similar to most nutritional supplements, creatine supplements are not firmly regulated and can cause side effects. Some of them are mentioned below:
- Weight Gain - If you choose to use creatine supplements,you might experience unexpected weight gain. This weight gain is mainly due to water retention within the muscles. Creatine supplements can increase the creatine levels in the muscle tissue, which in turn amplifies the amount of water your muscles stock up. Exercising frequently can help neutralize this side effect.
- Dehydration is a common concern with supplementation because creatine will draw water into the muscle cell. If an individual uses creatine, they must make sure to drink plenty of water. Furthermore, as with all supplements, owing to a lack of regulation, impurities and toxins in a product are always a concern. Buying a trustworthy brand makes this less of an issue.
- Muscle Damage - Creatine supplements have been concurrent with muscle damage. Athletes who take these supplements have experienced severe muscle cramps, discomfort, and tears. Creatine supplements might amplify the risk of sprains and strains due to unsafe increases in workout programs. Therefore, do not abruptly add to your exercise routine after taking creatine. Instead, gradually build up your body's work out tolerance so that you avoid potential muscle damage.
- Gastrointestinal Distress - Gastrointestinal trouble is a common side effect of creatine supplement use. An individual may possibly experience a reduction in appetite, stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting. These effects are often dose-dependent or temporary. Consult a doctor if these symptoms worsen or persist over time.
Do You Need To Cycle Creatine?
Although it is not necessary to cycle the intake of creatine, the answer is a combination of yes and no. The reason why people feel the need to cycle creatine is that they treat it like steroids.
However, creatine is NOT a steroid, so it does not have to be on a cycle. Besides that, our body also generates creatine, and this does not change because of creatine supplement intake.
In some situations, people prefer to cycle creatine because when an individual takes creatine supplements, their body stops its natural creatine creation process.
Periodically going off creatine supplements is safer because it provides the body a chance to recuperate and start producing creatine naturally again. However, there is no concrete proof of this.
Does Creatine Make You Fat?
Creatine does not make you fat. Intake of creatine may lead you to retain water, which can make you look bigger. But, the effect of creatine intake differs from individual to individual.
Some may look like they’ve put on weight while others may not. The effect can be more pronounced if a person takescreatine and doesnot work out.
The good news is that water retention and bloating will both fade away after the person stops taking the supplement.
If you’re anxious about creatine making you look fat, take a smaller dose, for example, 50% of the recommended amount. Keep in mind that certain pre-workout supplements enclose creatine, so you should factor that in when you settle on how much you are taking.
Also, ensure you drink enough water because dehydration could be the reason behind any bloated feeling caused as a result of creatine. Another tip if you arefeeling bloated is to change supplement brands.
What Happens When I Come Off Creatine?
When creatine supplementation comes to an end, it takes a few weeks to a month for the creatine levels in the body to regulate to pre-supplementation levels.
The inconsistency in how long it takes is dependent upon how much individual exercises (if you exercise more, that the rate of normalization will accelerate) and on how much creatine was initiallyaccumulated in muscle tissue.
Even though supplementation of creatine does severely suppress your body’s generation of creatine, creatine production is reinstated within a day or two after you stop in taking it. Hence, there is no noticeable down period afterceasing creatine usage.
Does Creatine Cause Baldness?
Many athletes who use creatine supplements question if the supplements may be associated with hair loss.
Creatine has once been associated with increasing DHT; a more potent androgen that is connected with power output and hair loss in predisposed men.
While the enhancement in DHT and hair loss is not something to be worried about if you have a healthy head of hair, those with thinning hair might experience acceleration in the receding of the hairline when using any androgenic supplement which can increase DHT.
Even with the concerns related to creatine supplementation and hair loss, no experiment has been conducted on the subject.
Does Creatine Affect The Kidneys?
Kidneys get rid of waste from the body, assist in forming red blood cells and facilitate in regulating blood pressure. Creatinine is a chemical waste produce of creatine. It is typically filtered out through the kidneys and expelled in the urine (8).
Elevated levels of creatinine in the blood can be a result of high doses of creatine and might be anindication of kidney damage and the failure of the kidneys to sift out creatinine.
Should Pregnant Women Take Creatine Supplements?
While creatine has an excellent safety record as found in clinical studies and the countless studies of creatine supplementation in the sports arena (9), there is no evidence found to ensure the safety of creatine supplementation during pregnancy. Therefore, at this time, there is no proof to propose creatine supplements are essential for pregnant women. Merely eating a balanced diet, containing fish and meat, will guarantee that women will have adequate creatine for themselves and their babies.
Jäger, R. et. al. (2008), The effects of creatine pyruvate and creatine citrate on performance during high-intensity exercise, Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2008, 5:4