Creatine is a key supplement for boosting performance at the gym.
A lot of research has been done on creatine, and it currently holds the title of the worlds’ most tested supplement with a high safety profile (1).
In this article, we highlight the basic facts about creatine – all you need to know about it.
What is creatine?
Creatine is a substance that occurs naturally in cells of the muscles. It enhances energy production by the muscles, thus providing you with the energy you need for high-intensity exercises or heavy lifting.
Creatine and amino acids share many similarities. The human body can produce creatine naturally from arginine and glycine (both are amino acids).
Several factors can affect your body’s creatine reserves. These include exercise, meat consumption, muscle mass, and hormone levels (such as IGF-1 and testosterone) (9).
Most of the body’s creatine is stored in the muscles. They are not stored as creatine per se but as phosphocreatine. About 95% of creatine is stored in this way. The remaining 5% is reserved in the liver, kidneys, and the brain (9).
Anytime you take a creatine supplement, you increase your phosphocreatine reserve. The energy is stored in the cells as phosphocreatine, as it helps with the production of more ATP.
ATP serves as the body’s energy currency. The more ATP you have in your body, the better your body can perform during exercise (9).
How does creatine work?
There are several ways by which creatine can boost your athletic performance and your health in general.
The primary role of creatine in high-intensity exercise is to boost phosphocreatine reserve in the muscles.
Creatine also helps with muscle gain in the following ways:
- It allows you to get more work done: With creatine, you can accomplish more in just one training session. Of course, this is vital to the long-term growth of your muscles (12).
- Cell communication is improved: Creatine supplementation increases signaling between cells, an action that facilitates new growth of muscles as well as muscle repair (13).
- Increases the level of anabolic hormones: According to various clinical researches, creatine supplementation increases the blood levels of some hormones like IGF-1 (14, 15, 16).
- Increased hydration of cells: Creatine increases the cells’ water content – an action that plays a very major role in the growth of muscles (17, 18).
- Minimizes breakdown of proteins: Creatine minimizes protein breakdown. By so doing, it increases muscle mass (19).
- Brings down myostatin levels: high levels of myostatin, a protein, can inhibit the growth of new muscles. Creatine supplementation can reduce the level of myostatin, thus increasing muscle growth potential (20).
It is important to note that supplementing with creatine not only increases phosphocreatine stores in the muscles, it also elevates phosphocreatine levels in the brain and stands down neurological ailments (3, 21, 22, 23, 24).
What are the types of creatine supplements?
A lot of research has been done on creatine monohydrate. It suffices to say that creatine monohydrate is the most well-researched and most common form of creatine supplement.
Creatine monohydrate is not expensive, and intensive research has been done about it. For now, it remains the best until further researches disprove it.
How should I take creatine; what are the dosage instructions?
Many athletes who wish to supplement with creatine do start with a loading phase. From there, the amount of creatine in storage increases rapidly.
To do a creatine loading, take 20g daily for 5-7 days. Daily intake should be split into four 5g servings (1).
Eating a protein or carb-based meal may cause a slight improvement in absorption due to insulin release (26).
After the loading period, take 3-5g per day to maintain your muscle creatine stores at high levels. Because creatine cycling has no benefit, you can maintain this dosage for a long period.
If you are not interested in the loading phase, you can just take 3-5g daily. But then, maximizing your stores may take up to 4 weeks (1).
Because creatine increases the water content of your muscle cells, you must take it along with a glass of water and hydrate yourself properly throughout the day.
Safety and side effects of creatine supplementation
A particular study analysed 52 blood markers and could not detect any adverse effects after supplementing for 21 months (8).
There is no proof that creatine destroys the kidneys and liver in healthy people who the supplement in normal doses. However, people who already have pre-existing kidney or liver conditions should consult their doctor before taking any supplement (8, 27, 28).
Some people say that creatine supplementation causes cramps and dehydration, but this allegation has absolutely no scientific basis. Studies have shown that creatine supplementation can reduce dehydration and cramps during high-intensity or endurance exercises done at high temperatures (29, 30).
Creatine is an inexpensive, highly effective, and very safe supplement.
It improves the quality of life in the elderly, boosts brain health, and improves performance in exercise. Vegetarians whose diet may be deficient in creatine are better off supplementing it.
The best form of creatine supplement is creatine monohydrate. Try it and check if it agrees with your body system.