I think you’ll agree with me when I say that:
Probably one of the most controversial, researched and debated upon supplement on the market is Creatine.
There are so many questions that roll around it:
“How does creatine work?”
“What are creatine benefits?”
“Is Creatine safe?”
And the most important of them all: “What is creatine?“
If you’re looking for good answers to all of those questions, then I believe you will love this short but informative infographic that was provided to me by the good folk at Supplementmart.
It’s an easy to understand and really well-made guide that will really help you comprehend how does creatine work and what are the many benefits that come hand-to-hand with the supplement.Below the infographic I have provided you with some more well written information that will help you expand your knowledge.
Here’s my take on creatine from the infographic:
1. What is Creatine/How Does Creatine Work
Creatine is a naturally occurring amino acid that can be found in some food sources such as fish (tuna and sashimi) and meat (beaf and pork) or it can be also produced by the human body in the pancreas, kidneys and liver.
It is then converted into phosphocreatine or creatine phosphate.
These two compounds are then stored in the muscles.
Where, during high intensity exercises (such as: lifting weight, sprinting, compound movements) phosphocreatine is transformed into Adenosine triphosphate – the fundamental source of energy that helps with the contraction and movement of muscles. (Read more about it here, here, and here)
You can also check out the video below where everything that I just mentioned is explained to you graphically.
2. What Does Creatine Supplementation Do
In the US, alone, there is an average expenditure of $14 million per year on creatine supplements (Read more about it here)
Quite a large industry, huh?
There are a lot of benefits that come from using creatine supplements and we are going to go through the ones mentioned in the infographic. As well as some bonus ones that are not really there.
1. Creatine Increases the rate of muscle growth and power output: One of the biggest questions out there is if creatine supplementation does help increase muscle mass.
According to the Exercise and Sport Nutrition Laboratory in Texas, creatine supplementation has been shown to improve maximal muscle strength and power output with approximately 5-15%;
There was also an elevation in the work performed during sets of maximal effort muscle contractions with 5-15%.
Repetitive sprint performance is also elevated with 5-15%.
Moreover, creatine supplementation has been documented to elevate gains in strength, fat free mass (lean muscle mass) and performance of high intensity exercises. (Read more about it)
It seems that the supplement does not tend to improve performance during exercises that demand endurance, such as running. (read more)
Furthermore, the lovely extreme sportswoman Steph Davis claims that:
From a training (i.e. climbing!) perspective, it also appears that creatine can help improve strength building…
Oh and let’s not forget about the most important part:
Creatine increases the natural production of testosterone.
In fact, not only does creatine increase testosterone levels, it also converts it into a more “bio-available” form that is referred to as Dihydrotestosterone (DHT), which is approximately 3 to 10 times more powerful than regular testosterone making it the strongest androgen in the male body.
Here is an informative article that discusses the link between creatine and testosterone.
2. Creatine benefits skeletal muscle endurance: It has been shown in various studies that creatine supplementation helps improve skeletal muscle endurance.
This is due to the heightened concentration of phosphocreatine which in turn decreases the loss of ATP during heavy anaerobic exercises. Improvement in performance are due to parallel improvements in ATP resynthesis. (Read more about it here and here, and here)
3. Cognitive enhancer or antidepressant:
There are many studies out there that advocate this theory, but the most prominent one is the one from Discipline of Biochemistry, School of Molecular and Microbial Biosciences, Australia.
Those lovely gents and ladies proved that one of the major creatine benefits is that it significantly enhances brain power – both on working memory and intelligence.
The idea here is that creatine monohydrate increases the speed of processing.
The higher the brain energy output, the better the cognitive performance. If you want to read the whole academic paper click here (it’s not super long and hard to understand, don’t worry) or if you want to read through the abstract click here.
And if you are still wondering “is creatine good for you?”, it gets better! Creatine supplementation has shown to alter depression-like behaviour, sadly, currently only shown in women (read more about it here)
4. Creatine and satellite cells: Don’t go running to Google.com searching “What are satellite cells”!
All you need to know about them is that they are the main reason why our muscles have their unique regenerating trait – i.e. they are very important when it comes to building muscle mass.
Well the lovely scientists from around the world have come to a conclusion that creatine supplements help increase satellite cell frequency in just 16 weeks of heavy-resistant training.
What this means is that creatine helps your muscles recover quicker! (read more about this here)
5. Creatine helps preserve cellular integrity and promotes cell longevity: What this means is that it reduces apoptosis rates: Apoptosis is a process of programmed cell death.
I know, quite grim.
Well ingestion of the wonder-supplement has show to improve cell longevity and in a sense, sort of, make you live longer. (Here is the full study).
3. Creatine Supplementation Benefits
- Improve performance and muscle mass status in vegetarians and vegans
- Aids high intensity work
- Can increase muscle strength and size
- Enhances recovery – satellite cells
- Improves anaerobic capacity – with up to 15%
- Enhances muscle volumization – makes your muscles appear bigger
- Enhances methylation
- Improves sprint performance – with 5-15%
- Enhances brain function – remember, it makes you smarter
- Improves bone healing – turns you into a real life Wolverine (the superhero, not the animal)
- Improves glucose tolerance
- And can reduce age related muscle loss.
And these are just to name a few.
4. Side Effects of Creatine
While being an amazing supplement, creatine also comes with its baggage as it carries a specific set of side effects.
The goods news is that there are no negative and long term side effects of creatine that will seriously impact your health and are easy to counter.
- Can cause water retention: this is what creatine monohydrateis infamous for – the infamous “Creatine bloating” The main reason why this occurs is because water enters your muscle cells along with creatine.
This is no serious medical issue and is something that you should not worry about… …unless you are planning on competing, in which case you would need to cut out creatine from your diet plan.
Many competitive bodybuilders do this in order for their muscles to look more lean and cut. The major benefit that you reap out of it is that creatine essentially makes your muscles look a bit larger, without any actual muscle growth occurring.
A disadvantage is that it just makes you look a bit bulky.
- Stomach distress: A study carried out by Biomedical Sciences Department, PA University of Novi Sad, Serbia, concluded something interesting:
By increasing the dosage of creatine supplement taken by athletes they noticed that their test subjects started experiencing gastrointestinal distress (stomach pain).
Furthermore, the uncomfortable feeling was facilitated by the emptiness of the stomach – food content. (Read more about it) In other words – if you take a lot of creating before eating something, you’re probably going to upset your stomach.
I usually have a pretty weak stomach, so I really have to be careful with these kinds of things otherwise it will get really ugly in the gym.
The remedy to this is to simply increase your water and food intake when you ingest creatine;
Or just take smaller doses of creatine throughout the day. Again, Steph Davis provides some insight in the matter by saying that:
Extensive research has shown that oral creatine supplementation at a rate of five to 20 grams per day appears to be very safe and largely devoid of adverse side-effects, while at the same time effectively improving the physiological response to resistance exercise, increasing the maximal force production of muscles in both men and women
In other words, as long as you are maintaining your daily dosage, you’re not going to notice any of these nasty side-effects everybody seems to be talking about.
I know from personal experience that she’s telling the truth!
The only time I experienced some stomach discomfort was when I had no tool to measure my creatine intake with, so I had to guess.
Obviously I took more creatine monohydrate than I should have and ended up having a really bad day.
- Can cause diarrhea: due to the fact that creatine monohydrate cannot be absorbed in high quantities it can cause osmotic diarrhea, which is a really uncomfortable feeling.
The reason for this to happen is because you have taken too much of the supplement at once. A simple solution to the problem is to take smaller doses throughout the day.
5. Creatine Myths Debunked
While some deem creatine as useless, which as we can see by the above given information is not, others like to attack the supplement from where it really hurts… …from the health impact that creatine may have.
There are thousands and thousands of threads out there are with self-proclaimed fitness experts claiming that creatine is bad for you and that it can cause more harm than good.
And in this infographic we have listed the 4 most infamous myths that are utter fables:
Myth #1: Does creatine cause muscle cramps?
One study that was carried out by the Arkansas State Universities followed if there were any changes in NCAA football athletes who were taking creatine over the course of 3 years. Guess what?
Throughout the course of those three years the NCAA athletes experienced no muscle injuries and no creatine fueled muscle strains. In fact, another study performed by the Baylor University found that NCAA football players who were taking creatine supplements for one full season had a significant reduction in muscle cramps!
The major idea behind this notion is that creation causes dehydration, which leads to muscle cramps.
But as we saw earlier, one of the side effects of creatine is that it retains water in the muscle.
Myth # 2: Creatine has side effects on kidneys and liver function
This is probably one of the main concerns that everybody who’s considering creatine as an option is experiencing.
I fell victim to this claim.
During my first 4 years of exercise and dieting I did not purchase any form of creatine product due to the fact that everybody was saying that the supplement was hazardous for the kidneys and liver.
Truth be told – there is nothing to fear! Over the past couple of years, researchers from around the world have concluded that creatine has NO adverse effects on the liver and kidneys.
Researchers followed athletes who have been taking creatine monohydrate for 6 years and noticed no long-term detrimental effects. Haza!
Myth #3: Creatine promotes Rhabdomyolysis
For all of you that are wondering “what the hell is Rhabdomyolysis?” – it’s basically where your muscle fibers break down, which leads to the release of myoglobin into the bloodstream.
Myoglobin is basically the kryptonite of kidneys as it can lead to kidney failure.
This myth is probably the most mainstream one!
It was so famous, in fact, that in 2008 the New York Times published an article where it was claimed that creatine monohydrate is to blame for rhabdomyolysis in high school football players.
The media loved it! However, there is no scientific literature that can back this up. Keep in mind, though, it is wise to avoid creatine supplementation if you have polycystic kidney disease, focal segment glomerulosclerosis!
Always consult a professional medical personal before deciding to purchase any form of supplementation!
While creatine monohydrate is not dangerous and has a lot of benefits and almost unnoticeable side effects, it can be hazardous if you have any form of kidney issue.
6. What is The Best Form of Creatine
The fitness market is constantly bombarded by various forms of creatine products:
- Creatine monohydrate
- Creatine serum
- Micronized creatine
- Creatine ethyl ester
- Creatine phosphate
- Effervescent creatine
And these are the main players.
While this is good as it offers a wide range of products to choose from, it can also make things worse as this only makes everything more confusing.
To establish which is the best form of creatine and which type should you bye, we would need to go through all of the products and discuss their key characteristics.
Creatine product #1: Creatine Monohydrate
It is considered as the most cost effective form of creatine
and the most effective when it comes to increasing muscle mass or improving power output.
Another bonus is that this supplement has been around for many years.
This gives enough time for researchers and athletes to experiment with the product and assess its validity.
So far, there are thousands upon thousands of experiments made with creatine monohydrate and all of them prove amazing results when it comes to improving muscle development, strength, muscle recovery, etc.
However, there are a handful of negative elements to it as well:
For example, creatine monohydrate is not very soluble in water, which makes drinking the product that much harder.
And sometimes very uncomfortable. It also has a low surface area, which only allows for 1% of the product to be absorbed by the body.
Furthermore, creatine monohydrate is the one form of creatine that has the most reported cases of diarrhea side effects and stomach discomfort than any other product out there.
My personal favorite Creatine Monohydrate product on the market (at a great price): Optimum Nutrition Creatine
Creatine product #2: Creatine Serum
This is basically creatine pre-desolved in water.
It might be far more convenient than your regular creatine supplement but it is also known as the most debated creatine product on the market.
Some report to have experienced astonishing results. While others claim that they did not notice any results, at all.
Those individuals who did notice good results claim that monohydrate is far better. And there is some scientific evidence that dictates that creatine serum is utterly useless.
If you want, you can always give it a try, but I would not recommend that.
Creatine product #3: Micronized Creatine
Micronized creatine is basically creatine monohydrate, except the fact that it has been micronized (the molecules of creatine have been divided).
What this does is that it increases the product’s surface area by 20 times – reducing stomach discomfort and increasing absorption.
The main downside to micronized creatine is that it is more expensive than the original product.
If you ever decide to try this baby out, give this one at try: BPI Sports Micronized Creatine It’s at a great price! Or Creatine Monohydrate Powder Micronized 99.99% Pure High Performance Formula
Creatine product #4: Creatine Ethyl Ester (CEE)
This almost removes the need for a loading phase.
Furthermore, this product is considered as the most absorbent creatine product by far.
One of the biggest disadvantages, however, is that there are a lot of recorded comments from customers that claim that it has one of the worst tastes ever. They compare it to the taste of battery acid.
The price tag on CEE products is much higher than that of creatine monohydrate and micronized creatine. If you’re eager to test out CEE, try this one out: Pure Creatine Ethyl Ester (CEE) HCL Powder
Creatine product #5: Creatine Phosphate
This is essentially the converted form of creatine, remember?
The only difference is that the absorption speed is much quicker (considering how the product does not need to be converted into creatine phosphate, because it already is).
The major downside is that this type of product is more expensive than creatine monohydrate.
Creatine product #6: Creatine Kre-Alkalyn
Consequently, this leads to less bloating.
Most feedback about this product is positive by users, but there are no clinical trials made, yet.
Negatively, though, this product is more expensive than creatine monohydrate.
I have never taken Kre-Alkalyn so I cannot really say much about the product, but if you want to try it out for yourself here is one I’ve been told works really well (800 positive reviews): Kre-Alkalyn Capsules
Creatine product #7: Effervescent Creatine
This increases absorption and, what is most important for some, it has a far better taste than any other creatine product on the market.
One of the most obvious cons is that it is combined with sugar and sodium – literally the two elements that every fitness enthusiast must avoid. And, of course, with better taste comes a better price.
Effervescent creatine is far more expensive when compared to creatine monohydrate.
According to me, that sort of difference in the price tag is a bit too much, considering how the only difference between the two products is that there are some bubbles there and some sugar.
So, what is the most effective creatine dose?
A more customized approach is to determine dose based on mass. A common formula is: 0.3 g / kg / d for 5 – 7 days, 0.03 g / kg / d for remainder of cycle…
And then he provides us with an example:
Thus, an individual weighing two-hundred (200) pounds would require 200 lb * (1 lb / 2.2 kg) * 0.3 g = 27 grams per day for the loading phase, then 2.7 grams per day for the maintenance phase.
As you can probably notice there is a “loading phase” that usually consist of five days supplementing either with the customized formula given above or with about 20grams of creatine per day.
Each dose should be 5 grams and should be spread even throughout the whole day. After the loading phase has passed, supplementing the body with 5-10 grams of creatine a day (or with the customized formula above) will be enough to deliver optimum results.
One advice, that is really worth experimenting with, is that I read from Joshua Wortman on his “Creatine Crash Course” where he mentions:
Another common practice proven to be effective is to supplement creatine with a simple carbohydrate such as grape juice. The simple carbohydrates help create an insulin spike, and this helps deliver the creatine to the muscles at a much faster rate for quicker and more efficient absorption.
- If you want a better tasting creatine product and are willing to give the extra buck, then go for the Effervescent Creatine.
- If you want something that has a really high absorption rate and you don’t really care about taste, then go for Creatine Ethyl Ester (CEE).
- If you are looking for a product that is inexpensive and still delivers amazing results, then go for Creatine Monohydrate.
I as a student am not really capable of providing an extra $20 for a better tasting product and will, respectively, stick with my favorite creatine monohydrate. Remember, again, to discuss with u a medical professional whether creatine supplementation is appropriate to your current kidney health as this can lead to some serious long-term health problems.