Creatine is a powerful sports ergogenic that can increase your lean muscle mass, strength, and power. It can also help you perform better during endurance type events. Not only that; creatine has been shown to supply your brain with cognitive benefits – making it an all-around sports and lifestyle supplement.
This non-essential amino acid is synthesised in your liver, kidneys, and pancreas. Your body creates small amounts of creatine each day (roughly 2-3 grams), but you can also obtain it from certain foods and supplements.
Creatine helps to increase the supply of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is what gives us the energy we need to think, run, jump, and move each day. Adenosine triphosphate is made up of three phosphate molecules.
When we need energy, one of the phosphate molecules breaks off giving us that quick energy supply. This leaves us with adenosine diphosphate ADP (two phosphate molecules). At this point, creatine jumps in and helps to turn ADP back into ATP within the mitochondria.
For reference: the mitochondria is what converts food sources (including creatine) into usable energy to form ATP. It also helps to remove waste products such as carbon dioxide.
What is Creatine Exactly?
Creatine is known as a physiological and nutritional sports ergogenic. This means; creatine can enhance your physical and mental performance, giving you more strength and sharper thinking.
It’s made up of small tri-peptides, which are three amino acids linked together. These amino acids are; arginine, glycine, and methionine. They supply your body with the tools it needs to create more energy within your body.
In summary; creatine draws water into your muscle cells. The water then acts as a buffer, holding creatine within your muscles and throughout your body. It’s stored there ‘on-call’ for when ATP production is needed within the mitochondria.
Improved lean muscle and strength:
A study which looked at the use of creatine on older individuals showed that creatine supplementation (between 7-52 weeks and 2-3 days per week of resistance training) improved lean muscle mass by 1.37 kg on average, compared to the placebo group. This highlights creatines superior benefits if you wish to get bigger, leaner, and stronger. (Ⅱ)
As for strength and power improvements, creatine is no stranger in this area. There have been numerous studies done on its benefits for strength athletes. One study in particular said, and I quote:
“The increase in bench press 1RM ranged from 3 to 45%, and the improvement in weightlifting performance in the bench press ranged from 16 to 43%”.
The study continued to state; “there is substantial evidence to indicate that creatine supplementation during resistance training is more effective at increasing muscle strength and weightlifting performance than resistance training alone.” (Ⅲ)
Heightened mental performance:
Taking as little as 3 grams per day has been shown to help protect the brain from damage, such as oxidative stress. It also allows the brain to fire its neurons for sharper and more efficient thinking.
A study carried out to test creatine’s effects on mental performance said; “Oral creatine administration may improve short-term memory and intelligence/reasoning of healthy individuals”. (Ⅳ)
Another study which took 24 healthy adults, and gave them 8 grams of creatine daily for 5-days, reported less mental fatigue while taking part in mathematical tests. The researchers said that creatine showed to “increase oxygen utilization in the brain”. (Ⅴ)
While you may associate creatine with bodybuilding or strength training. Creatine can actually benefit endurance athletes, as it helps the body to create more usable triphosphate ATP energy.
A study which tested male rats with creatine supplementation while taking part in endurance runs showed their endurance improved by 81%; “Over the course of the study, the treatment group’s running endurance improved by 81% compared to baseline”. (Ⅵ)
Another study which tested human endurance athletes on the use of creatine found that it helped to increase their muscle glycogen stores. This means; you’ll be able to hold more glucose in your muscles thanks to the use of creatine.
Creatine also improved their body’s need for oxygen during exercise, making the respiratory system more efficient – thus making exercise easier (to a degree) in longer duration sports:
“Regarding predominantly aerobic endurance performance, the increased bodies’ creatine stores, seems to amplify favourable physiological adaptations such as… increased plasma volume, glycogen storage, improvements of ventilatory threshold and a possible reduction of oxygen consumption in sub-maximal exercise.” (Ⅶ)
How Effective is Creatine?
Creatine is highly effective where performance is concerned. In a report published by the Exercise and Sports Nutrition Laboratory, Baylor University of Texas, said;
“Short-term creatine supplementation has been reported to improve maximal power/strength (5-15%), work performed during sets of maximal effort muscle contractions (5-15%), single-effort sprint performance (1-5%), and work performed during repetitive sprint performance (5-15%).” (Ⅷ)
The study continued to state: “Moreover, creatine supplementation during training has been reported to promote significantly greater gains in strength, fat-free mass, and performance primarily of high-intensity exercise tasks.”
After analyzing these results which the university acquired. We can see that on average, an increase of 8.25% in strength was received when using creatine.
I know what you’re thinking; these percentages don’t sound like much right? Wrong!
When you consider, that sporting competitions can be won or lost in milliseconds or millimetres, 8.25% means a lot; relatively speaking where performance is concerned.
This puts creatine firmly within the category of ‘proven’ where performance enhancing supplements are concerned.
Winning By Milliseconds
Let’s take a look at Michael Phelps for a moment, the Olympic gold medalist swimmer. In 2008 of the summer Olympics he won over his competitor Cavic by a fingers length. This, in the exact measure, was a hundredth of a second.
To summarise this point; winning or losing can be closer than you think – 8.25% increased performance doesn’t seem so bad now, does it?
Okay, so you might not be Michael Phelps. Perhaps you’re someone who plays sports in your local club on the weekend. Even so, increasing your performance and ATP stores with the use of creatine to extend your stamina and sports ‘play time’, can make the difference between you, or your team taking home the victory or walking away empty handed.
So, how effective is creatine?
According to these above-mentioned studies and numerous athletes worldwide who use creatine, where they have won by the smallest of margins, we can say it’s very effective at improving our performance.
Creatine and Non-Responders
Some people are non-responders to the use of creatine. This means that some of us may not feel the full effects of creatine monohydrate (CM) once orally ingested. In fact, there are actually three types of responders to supplementation. These are; responders (R), quasi-responders (QR), and nonresponders (NR).
A study published by the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation in the University of Alberta said; “Results suggest that to be considered a responder to acute oral supplementation, a favourable pre-existing biological profile may determine the final extent to which an individual responds to supplementation.” (Ⅹ)
In reference to the above statement; your biological genetics also plays a large part in how well you adapt to creatine supplementation. This also goes for nonresponders; “Physiologic profiles of nonresponders appear to be different and may limit their ability to uptake CM”.
Where Can You Find Creatine?
Creatine can be found in foods, almost exclusively in uncooked meats such as pork, red meat, poultry, and fish to name a few.
However, if you thought that eating meat was the answer to increasing your creatine levels, you might want to think twice.
Cooking meat denatures creatine levels, making it less effective. And when you consider that one teaspoon of creatine monohydrate equals 1 kg of raw beef, it doesn’t seem quite worth it to eat all of that meat, does it?
So, in order to get the full effect of creatine via food consumption, you’d have to eat large amounts of raw meat daily. This isn’t great news for vegetarians, vegans, or people on a low animal protein diets.
How is Creatine Made in The Body?
Apart from the foods we eat, which contain and supply our body with creatine, we can also produce it naturally on our own. Our bodies produce creatine in the liver and kidneys. The body can make roughly 2 grams on its own per day. On average, we hold roughly 3.5 grams of creatine per lb of muscle we have on our bodies.
Creatine is made up of small tri-peptides, which are three amino acids linked together. These amino acids are; arginine, glycine, and methionine. The amino acids are then converted into creatine phosphate and phosphocreatine which is then stored in the skeletal muscles where it’s used for energy. (IX)
However, as the body produces creatine in small amounts and excretes creatine on a daily basis, it’s quickly used up. This is where additional supplementation of creatine can help to improve your creatine stores, and with it, your performance results.
Best Type of Creatine to Use?
There are numerous types of creatine available, but the most common and the most widely studied is creatine monohydrate CM. Creatine monohydrate is safe, rigorously tested, and reacts well within the body.
Types of Creatine
- CM Creatine Monohydrate
- Buffered Creatine
- Polyethylene glycosylated creatine
- Micronised Creatine
- Tri-Creatine Malate
- Conjugated Creatine
- Creatine HCL
This form of creatine (creatine monohydrate) is the most commonly used form of creatine that can be found in powder and pill form. But how is creatine monohydrate made?
Creatine monohydrate is created from sarcosine and cyanamide. It’s made in a reactor with other catalyst compounds. Sarcosine is similar to salt, hence why creatine makes you thirsty!
In the reactor it’s then heated and pressurized to form creatine crystals – these are like salt crystals you find on coastal rocks. The next process is to remove any unwanted particles by centrifuge before being vacuum dried.
After drying, it’s then milled into a fine powder, normally 200 mesh, which is very fine powder making it easy for the body to absorb.
How Much Creatine Do You Need?
A study from the Human Performance Laboratory at Ball State University suggests that 5g of creatine is enough for improvements in strength and performance. (X) Suggestions have also been made to whether or not loading phases should be considered, up to 25 grams per day, then tapering off and cycling creatine.
However, for most of you who are looking to improve your performance, loading, or cycling phases aren’t always necessary. Therefore, supplementing with 5 grams of creatine monohydrate per day is sufficient for most people to feel its full ‘positive’ effects.
How To Take Creatine?
Whatever you decide to do, in terms of ‘which type of CM dosing schedule’ you plan on adopting, it’s worth bearing in mind, that the body also creates creatine in small doses every day.
If you wish to see results without retaining too much water, then, micro-dosing of 2-5g per day throughout the year might be a viable option. Smaller dosages for longer periods could be easier to manage long-term for most people.
Here are some examples of creatine loading phases:
- Loading phase: 25g per day for week one, then 10g per day for week two, then 5g per day for week three and the duration.
- Non-loading phase: 5g per day with continuous consumption.
- Cycle phases: Supplementing with a chosen amount to achieve the desired result, then coming-off creatine supplementation to allow the body to adjust back to normal fluid levels.
Going to extremes in any diet, supplementation, or training program, is not healthy in any case, which is why I suggest that 5g per day is optimal for most people.
How Long Does Creatine Take To Work?
Once you start supplementing with creatine, you’ll notice that after the 3rd day, your performance will be slightly improved. From this point onwards, increases should continue until you hit a training plateau.
It’s advisable (if possible) to reduce your training load and intensity to allow for your body to adapt and become saturated with creatine during the first few days. Then, after roughly one week, you can return to your normal training program. This is where you should feel the difference in power and strength that creatine has to offer.
To summarise: it takes roughly 3-7 days to become saturated with creatine monohydrate using 5 grams per day.
Physical Effects of Creatine Supplementation
When you begin to supplement with creatine, you’ll become more thirsty, as creatine naturally attracts and binds to water. Always having water to hand is important when using creatine as dehydration will only result in side effects such as headaches and bloating, and a dip in performance.
Creatine then begins to fill the cells within your body (most particularly the muscles) allowing you to tap into energy reserves when performing physical activity. The more saturated your body is with creatine, the more ATP you’ll have on hand for improved performance.
Things you’ll notice: you’ll become stronger, your body composition and appearance will change (more muscle mass). And you’ll have more energy throughout the day (if well hydrated). Furthermore, you will also recover from exercise at a quicker rate thanks to the way creatine increases your energy supply.
What Happens When You Stop Taking Creatine?
When you stop taking creatine, you’ll lose excess water weight, your muscles will look leaner, and you’ll also have a reduced power output – which is why many people prefer to use creatine all-year-round.
As this may not sound desirable for some of you, it’s worth considering that some athletes often use creatine as a tool to progress their overall strength, muscle mass, and power for a particular short-term goal. Once these targets have been reached, it’s at this point they may decide to stop using creatine once these goals have been achieved.
So, if you’ve got a competition coming up, and you want to improve your power and endurance; supplementing with creatine for several weeks prior to the event may be a good idea – followed by a reduce load or total abstinence if you don’t want to take CM on a continuous basis.
But, what if you are someone who wants to see improvements all year with the use of creatine? I’ll answer that next question below:
Should You Take Creatine All-Year-Long?
If you are someone who plays sports or takes part in bodybuilding, or any ‘year-long’ activity. Then, you may consider ‘continuous’ supplementation to keep your strength elevated.
Something to bear in mind: once creatine supplementation is halted, reduced power output may be felt. However, the strength gains that have created while using creatine allowed your body to grow and adapt, helping you to become stronger than before. Therefore, if you do stop using creatine, your strength won’t disappear completely. But on the other hand, if you do want to maintain that constant high level of strength, then creatine can be used all-year-long without any side-effects to worry about.
You can think of creatine as an ‘assistant’ for increased progress – leaving you with somewhat lasting results once supplementation is stopped. This doesn’t mean, however, that you have to stop taking creatine if it’s working for you and your goals. If CM give you the type of results you wish to see all year, then continue if it feels right for you.
Is Creatine Harmful?
Professional athletes worldwide supplement with creatine thanks to its effectiveness, reliability, and most importantly, harm free positive effects on the body. You could say it’s a miracle supplement! However, there have been some minor side-effects reported.
Minor Side Effects
Throughout the history of research linked to creatine supplementation, there have been no ‘serious’ side effects associated with creatine. The most common, and easily avoidable side effects are bloating, water retention, and thirst, but these are easily mitigated.
To combat these effects, eating a diet that’s abundant in vegetables, fruits, and lean proteins (while drinking plenty of water) will mitigate these minor side effects.
Safe For The Organs:
According to the Department of Human Physiology in South Korea;
“Liver (enzymes, urea) and kidneys (glomerular filtration urea and albumin excretion rates) show no change in functionality in healthy subjects supplemented with creatine, even during several months, in both young and older populations.” thus proving it’s safe for the human body to absorb and utilize. (ⅺ)
In light of the above information, creatine is not only a sport ergogenic that will increase your lean muscle mass, and your energy supply, but it’s also safe for your organs – long-term.
If you’re looking for a sports performance supplement that goes way beyond aggressive stimulants or hormones such as testosterone in the form of steroids, then creatine is your next best thing.
The study’s don’t lie. With numerous health institutions siting creatine as a supplement that’s safe to use, which improves performance in large numbers, I highly recommend using CM if your goal is performance and strength based.
If you’re not into sports performance, but you prefer to use creatine for improving your ‘mental game’, then you too can also reap the benefits of creatine. Creatine can improve mental performance with as little as 3 mg per day.
There you have it, one of the most readily available, safe, widely tested, and easy to use sports enhancers known to man – creatine.
(Ⅰ) Jäger, Ralf, et al. “Analysis of the Efficacy, Safety, and Regulatory Status of Novel Forms of Creatine.” Amino Acids, Springer Vienna, May 2011. (source)
(Ⅱ, Ⅲ) Chilibeck, Philip D, et al. “Effect of Creatine Supplementation during Resistance Training on Lean Tissue Mass and Muscular Strength in Older Adults: a Meta-Analysis.” Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine, Dove Medical Press, 2 Nov. 2017. (source)
(Ⅳ) Avgerinos, Konstantinos I, et al. “Effects of Creatine Supplementation on Cognitive Function of Healthy Individuals: A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials.” Experimental Gerontology, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 15 July 2018. (source)
(Ⅴ) Watanabe, Airi, et al. “Effects of Creatine on Mental Fatigue and Cerebral Hemoglobin Oxygenation.” Neuroscience Research, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Apr. 2002. (source)
(Ⅵ) Malin, Steven K, and Nancy Cotugna. “Creatine Supplementation Enhances Endurance Performance in Trained Rats.” Journal of Dietary Supplements, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2008. (source)
(Ⅶ) Robert Cooper, et al. “Creatine Supplementation with Specific View to Exercise/Sports Performance: an Update.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, BioMed Central, 20 July 2012. (source)
(Ⅷ) Kreider, Richard B. “Effects of Creatine Supplementation on Performance and Training Adaptations.” Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Feb. 2003. (source)
(Ⅷ) “Acute Creatine Monohydrate Supplementation: A Descriptive Physiological Profile of Responders vs. Nonresponders: The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research.” LWW. (source)
(IX) “Creatine.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 2 Apr. 2019. (source)
(X) Bemben, Michael G, and Hugh S Lamont. “Creatine Supplementation and Exercise Performance: Recent Findings.” Sports Medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2005. (source)
(XI) Kim, Hyo Jeong, et al. “Studies on the Safety of Creatine Supplementation.” Amino Acids, U.S. National Library of Medicine, May 2011. (source)