Creatine

Nonessential Micronutrient

OVERVIEW

Summary

This ever-popular performance micronutrient gains as many new users each day as it does publicity, for one good reason — it works! Creatine supplies instant “bursts” of energy to muscle cells, enabling athletes and fitness buffs to train harder, longer — leading to accelerated muscle growth, greater strength, fuller muscles, and enhanced performance. As “the one that works,” creatine has set the standard for performance nutrition.

Other names for Creatine

methylguanidine, methylguanido-acetic acid


Where to find Creatine

Creatine is naturally produced in our bodies, mostly in the liver. And it’s also found in red meat, pork, tuna, herring, and salmon.

PERFORMANCE BENEFITS

Why athletes use Creatine

Individuals involved in intense physical activities who need quick bursts of energy, such as track and field athletes, weight trainers, soccer players, ice hockey players, etc., use creatine to improve strength and performance. And it’s also used by people who are transforming their bodies because it’s been shown in research to help increase gains in lean body mass and boost fat loss.

Ways that Creatine can enhance Muscle Gain & Recovery:
  • Increase cell volume within muscle tissue, causing muscles to “super-hydrate” or become fuller, creating an improved environment for muscle growth
  • Stimulate protein synthesis and decrease protein breakdown within muscle tissue, triggering your muscle cells to become larger and stronger
Ways that Creatine can enhance Energy & Endurance:
  • Delay training fatigue, allowing longer muscular contractions, by refueling the ATP-energy process, giving the body access to more energy, faster

HEALTH BENEFITS

Signs of Creatine deficiency

Individuals who train intensely, are involved in rigorous physical activity, or who limit their consumption of red meat may have low reserves of creatine in their muscle cells.

Potential uses for Creatine

Research indicates that Creatine may be useful in the treatment of:

  • Herpes
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • High blood sugar
  • Alcoholism
  • Cardiovascular disease

DISCUSSION

More about Creatine

Thanks to an array of well-exposed athletes, the media, and fitness buffs alike, creatine has quickly become one of the most talked about, controversial subjects since the rise of the “Master Blaster,” Joe Weider himself. There is really only one reason it’s become so popular among these crowds — it works!

Creatine is a natural amino acid metabolite our bodies use for a number of important processes. One of creatine’s most important is its vital role in (ATP) energy production, which is essential for our bodies to produce muscular contractions and quick, “bursting” movements. Literally hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of athletes are using creatine now because it allows them to run faster, jump higher, and gain a competitive “edge” over their fierce competition. In fact, over 200 university studies support the conclusion that creatine does have performance-enhancing (ergogenic) effects for athletes and, just as important, muscle-building effects for those seeking to enhance their physiques.

Energy production

Let’s start with the basics of how our muscles work. Our muscles use oxygen to produce energy. This oxygen process is, however, fairly slow. And when we’re performing high-intensity exercise, such as weight training or sprinting, they need an immediate source for quick, explosive energy. So our bodies switch to another chemical process that produces the needed explosive energy — ATP (adenosine tri-phosphate), which is broken down to become ADP (adenosine di-phosphate).

This is where creatine comes in. Creatine helps refuel the ATP-energy process, so when creatine is supplemented, more ATP is readily available, even more quickly, giving the body access to more energy, faster. Unleashing more energy then delays the onset of training fatigue, allows for longer muscle contractions, and thus enables us to train harder, longer — leading to greater strength and accelerated muscle growth. All of which are factors that can enhance performance and the way our bodies look.

Cell volumizing

In addition to its important role in energy production, creatine’s been shown to be an effective cell volumizer, causing fitness enthusiasts to take more than just a passing interest. What this means is simply that our muscle cells become “super-hydrated” as a result of creatine and water. Research suggests this process may then trigger greater muscle-protein synthesis as well as allowing improved resistance to muscle-protein breakdown. This could lead to the muscles becoming fuller, maximizing their cellular capacity. Muscle fibers become larger and stronger, which enhances muscle growth. This super-hydration process has since been theorized to be a leading cause of muscle hypertrophy; that is, the growth of muscle mass.

More good news

Creatine has also been shown in scientific studies to have positive effects on overall health, such as reducing blood lipids, those fats (known as cholesterol and triglycerides) that carelessly float around in our bloodstreams. Reducing total cholesterol and triglyceride levels is vitally important to our health, as high amounts of these substances in the blood can lead to America’s number one killer — heart disease.

Creatine also appears to improve blood-sugar metabolism by possibly enhancing insulin sensitivity and helping shuttle blood sugar from the bloodstream into muscle cells more quickly. Our bodies’ inability to shuttle insulin effectively into cells, called “insulin resistance,” is a key factor in diabetes, obesity, and even heart disease, plaguing some 30 million Americans.

New, exciting research has recently demonstrated that creatine may even have positive effects on mental performance. Participants who received 8 grams of creatine for five days experienced dramatically less mental fatigue due to increased oxygen consumption in the brain. Plus, when performing numerical calculations, those who supplemented with creatine did dramatically better after five days than before beginning supplementation.

And finally, by helping decrease the production of histamine, creatine may reduce allergic responses. The evidence for this property is still premature though.


Which is the most optimal delivery form of creatine?

Creatine monohydrate is the most scientifically recognized, widely available, and commonly used form of creatine supplementation. It’s popular with the scientific community because it’s the form used in the majority of research studies. However, there are alternative forms of creatine available that offer similar (although sometimes limited) benefits to the monohydrate form.

Creatine citrate has been shown to reach its peak concentration in the blood within one hour, as opposed to creatine monohydrate, which takes up to three hours. Nonetheless, this may not be an overly beneficial effect because muscle cells must be fully “saturated” with creatine before creatine can produce any real effects.

Upside: It has been noted that creatine citrate tends to dissolve more easily in water than the monohydrate form, which may indicate that creatine citrate is absorbed more quickly into the bloodstream. This means it may be more readily available for use, more quickly. However, no studies have yet supported this contention.

Downside: You would need to consume nearly twice as much (in grams) of creatine citrate to get the same amount of creatine as you would with the monohydrate form. This is because creatine citrate is only 40% creatine and 60% citrate, whereas creatine monohydrate is 90% creatine and 10% monohydrate. As well, many consumers of creatine citrate have sited an acidic taste and sometimes stomach discomfort.

Research has shown both creatine phosphate and creatine monohydrate are equally effective. Many so-called experts have tried to suggest that since our bodies use creatine phosphate naturally, by all means, the form of creatine phosphate as a supplement would be better than the monohydrate form… But maybe not. Here’s why…

Upside: There is none. You see, the way it works is that once creatine phosphate enters your gut, the phosphate is immediately snatched away, and you’re left with free creatine (what your muscles want). But the same applies to the monohydrate form — once dissolved in water, the monohydrate molecule (water) is released, and the substance left in your gut is free creatine (again, what your muscles want).

Downside: Creatine phosphate is extremely expensive to manufacture, and there is no mass production of it nor popular demand for it; thus, it remains over-priced. It has also been reported by many users to be quite grainy in texture, unlike the monohydrate form, which is a slightly gritty, tasteless, and odorless powder.

Some prominently advertised liquid creatine products have recently surfaced, touting what might be considered some fairly outrageous claims for their “innovative” delivery systems. These products are made by using creatine monohydrate suspended in some form of liquid, such as glycerin, gelatin, or royal jelly.

Upside: None!

Downside: However appealing these claims may be, it should be noted that there are no, that is, none to date, studies yet published or in working progress to support them. In fact, scientific data indicates that creatine starts to destabilize after only a few hours of exposure to liquid, leaving a totally worthless byproduct called creatinine. And a recent study presented at the 2003 Experimental Biology Meeting in San Diego, which compared a creatine “serum” to a powdered creatine monohydrate supplement, showed that the creatine serum product was completely ineffective, performing the same as the placebo. The monohydrate powder, however, increased levels of creatine in the muscles by around 30%.

Dispel the rumors

While the only documented side effect of creatine is weight gain, accounted for by increases in lean body mass, some media claims and unsubstantiated rumors have suggested that creatine can cause muscle cramping, increased strains and pulls, and even kidney or liver damage.

Research, on the other hand, has shown time and time again that fears of these side effects can and should be put to rest — or at least properly dispelled with the concrete evidence that documents otherwise. Numerous university studies have negated the claims of muscle cramping, increased strains and pulls, and kidney and liver damage. In other words, they’ve been shown in studies to be completely untrue.

In conclusion

Shown to be one of the most effective and safe supplements in both the real world and research communities, creatine continues to astound athletes and fitness buffs with its phenomenal performance-enhancing effects.

NOTES ON USAGE

Amount

Athletes reportedly find the most effective amount to be 5 to 10 grams per day, depending on bodyweight, once to twice daily (5-gram servings or one rounded teaspoon at a time).

Loading and maintenance theory

Many leading experts suggest that your muscles first need to become fully saturated with creatine before you can illicit maximum benefits and therefore recommend creatine “loading.” To load, consume 20 to 25 grams, depending on bodyweight, divided into 3 to 5 servings throughout the day for 5 consecutive days, and then switch to a “maintenance” schedule of 5 to 10 grams, again depending on bodyweight, once to twice daily.

Timing

Anytime throughout the day. However, for “best” results, creatine should be supplemented immediately after an intense workout (or up to an hour after a workout) with a simple sugar (such as dextrose, glucose, maltodextrin, or just plain grape juice). Adding a simple sugar to creatine has been shown in studies to greatly increase the uptake of creatine into the muscle cells by stimulating a mild insulin spike in the body (a natural reaction to sugar intake), thus helping shuttle creatine into muscle cells more effectively.

Synergists of Creatine

Studies support that ribose works with creatine to increase muscular work capacity.

Protein, such as a good quality whey or soy protein, may aid in the uptake of creatine and in the rebuilding of muscle tissues and even help prevent muscle-tissue breakdown.

Pyruvate may allow for greater uptake of creatine by the muscle cells because of pyruvate’s ability to shuttle blood sugar into muscle cells.

Safety of Creatine

A small number of individuals may experience mild stomach discomfort or diarrhea when supplementing with creatine. To determine if creatine is the rightful cause, simply discontinue use for about one week and begin again with a lower amount.

If you have a history of liver or kidney disorders, it is suggested you refrain from supplementing with creatine.

Toxicity of Creatine

No known toxicity.

Bans and restrictions

None reported.

RELATED RESEARCH

  • Bosco, C., et al., “Effect of Oral Creatine Supplementation on Jumping and Running Performance,” Int J Sports Med 18.5 (1997) : 369-72.
  • Demant, T.W., and Rhodes, E.C., “Effects of Creatine Supplementation on Exercise Performance,” Sports Med 28.1 (1999) : 49-60.
  • Engelhardt, M., et al., “Creatine Supplementation in Endurance Sports,” Med Sci Sport Exerc 30.7 (1998) : 1123-9.
  • Feldman, E.B., “Creatine: A Dietary Supplement and Ergogenic Aid,” Nutr Rev 57.2 (1999) : 45-50.
  • Greenhaff, P.L., “The Nutritional Biochemistry of Creatine,” J Nutr Biochem 8 (1997) : 610-8.
  • Kreider, R.B., “Creatine Supplementation: Analysis of Ergogenic Value, Medical Safety, and Concerns,” JEP Online 1.1 (1998).
  • Lemon, P., et al., “Effect of Oral Creatine Supplementation on Energetic During Repeated Maximal Muscle Contraction,” Med Sci Sport Exerc 27 (1995) : S204.
  • Mujika, I., and Padilla, S., “Creatine Supplementation as an Ergogenic Aid for Sports Performance in Highly Trained Athletes: A Critical Review,” Int J Sports Med 18.7 (1997) : 491-6.
  • Robertson, R.J., et al., “Blood Glucose Extraction as a Mediator of Perceived Exertion During Prolonged Exercise,” Eur J Appl Physiol 61.1-2 (1990) : 100-5.
  • Stone, M.H., et al., “Effects of In-Season (5 Weeks) Creatine and Pyruvate Supplementation on Anaerobic Performance and Body Composition in American Football Players,” Int J Sport Nutr 9.2 (1999) : 146-65.
  • Tarnopolsky, M., and Martin, J., “Creatine Monohydrate Increases Strength in Patients with Neuromuscular Disease,” Neurology 52.4 (1999) : 854-7.
  • Toler, S.M., “Creatine Is an Ergogen for Anaerobic Exercise,” Nutr Rev 55.1.1 (1997) : 21-3.
  • Volek, J.S., et al., “Performance and Muscle Fiber Adaptations to Creatine Supplementation and Heavy Resistance Training,” Med Sci Sports Exerc 31.8 (1999) : 1147-56.
  • Watanabea, A., et al., “Effects of Creatine on Mental Fatigue and Cerebral Hemoglobin Oxygenation,” Neuroscience Research 42.4 (2002) : 279-85.