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Everything You Need to Know About Creatine


**READ THIS FIRST: This article is for information purposes and is not a direct recommendation. Speak with you doctor before trying any new diets or supplements


"Is creatine legit? Or does it just increase water retention?"

A couple weeks ago, one of our group class members asked us this question. And although it is one of the most well-researched supplements on the globe, it's hard to find information that you can trust. In this article, we're going to go over what creatine is, when it's useful, and what to look for if you choose it's right for you.


A Brief Summary of ATP

Before we can truly understand what creatine does, it's important to understand basic energy metabolism. (I'll try to keep this brief) When we do anything, we need energy to do it. The bodies main currency for energy comes from a molecule called ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate). When the body needs energy, a phosphate is broken off, and energy is released to the cells for a number of functions including muscle movement. Now we're left with ADP (Adenosine Diphosphate) which unfortunately isn't all that great alone. So do use it again, we need to turn it back to ATP, creatine enters the scene.


What is creatine?

Creatine is a molecule that is made up of the amino acids L-arginine, glycine, and methionine. Creatine stores phosphate groups in a form called phosphocreatine. Having muscles saturated in creatine is good because that means we have a larger supply of these phosphate molecules that can be donated to support high energy activity. While we can get creatine from food (meat and fish), many people will take creatine as a powder or capsules.


Main benefits of creatine

Often times we look at big label supplements on the internet that claim all these benefits, but are soon disappointed when you look at the supporting research...or lack thereof....Luckily for us, creatine is one of the few supplements that actually is well supported in the research and could arguably be the most researched supplement in the world.

Strength and Power - The primary benefit, and what has been most researched with creatine is its benefits towards strength and power during exercise. Because we rely on phosphocreatine as the primary energy source during High Intensity - Short Duration Bouts it makes sense that having phosphocreatine available to regenerate ATP and power that exercise is beneficial and can be found in multiple studies [1],[2],[3]


Lean Muscle Mass - Although not as strong of a correlation (a lot of research has a hard time clarifying muscle mass improvements against water weight gains), it appears that creatine supplementation may increase the amount of lean muscle mass. This is largely due to the ability to accumulate more high quality reps in training, since again we're regenerating those high energy ATP molecules faster. [4]


Cognitive Improvements - Improvements in exercise have been replicated over and over again, but a relatively new branch of research is looking at creatine and cognitive improvements. Although more research is needed, there may be a benefit in creatine supplementation for those who are sleep deprived [5], in mentally demanding situations [6], or those with below average creatine levels like vegetarians [7]


Drawbacks of creatine

To be fair, let's go over some potential drawbacks of creatine supplementation.


Diarrhea and Nausea - If you choose to supplement creatine, many will suggest a loading phase (we'll get into that in a minute). While there's nothing wrong with this there is the potential to get nausea or diarrhea if you take too much at a time. To minimize this risk, you could always skip the loading phase and just take 5g per day. Your muscles will still saturate, it might just take a little longer. No big deal.


Weight Gain - Before a client decides to take creatine, I mention that creatine is likely to cause some weight gain. Some people worry about this, they think it will make them look bloated. However, the increase in water weight happens inside the cell itself, so if anything it will just make you look more lean. It is something to consider for those who compete in a weight class based sport.


What kind should I get?

Okay, if you're still with me, you're probably interested in giving this a go. Now here's the big question, what do I get? There are many different types of creatine on the market, all claiming to be superior over the last. Here are three common variants you'll see on a label:


Creatine Monohydrate - The most common form of creatine on the market. Unless otherwise stated, you can bet if you're reading a research article on creatine it's referring to this version. Effective and lower priced compared to the other versions.

Creatine HCl - Creatine version where the molecule is bound to a fragment of hydrochloric acid. This version has claims to require lower dosages. However, since the stomach already contains HCL, the net benefit is likely small to none.


Buffered Creatine (Kre-Alkylyn) - This version is touted to have better absorption rates compared to regular monohydrate as it has a higher pH level. However, in comparative studies, there doesn't seem to be much of a difference between the two.


Looking at these three formulations of creatine, there really isn't going to be much of a difference between them in their effectiveness. BUT, there is a pretty big difference in pricing. Monohydrate is likely the best way to go as it is far less expensive as HCL or buffered creatine, but you are more than welcome to try what you'd like.


How much should I take?

When taking a supplement, it's important to always follow the label and instructions. With creatine, there is a common practice of creatine loading.


Creatine Loading - Taking a higher dose of creatine for 5-7 days, followed by a maintenance phase. Loading doses are typically between 20-25g per day.


Whether or not you want to load creatine is completely up to you. If you choose to load creatine, your muscles will reach saturation quicker, so you may see some greater acute improvements in strength. However, as mentioned before, you do run the risk of some stomach upset so user beware. Although it will be a slower process, you will reach saturation eventually if just taking 5g daily.


Who is creatine NOT for?

Although long term use of creatine has been deemed safe, individuals with pre-existing conditions like kidney damage should probably avoid creatine use. IF YOU ARE UNSURE if creatine is right for you, we strongly recommend you speak with a medical professional who is qualified to speak about supplementation.


Closing

There are a lot of bogus supplements out on the market right now. Luckily, creatine has been proven time and time again as being a really valuable option for those wanting to improve their performance in the gym. Still, there are some questions you need to ask yourself before taking creatine. I hope that this article has helped you learn more about creatine. If you have any other questions, we have a team of coaches ready and willing to help you out!




References


[1] Burke, Darren G; et al. (2003) Effect of creatine and weight training on muscle creatine and performance in vegetarians


[2] Del Favero, Serena (2012) Creatine but not betaine supplementation increases muscle phosphorylcreatine content and strength performance


[3] Wax B, Kerksick CM, Jagim AR, Mayo JJ, Lyons BC, Kreider RB. Creatine for Exercise and Sports Performance, with Recovery Considerations for Healthy Populations. Nutrients. 2021; 13(6):1915. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu13061915


[4] Kilduff LP, Pitsiladis YP, Tasker L, Attwood J, Hyslop P, Dailly A, Dickson I, Grant S. Effects of creatine on body composition and strength gains after 4 weeks of resistance training in previously nonresistance-trained humans. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2003 Dec;13(4):504-20. doi: 10.1123/ijsnem.13.4.504. PMID: 14967873.


[5] McMorris T, Harris RC, Swain J, Corbett J, Collard K, Dyson RJ, Dye L, Hodgson C, Draper NEffect of creatine supplementation and sleep deprivation, with mild exercise, on cognitive and psychomotor performance, mood state, and plasma concentrations of catecholamines and cortisolPsychopharmacology (Berl).(2006 Mar)


[6] Watanabe A, Kato N, Kato TEffects of creatine on mental fatigue and cerebral hemoglobin oxygenationNeurosci Res.(2002 Apr)


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