the (sw)holy grail in the gym?
Creatine is one of the supplements with the greatest myth and gym rumours out there, accusing Creatine of being a steroid, it will damage your liver and kidneys, or stories that people got all fat and chubby from it. These misconceptions are forwarded every day in the gym, and people fear taking creatine. Creatine is not something you have to fear. It’s a substance your body produces naturally and is even present in the food you eat every day. In this article, I will cover the basics about creatine, show you how it will help you to perform better in the gym, and how you will reap the most benefits from supplementing it.
What you will learn from this article
-What is creatine?
-Why creatine is part of every action you do
-How it will help you to improve your performance in the gym
-What other potential benefits you can reap from taking creatine
-What is the best way and form to take creatine
-Side effects and myths around creatine
What is creatine?
Creatine is a substance naturally found in muscle cells. It helps your muscles to produce energy during intense exercise. Creatine can also be found in some animal products, like meat, fish and eggs. However, when cooking meat, the creatine content is degenerated, which makes it more difficult to get the performance-enhancing levels in the muscle. (1)
Supplementing creatine increases not only your creatine stores within your muscles, but brings other health benefits with it. But before we dive in the benefits of creatine supplementation, we must understand how creatine is used in the body.
How does it Work?
Every muscle contraction or movement you do needs energy. The main energy current for driving these processes in the body is called ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate).
Your body has mainly 3 energy systems to produce ATP:
Aerobic pathway — uses fatty acids and carbohydrates, with the help of oxygen, to produce ATP. It is the slowest energy producing system, but can create the largest amount of ATP in the Body.
Anaerobic Pathway- uses glucose and the muscle glycogen to create ATP. This system is used under more taxing activities. It can produce ATP faster than the aerobic system, but it will produce less energy and create more by-products like lactic acids.
The Phosphagen pathway– uses the stored creatine in the muscle cells to produce and resynthesize ATP rapidly. The Phosphagen system is the fastest of all, but only provides little energy overall.
These systems don’t work mutually independent of each other. It is always a mixture of the three systems creating and re-forming ATP. From low intensity exercises, i.e., running, where the Aerobic pathway is dominant to high intense exercises, i.e., weight lifting, where the phosphagen pathway is dominant. By supplementing with creatine, you help your body’s ability to produce more energy with the phosphagen pathway.
How does this translate to improved performance in the gym?
1.The primary benefit from supplementing creatine is the increased creatine storage within the muscle cells, which enhances energy production during high intensity exercises, enabling you to train harder and longer, which will ultimately promote greater muscle mass.
- It increases the muscles’ water storage, which helps with hydrating the muscle during exercise. This helps to maintain a positive muscle protein synthesis and reduce the breakdown of muscle cells. (2,3,4)
- It can improve the satellite cell signalling, so easier and faster signalling to the muscle cells, which helps with repair and new muscle growth (5)
But wait… there is more! other health benefits
Also, the clear majority of creatine is stored in your muscle cells (95%); the brain also stores creatine and requires plenty of ATP to function optimally.
Creatine has been shown to have several positive effects on mental performance.
It may reduce fatigue and increase energy level in a sleep deprived state. (8)
Supplementing with creatine may combat neurological diseases like:
-Alzheimer’s disease (9)
-traumatic brain injuries (11)
The creatine shelves are filled with hundreds of different brands and forms. Going with the basic creatine monohydrate will be the best choice, since creatine monohydrate is the most extensively studied and clinically effective form of creatine for supplementation in terms of muscle uptake and ability to increase high-intensity exercise capacity. (12)
Regarding the bioavailability, it is better to go with powder (almost 100% bioavailable) than capsules (up to 35% less bioavailable). If you go with capsules (which are also more expensive), counteract the lower bioavailability by increasing the amount. (13,14)
How to take creatine
There are two ways to saturate your muscles with creatine stores, either with loading or with smaller long-term dosages. Loading creatine is unnecessary but it’s helpful to reap its benefits faster. Loading, however, may cause GI upset. If you want to avoid GI upset, either split the loading dosage throughout the day or go with the lower steady state recommendation.
Load for the first 5-7 days with 0.3 gram per kilogram of bodyweight per day. (15)
From there on, you can take 0.04 g/kg/day every day to sustain the level. (16)
Creatine uptake can be improved by insulin or when the muscles’ insulin sensitivity is the highest (Post workout). Taking your creatine with your post workout meal or shake will facilitate the uptake. (17)
Practical Key Points
- Creatine occurs naturally in your body and is part of your energy production.
- Creatine Monohydrate is the most studied and safest supplement available.
- Powder > Capsules
- Loading is unnecessary, but you will reap the benefits faster.
- Take 0.04 g/kg/day with your post workout meal.
Common Questions and Myths
No, the increase in weight is due to higher water content in the muscle cells. This will increase your lean mass not your fat tissue.
No, every carbohydrate source post workout will work fine.
If your kidneys are healthy, no. If you have had kidney problems in the past, it would be good to contact your physician before supplementing with it.
No. Once the muscle cells are saturated, they will maintain this level for a few days.You won’t get tolerante to the effects.
It could help you to lose fat, since you’re carrying more metabolic tissue (muscle mass) and potentially expending more energy.
Yes. If you are pregnant, you should contact your physician before supplementing it.