Nutrition supplement claims are full of snake oil and wild promises. However, creatine is one of the most extensively studied supplements on the market. Creatine has continually proved itself to be one of the most effective and safe supplements to increase strength, muscle mass and performance.
To date, there have been hundreds of studies conducted on creatine, and they have included such areas as the ways to maximise creatine storage in muscle, which types of exercise may obtain the most significant benefit from supplementation, the potential medical uses of creatine, and the long-term safety and efficiency of creatine supplementation.
Approximately 70% of these studies have shown positive results from creatine supplementation in the chosen areas. Also, safety reviews show that creatine is safe and well-tolerated by most individuals in the studies. It’s also one of the cheapest supplements. The Creatine Monohydrate we sell is $17 for a 40-serve tub, making it around $0.43 per serving.
The purpose of this article is to learn what creatine is and how it works. Also, highlight some valuable information that should be considered when supplementing creatine and provide the best practices for doing so.
Around 95% of creatine is found in muscles, with the remaining 5% seen in the brain and testes.
Creatine is a naturally occurring amino acid-like compound, and around 2/3 of it is stored as PCr with the remainder stored as free creatine.
The total amount of creatine in the body is known as the total creatine pool (PCr + Free creatine).
The body can store up to 160g of creatine, but for the average person of 70kg, this tends to be around 120g.
The body breaks down and uses around 2% of creatine from our stores daily and turns it into creatine in the muscle, which then gets excreted in your urine. The depletion needs replenishing, and the body does this via the foods we eat in our diet and via synthesizing from the amino acids glycine, arginine and methionine.
Those considered to eat a balanced and regular dietary intake can effectively replenish and maintain their creatine stores naturally.
The research has shown the importance and effectiveness that creatine supplementation can have on the creatine phosphate energy system.
This is an energy system your body will put to use in certain types of training. You start out with Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP), and when the energy system is put into action, a chemical reaction occurs where a phosphate (P) splits away, and energy is released. You are then left with Adenosine Di-phosphate (ADP).
This energy system is generally used in short high-explosive training, and creatine supplementation is typically used to increase the body’s natural stores of creatine. This essentially allows you to work harder by increasing your energy levels from this particular energy source.
Short-term creatine supplementation has been reported to improve maximal power/strength (5-15%) and work performed during sets of maximal effort muscle contractions (5-15%).
Long-term creatine supplementation seems to enhance the quality of training, generally leading to 5-15% greater gains in strength and performance. Nearly all studies show that creatine supplementation increases body mass by about 1-2kg in the first week of loading.
Short-term creatine supplementation has been reported to improve single-effort sprint performance (1-5%) and work performed during repetitive sprint performance (5-15%).
Recent research also indicated that endurance athletes might also benefit from creatine supplementation. Some studies have shown that creatine loading before carbohydrate loading promotes greater glycogen retention. Fundamentally, this may improve glycogen availability for endurance athletes.
Creatine supplementation has also been shown to improve exercise performance and overall work capacity during various sports. For example, a study by Volek and colleagues reported that creatine supplementation resulted in a significant increase in the amount of work performed during 5 sets of bench presses and jump squats in comparison to a placebo group.
Research has shown that creatine supplementation increased resting and post-exercise creatine levels and PCr content, mean work performed, and total work performed. This indicates that recovery tended to be greater with the use of creatine.
As previously mentioned, we typically store around 120g of creatine, yet are capable of storing up to 150-160g. It, therefore, makes sense for everyone who wants to enhance the effects of the benefits it can bring that topping up the total creatine pool and keeping it full is advisable.
Supplementing creatine can increase reserves from 10-40% depending on naturally stored levels, and the magnitude of performance changes is correlated to this increase in muscle creatine levels.
There is no evidence that muscle creatine levels decrease below baseline after stopping creatine supplementation.
Most of the studies on creatine supplementation were conducted using pharmaceutical creatine monohydrate in powder form.
There is no data to suggest that any other form of creatine will increase uptake by the muscle or provide any further benefit than creatine monohydrate.
The best time to take creatine powder is in the presence of carbohydrates and protein. This is when we will see the highest response of insulin release from the ingestion of these nutrients. We know insulin is a storage hormone responsible for shuttling nutrients to our muscle, liver and fat cells, thus increasing creatine uptake. The post-workout period is ideal for this.
The research suggests that the most effective and fastest way to increase creatine stores is to follow the creatine loading technique (20g for 3 days) followed by 3-5g per day to maintain elevated creatine stores.
There is no evidence that cycling on and off creatine is more or less effective than loading and maintaining creatine.
Many report an increase in weight and fluid retention. This is mainly due to an increase in total body water, as muscle is made of around 73% water – it is nothing to be concerned about.
To date, no clinically significant and reproducible side effects directly attribute to creatine supplementation, and this includes the long term.
Creatine is one of the most researched and commonly used ergogenic aids currently available. And rightfully so, it hosts many benefits for athletes and some clinical populations.
Overall, creatine is one of the most effective and safe nutritional supplements currently on the market to increase muscle mass, strength and athletic performance.