Creatine: Just Take It

Creatine: Just Take It

By Stephen Brenna, Pn1

Creatine: Just Take It 

Creatine. If you've been around the health and fitness world for any period of time you're undoubtedly familiar with it, even if you haven't used it before. Hell, if you've been on planet Earth for any period of time you've probably at least heard of the stuff, and chances are at least some of what you've heard was utter nonsense.

The bottom line is this: Creatine is one of, if not the most heavily studied nutritional supplement in the history of the industry. There is a mountain of research supporting its efficacy and its safety profile as well. In terms of boosting general exercise and muscular performance, creatine is as close to being scientifically proven effective as a compound can be.

With that said, let's get into how and why creatine works to boost performance not only in the gym, but in everyday life. Then, we’ll address a couple of the most common myths regarding creatine. Finally, we'll discuss who can and should be utilizing creatine, and how to do so most effectively.

How It Works

Creatine functions by boosting the body’s ability to produce ATP, the indispensable energy currency used by our cells. During intense exercise, energy demands are high, and ATP is typically depleted within 10 second bursts before more needs to be produced. In comes creatine, or more accurately phosphocreatine, the form stored in skeletal muscle and the brain. Phosphocreatine acts as a reserve “NOS” button (think Fast and The Furious), boosting power output and strength for an additional few seconds. This process repeats itself over and over throughout a workout, leading to greater overall stamina and total volume, and therefore greater muscle stimulus.

Not only does creatine improve your exercise performance, it also plays an active role in muscular growth and repair following training. Creatine aids muscle growth by:

  •         Increasing muscle cell hydration and stimulating growth signals
  •         Lowering myostatin levels (myostatin has an inhibitory effect on muscle protein synthesis)
  •         Reduced protein breakdown
  •         Improved muscle satellite cell signaling (aids repair and new muscle growth)

Boosting ATP production is also beneficial beyond exercise performance. The brain is an extremely energy hungry organ and requires significant amounts of ATP to function properly. Did you know that 95% of phosphocreatine is stored in the skeletal muscles, and the other 5% is stored in the brain?  That’s right!  Creatine may also help improve your memory, aid in recovery from traumatic brain injury, and increase intelligence. This is what separates creatine from a purely sports nutrition supplement. Creatine is a quality of life supplement that is beneficial for many people.

Myth Busting Time

Myth #1: Creatine is a performance-enhancing drug

We'll start off with the most ludicrous myth of all, that creatine is some type of steroid or PED. This couldn't be further from the truth. Creatine is a naturally occurring amino acid derivative that the body produces on its own from a combination of the amino acids glycine and arginine. In addition, creatine is found in high concentrations in animal protein sources like red meat and seafood. Therefore, unlike Tren, not only are you likely already consuming creatine via your diet, your body is also producing it as we speak. While there is some evidence creatine may boost anabolic hormones like IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor), it has no effect on sex hormones like testosterone or estrogen.

Myth #2: Creatine may damage your liver or kidneys

This myth could come from the myth above that creatine is some time of steroid, and steroids cause liver damage. Which is true, steroids absolutely can cause liver damage. The good news is, creatine isn't even in the same zip code as a steroid. In fact, your liver is responsible for synthesizing creatine from glycine and arginine in the first place! (Your liver does not synthesize Deca, FYI.)

Now, creatine having some detrimental effects on the kidneys seems to be a bit more reasonable concern. When the body utilizes stored creatine (as phosphocreatine) to produce ATP, one of the byproducts of the process is creatinine. It is the kidneys’ job to clear creatinine from the body, therefore blood creatinine levels are used as a marker of kidney function. Elevated creatinine levels in the blood may suggest kidney dysfunction, and creatine sounds almost the same as creatinine, so creatine is bad for my kidneys, right?

Wrong. While it is possible that high doses of supplemental creatine may increase creatinine levels beyond normal range, multiple studies on the long-term effects of creatine on kidney function have yielded no cause for concern in healthy individuals. In fact, a smaller pool of research on individuals WITH kidney dysfunction has not shown significant adverse effects of creatine supplementation.

Who Should Take Creatine & How

Creatine can be used by men and women, from teenagers to seniors. There is no evidence to suggest it has any negative effect on development in teenagers, and no evidence it produces any “masculinizing” effects in women. It can be of particular benefit to older adults and seniors to help mitigate the muscle wasting that can take place as we age, and thereby extend quality of life.

How should one take creatine? While there are several alternative forms of creatine on the market, many claiming to have reinvented the wheel, creatine monohydrate powder is still the gold standard. It’s simple, it’s cheap, and it works. That said, there are certain cases where individuals experience digestive issues with monohydrate and may benefit from using an alternative form like creatine hydrochloride (HCL). Unflavored creatine monohydrate powder can easily be added to any pre workout drink or other beverage of your choice.

In terms of dosing, it’s very common to hear that creatine needs to be “loaded” with a protocol of up to 20g per day for the first week of supplementation. Unless someone is following a plant-based diet, or is otherwise consuming minimal animal protein, this is likely unnecessary.  A 20g dose is likely to cause side effects like bloating and diarrhea, so sticking to a standard 3-5g dose daily will yield good results without the extra trips to the restroom. This 3-5g dose can be taken on non-training days as well, and is recommended for all ages to maintain muscle saturation, especially if one is new to creatine supplementation. 

Pro tip: Consume your creatine prior to workouts with a form of fast-digesting carbohydrates to stimulate an insulin spike that will aid absorption. Now shut up and take it!