20 Dec The Facts & Myths of Creatine
Creatine Monohydrate is the most studied sports nutritional supplement on the planet, with hundreds of studies done with this ergogenic aid.
And, future creatine research is very promising, as well, looking at various ways to maximize creatine storage.
While creatine is effective, the reports on creatine usage are sometimes inaccurate and misleading.
Let’s first take a look at exactly what creatine is and what it does.
Creatine is a naturally occurring amino acid like compound, found primarily in skeletal muscle (about 95% of creatine is in the muscle).
The body typically stores around 120 grams of creatine at any given time, but does have the capacity to store even more, up to 160 grams.
Your body can replenish creatine either by diet, with foods that contain creatine such as beef and salmon or you get creatine from the synthesis from the amino acids, glycine, arginine, and methionine.
Numerous studies have shown that dietary supplementation of creatine monohydrate increases the creatine muscle stores by 10-40%.
Supplementing allows the bodies creatine storage to be at full capacity, rather than at 75% of its capacity.
Individual creatine capacity may vary, with some individuals having lower than average creatine and others having higher creatine.
What does this mean for you?
Data has suggested that higher levels of muscle creatine correlate well with increased performance, specifically in short bouts of exercise training requiring creatine as energy, such as weight training or sprinting, for example.
Keep in mind, endurance training does not seem to benefit to the same extent, unless you’re performing intervals in your training regimen or you’re looking to maintain optimal body composition from increasing creatine stores.
Creatine supplementation primarily benefits strength/power athletes or those looking to increase strength, increase lean muscle mass, and improve athletic and/or training performance.
Finally, creatine works by increasing muscle availability of creatine and PCr (phosphocreatine) in the muscle to help maintain energy during higher intensity exercise.
Additionally, increasing the availability of PCr may help speed recovery.
As PCr is depleted in exercise, energy availability deteriorates quickly, so you see how maintaining higher levels of PCr can improve performance.
On a side note, there are potential medical uses of creatine and PCr that are being evaluated, which I find fascinating.
Some of the medical conditions being looked at include:
- spinal cord injuries
- muscular dystrophy
It’s amazing that this molecule may have potential roles in such debilitating diseases.
While it’s too early to tell, it is potentially very promising.
What about the side effects that you may have heard about in the media?
At this time, there is only one clinically significant side effect that has been reported in over 1000 studies to date.
That side effect is weight gain, which is typically due to an increase in muscle mass, as opposed to fluid retention.
While there have been other side effects apparently reported and there has been concern over the long term use of this supplement, these claims have not been directly attributed to the use of creatine in controlled clinical studies.
The incidence of apparent side effects was comparable to placebo.
While there are many different formulations of creatine and some claims of improved efficacy over creatine monohydrate (CM), there is no data to support superiority to this claim.
No data shows that other forms of creatine are better, in terms of creatine uptake in the muscle, over CM.
Should you load with creatine when starting?
Research has shown that a short period of loading is the best way to rapidly increase creatine stores in the muscle.
A typical loading/dosing regimen would include loading for 5-7 days at a dose of 15-25 grams, then taking 3-5 grams per day to maintain.
You are bringing creatine levels in the muscle up to the higher levels and then “maintaining” those intramuscular levels.
What is the best way to take creatine?
There is considerable research to show that the best way to consume creatine is with glucose or a carbohydrate/protein supplement after workouts to increase blood insulin levels and subsequently increase creatine uptake.
After intense exercise, anabolic hormones are released and because insulin levels enhance creatine uptake, taking a carb or carb/protein supplement post workout are most likely the most effective ways to increase or maintain creatine stores in the muscle.
What about creatine for women?
It seems that there is much more interest in creatine from men, however, the reasons for this are most likely due to fears of increased weight and/or muscle gain in women.
While women have shown to have ergogenic benefit from creatine, the gains in body mass are not a great as with men, which makes sense considering male hormones that come into play with men, such as higher levels of testosterone.
It would be interesting to see more data and research with women and creatine.
In conclusion, there is a significant body of research in the area of creatine monohydrate supplementation.
As I’ve mentioned, it’s the most studied sports nutrition supplement, with over 1000 clinical trials and many more promising trials underway.
Creatine has been shown to increase exercise work output, increase strength performance, and increase muscle mass.
Research has shown that it’s safe and effective, both in the short term and with long term usage.
Creatine loading and maintenance seems to be the most effective strategy for using this supplement.
With the abundance of data and the proven effectiveness, it should be strongly considered as a safe and effective supplement, if your goals are related to strength, performance. and body composition improvement.