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what is creatine

What is Creatine – The Complete Guide

May 16, 2023


strong man with beard

By Jonathon Cooper
Lab/QC Manager
Bearded, muscled singer, guitarist,
pianist, drummer, and chemist.

 

Summary:

  • Creatine is an naturally occurring amino acid produced by the body that helps provide energy for muscle contraction.
  • Creatine is found naturally in muscle cells, and it is critical in helping your muscles produce energy during lifting sessions or high-intensity exercise.
  • Creatine turns into creatine phosphate, which helps make a substance called ATP, your body's primary energy source.
  • Benefits of Creatine: building upper body strength, building muscle while on a vegetarian diet, post workout support.

     

     

    The big question is, when to take creatine? Long story short, it's most beneficial after a work out, but there are benefits to taking it before as well.

    If you spend much time at the gym or frequent vitamin stores, then it is likely that you have heard a lot of talk about the supposed strength-enhancing benefits of using creatine supplements.

    Yet, you may also be leery of using it because there is a lot of misinformation out there about its safety and efficacy. So how can you separate fact from fiction?

    Will taking creatine supplements help you build muscle mass and increase performance, or is this just another myth perpetuated by your buddies at the gym?

    To help you decide if you should incorporate creatine into your diet and fitness regimen, keep reading for a look at what creatine is, how it works, and what is known about its safety and efficacy. 

     

     

    What is Creatine?

    So what exactly is creatine? Creatine is a naturally occurring amino acid produced by the body that helps provide energy for muscle contraction. Creatine is found naturally in muscle cells, and it is critical in helping your muscles produce energy during lifting sessions or high-intensity exercise.

    calculate my creatine

    How Does Creatine Work?

    Creatine turns into creatine phosphate, which helps make a substance called adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is the body's primary energy source, so having more creatine in the body can then improve athletic performance. Creatine supplements are the popular amongst athletes and bodybuilders, as taking creatine has been shown to help boost athletic performance by improving strength, increasing muscle growth, and reducing fatigue.  

    Do Creatine Supplements Work?

    Spending time at the gym, you have likely heard a lot of claims about what taking creatine has done for your friends' workout routine. Yet, are these claims true? While creatine has been shown to be effective at helping support muscle growth, whether creatine will work for you will depend on your workout routine and your fitness goals. Below we have highlighted a few things creatine supplements can do, as well as a few instances where creatine supplements may not be an effective option.  

    man exercising with creatine

    Creatine is Effective For:

    Building Upper Body Strength

    Adding creatine supplements to your fitness regimen can be particularly effective if your goal is to build upper body strength. While creatine can help you build muscle mass throughout your body, studies have shown that creatine supplementation is associated with greater muscle strength improvement in the upper body.  

    strong bearded man curling heavy weight

     

    Building Muscle on a Vegetarian Diet

    Whether or not creatine will be effective for you will depend a lot on your diet. Meat eaters already get a decent amount of creatine in their diet, and those who consume copious amounts of red meat may already be getting all of the creatine they need. However, vegetarians and vegans are likely creatine deficient as there isn't a good way to get enough creatine for muscle growth with a plant-based diet. If you are vegetarian/vegan, you will likely see significant gains after starting a consistent routine with creatine supplements.

    Providing Post-Workout Support

    People often ask: "Should I take creatine before or after a workout?" One of the biggest mistakes people who claim creatine doesn't work are making is taking their supplements pre-workout. Creatine is most effective taken post-workout when muscle cells have depleted their creatine stores and are ready to store more. However, there are benefits to taking creatine supplements before a workout as they convert to ATP, thus, more cellular energy and power available for weight lifting.

    Additionally, when to take protein is another hot topic, and the long answer is, it depends. We have a complete guide answering the question "should I take protein shake before or after workout" so check that out for a for definitive answer. Now back to creatine!

    protein or creatine after a workout

     

    Creatine is Ineffective For:

    Supporting Anaerobic Cardio

    When deciding whether or not creatine supplements are right for you, it is important to consider your workout routine and your fitness goals.

    Creatine supplements are meant to help build muscle definition and strength and are most beneficial for those focusing on weight training. If your fitness routine is more focused on endurance work and steady-state cardio, you may not notice as many benefits. 

    Red Meat Eaters

    Red meat is a great natural source of creatine, and if you eat red meat frequently, you may already be getting all of the creatine you need. In fact, people who eat large amounts of red meat are the most likely to report creatine supplements not working for them, likely because their creatine needs are already being met.  

    Replacing Your Exercise Routine

    One of the biggest mistakes people make when taking a performance-enhancing supplement is assuming that the supplement will do the hard work for them, allowing them to cut back their exercise routine. However, this is not how supplements work.

    For creatine supplements to be effective, you need to maintain your regular workout routine. Additionally, you shouldn't expect immediate results from creatine supplements. Creatine can help you build muscle mass and strength when taken regularly over a long period of time.  In fact, it may take several weeks before you notice any difference after starting to add creatine to your supplements stack.

    creatine powder

    Types of Creatine

    Should you decide to try creatine supplements, you will likely find yourself wondering what type of creatine you should buy. In fact, you may quickly find yourself overwhelmed by your options, as there are numerous types of creatine on the market, each with its own purported benefits.

    Creatine Monohydrate

    Creatine monohydrate is the most common and well-researched form of creatine on the market, and it has been shown more effective than other popular forms of creatine such as creatine phosphate. Creatine monohydrate is affordable, and its effectiveness has been supported by hundreds of studies

    When purchasing creatine monohydrate, make sure that you purchase micronized creatine powder. This form of creatine is ground down to a smaller size, which means that it dissolves better in fluid without clumping, and it is absorbed better by the body. Micronized creatine powder is also less likely to cause an upset stomach, which is one of the most common side effects caused by creatine supplements.    

    Creatine Hydrochloride (HCI)

    Creatine Hydrochloride (HCI) is a newer form of creatine that has gained popularity due to the claim it is more water-soluble than creatine monohydrate. This means that it can be taken in smaller doses, which may reduce the risk of gastrointestinal side effects such as bloating and diarrhea. However, more research is needed to confirm whether creatine hydrochloride is more effective than Creatine Monohydrate in enhancing athletic performance. We still recommend monohydrate as it's effective, and cost effective.

    Buffered Creatine (Kre-Alkalyn)

    Buffered Creatine (Kre-Alkalyn) is a type of creatine that has been chemically modified to have a higher pH level. This is claimed to improve its stability and reduce the risk of breakdown into creatinine, a waste product that is excreted from the body.

    Buffered creatine may be more effective than creatine monohydrate in increasing muscle strength, but more research is needed to confirm this.

    Creatine Phosphate

    This is technically not a form of supplement but rather the naturally occurring creatine present in your body. It plays a crucial role in the production of ATP, the energy currency of the cells.

    The Benefits of Creatine

    Creatine is currently one of the most popular supplements in the men's health market, which is unsurprising when you look at all of the health benefits creatine has been shown to potentially provide including:

     building strength with creatine

    Building Strength

    Numerous studies have highlighted the link between creatine supplementation and increased strength. In one study involving powerlifters, lifters who took creatine saw significant increases both in the amount they could lift as well as the number of reps they could do, demonstrating a significant link between creatine use and muscle strength.   

    Increasing Muscle Size

    In addition to improving strength, creatine use also helps fuel muscle growth. In fact, in a study comparing 250 dietary supplements, creatine was shown to have the greatest impact on muscle growth.  

    Increasing Performance

    Considering creatine has been shown to help increase muscle mass and strength, it should then be unsurprising that creatine can also improve overall athletic performance

    Creatine can also boost performance by reducing fatigue and tiredness. One study even demonstrated creatine's ability to reduce fatigue when exercising in extreme heat. Creatine supplementation can then have a significant impact on overall athletic performance.      

    Preventing Injuries 

    Creatine has also been shown to help promote the health of muscles, bones, ligaments, tendons, and nerves, reducing the frequency of injuries and muscle cramping.

    Improving Cognition

    A lesser-known benefit of using creatine is its effect on brain health. Studies have shown that creatine may help improve cognition by improving memory and recall ability. Creatine can be particularly beneficial for older adults as it has been shown to boost brain function and protect against neurological disease

    What Foods are High in Creatine

    Not only do our bodies naturally produce creatine, but certain foods also contain high amounts of creatine as well. If you are looking to include extra creatine into your diet as an alternative to taking supplements, then don't shy away from eating red meat.

    Other foods that are high in creatine include pork, seafood, milk, and egg yolks. Of course, you may find it easier to take a creatine supplement, as this will allow you to control exactly how much additional creatine you are incorporating into your diet.   

    Creatine Supplement Dosing

    How much creatine should you take if you are looking to build muscle mass and strength? Studies into creatine dosing recommend starting with a loading phase of four 5-gram doses spread throughout the day (for a total of 20 grams per day) for 5-7 days. Following the loading period, take 3-5 grams per day as a maintenance dose. If you choose not to do a loading phase, or taking such high doses upsets your stomach, you can start with the regular dose; however, it could take 3-4 weeks to maximize the stores of creatine in your body.  

     

    Loading Phase

    Starter/Loading Phase: 20 grams for 5-7 days.
    Personal calculator: 0.3 grams (300mg) per 2.2 pounds of bodyweight per day

     

    Maintenance Phase

    Maintenance: 3-5 grams per day.
    Personal calculator: 14mg per pound.

    Creatine Calculator

    coop's creatine calculator

     


     

    Loading Phase:

     

    Maintenance Phase:

    coop

     

     

    runner using creatine

    Can Runners Use Creatine?

    If you are a runner, is there any reason for you to take creatine supplements? While studies have shown that creatine is most effective at helping build upper body strength, this does not mean that runners can' t benefit from creatine.>

    Creatine supplementation can help improve performance in interval training,  and it can help improve endurance and overall performance. In fact, one study showed a 7.5% increase in performance in runners who started taking creatine.

    Bodybuilders' Use of Creatine

    Of course, given the way creatine has been shown to promote muscle growth and upper body strength, you will likely be unsurprised to learn that creatine is commonly used by bodybuilders. Bodybuilders swear by creatine's ability to help them build muscle mass and definition, helping them to achieve their fitness goals. 

    How Safe is Creatine?

    As with any supplement, you may find yourself wondering about the safety of creatine usage. Could there be adverse effects associated with long-term creatine supplementation?

    While you may have heard cautionary tales of creatine causing kidney damage, this simply is not the case. In fact, creatine is one of the most well-researched supplements available, with decades of studies showing its safety and efficacy. 

    Few side effects have been reported from creatine use, with GI problems such as diarrhea being the most common complaint. Another common side-effect of taking creatine supplements is water retention. If either of these side effects becomes bothersome, you can try lowering your dose. 

    Of course, as with any supplement regimen, it is important to talk to your healthcare provider before taking creatine to learn more about potential side effects.  

    Choosing the right vitamins and supplements can go a long way in helping to promote your overall health and fitness.

    For those looking to boost muscle growth, strength, and mental cognition, creatine is a great supplement to consider trying that has been proven safe and effective.  

    FAQ

    Who should take creatine?

    Create can be a helpful addition to athletes looking to build strength, gain muscle size, increase performance, prevent injuries, increase body weight, and even improve cognition.

    Who should not take creatine?

    People with rare creatine-metabolizing syndromes, as well as those with kidney disease, high blood pressure, or liver or kidney disease, should not take creatine supplements. It's always best to check with your doctor or physician.

    Should I take creatine every day?

    It works better with normal use, but is less beneficial in certain cases to take at an exact time every day. It is crucial to take creatine daily as this increases the effect of creatine reserves in muscles.

    Is Creatine a pre-workout?

    Creatine itself is not considered a pre-workout. Pre-workout's usually contain some type of caffeine and nitric oxide booster. You can, however, add creatine to your pre-workout or post workout shake.




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