Creatine is one of the most effective natural dietary supplements that are currently available to improve the performance of athletes and sportspeople.
It promotes the increase of muscle mass, and provides strength, power, and a remarkable and fast weight increase.
Bodybuilders, powerlifters, athletes, skiers, footballers and sprinters usually consume creatine supplements, which helps them to beat their own records in competitions and training.
Creatine is one of the most demanded nutritional supplements of weight lifters. However, many of them do not know what it is, how to use it, what are its benefits, or how to make the most of it for their workouts. Now, we will give you all the information you need to use creatine properly.
The ultimate fuel for athletes
There are a lot of athletes whose goal is to run faster, jump higher, lift more weight, or build more muscle mass.
Currently there is no other natural substance that is more efficient than creatine in order to achieve this goal. This is the reason why creatine has become one of the most popular dietary supplements for sports these days.
What is creatine?
Creatine is a nitrogenous substance that the body produces through the combination of 3 amino acids: Methionine, Glycine, and Arginine.
Creatine plays a fundamental role in the energy production. More than 95% of the creatine in the body is located in the muscles, where it accumuates as phosphocreatine, which is an immediate energy source. The remaining 5% can be found in the brain, heart, and testicles.
In the body of an adult that weighs 70 kg, the amount of stored creatine is 120 grams, where 40% is in its free form and a 60% as phosphate. Even so, very intense but short exercise (such as a sprint) can reduce the creatine reserves by more than a 70%. Approximately 1.6% (2 grams) of the total consumed creatine reserves must be recharged every day.
This supplementation provides a energy during muscle contraction or a high energy demand, allowing us to increase the intensity of our workouts without harming our recovery.
Creatine is transported to several body tissues through the bloodstream. Approximately 95% is deposited in the muscles and the rest goes to the heart, brain and testicles.
Half of the daily necessary creatine is produced by the body, the rest must be consumed through food or supplementation. You should use around 1 gram of creatine daily on average. However this amount is not enough for high-performance sports.
The foods with the highest proportion of creatine are raw meat (e.g. beef and pork) and fish. However, when meat or fish are cooked the creatine content is reduced.
Vegetarians and vegans have lower creatine levels in the blood due to the lack of meat. Creatine is vital for the human body and it is totally safe, as it has been proven by the fact that even breast milk contains creatine.
Creatine levels in food (in grams per kilogram)
- Pork.............5.0 grams
- Beef.............4.5 grams
- Salmon........4.5 grams
- Tuna.............4.0 grams
- Cod...............3.0 grams
- Sole..............2.0 grams
- Herring...6,5-10 grams
- Milk...............0.1 grams
How many types of creatine are there?
Creatine can be found in 3 forms:
- Creatine monohydrate is the basic molecule of creatine. It is the most studied and consumed form.
- Alkaline creatine, also known as Kre-Alkalyn®. It is a "buffered" creatine whose structure has been modified to have a different pH to the previous one. This structural change is due to the fact that gastric juices can break down part of creatine, which results in an acidic pH, a problem which this formulation can avoid.
- Creatine ethyl ester, a structure that occurs as a result of the combination of a creatine monohydrate molecule and an ester group (RCOOR'). The object of this union is to obtain a more lipophilic creatine so that it can cross the cell membrane more easily and therefore increase the muscular creatine levels.
Properties of creatine
ATP (adenosine triphosphate) is regarded as a 'super fuel' because it helps to achieve a complete performance. However, the muscles need enough creatine to produce ATP. The more creatine that is stored in the body, the larger will be the production of ATP (the super fuel).
The result of using this type of supplement is that you can train with more power and intensity, obtaining muscle growth that would be impossible to achieve without creatine.
All the studies on creatine show its positive effects on muscle building and sports performance.
Benefits of consuming creatine
One of its main benefits is that it improves the body's ability to carry out high-intensity workouts. For this reason, creatine phosphate (the form that is stored in the cells), acts as a support for type IIB fibers (fast fibers), where there is a higher concentration to provide immediate energy. Through this energy supply, the athlete can increase the number of repetitions in a set, sprint faster, or perform more efficiently in sports where the main factor is strength.
Creatine supplementation allows the muscles to store more of this high energy molecule to provide more strength and lean mass gains.
Creatine can provide short and high-intensity performance of weight-lifting and speed activities.
Creatine supplementation can reduce cell damage and muscle inflammation after exhausting exercise. This is not only applicable to strength and power training, since it can also benefit endurance athletes, as shown in this study.
Creatine can also reduce muscle fatigue by reducing lactic acid, which is an energy waste product that causes this problem.
Anaerobic capacity is defined as the organism's ability to maintain an effort with a lack of oxygen, unlike the aerobic system that needs this element as fuel for a certain period of time. There are mainly two substrates that feed the anaerobic system: adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and creatine phosphate (CP). In this case, we can increase the amount of ATP through creatine supplementation.
When performing a high intensity effort where the anaerobic system is involved, ATP will be used first and then, it will be spent after a few seconds (around 10). Then, CP will prevail for a period of time when the intensity will begin to decrease, coinciding with the overlap of the next energy substrates that will be activated. None of these can deliver energy as fast as ATP, so the effort must be paused in order to resynthesize more ATP, otherwise we will have to continue the activity at much lower intensity than at the beginning. The type of workout (anaerobic threshold) will depend on the ATP resynthesis rate, combined with creatine in our diet. In this study that the intake of creatine improved the anaerobic capacity and high intensity exertion.
Creatine increases the ATP production, a source of energy for the muscles during brief periods of activity.
Another important benefit, especially for strength athletes or bodybuilders, is the cell volumizing effect of creatine. This is because of its innate properties that allow it to achieve an optimal hydration at a cellular level, apart from generating a powerful stimulus for the protein synthesis.
Some studies have proven that creatine increases muscle mass since it supplies water to the muscle, although this needs more research.
Creatine also increases intellectual performance
The positive properties of creatine upon physical and muscle performance are widely known. But now, recent studies have shown that creatine also has positive effects on cognitive performance. This is because the brain and nerve cells, like muscle cells, also use ATP as their energy source. This energy, among other things, is supplied by creatine and it is regenerated constantly.
A study conducted in Australia showed that those subjects who consumed creatine significantly exceeded the expectations in intelligence tests related to short-term memory.
Another study by Japanese researchers showed that the participants were able to solve intelligence tests for a long period of time after consuming creatine. This is attributed to the fact that creatine improves the oxygen supply to the brain.
Creatine reduces muscle weakness
Due to the fact that creatine can strengthen the muscle, it has been suggested as a complementary treatment for muscle weakness conditions, like muscle dystrophy, congestive heart failure, Huntington's disease, McArdle's disease (also called type V glycogenosis), amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, myasthenia gravis, Parkinson's disease, and after an injury or surgery.
Possible combinations with Creatine
Glutamine and Creatine
Creatine can be consumed with glutamine. We can use glutamine after the workout, or at any other moment (we can add it to the servings of the creatine maintenance phase)
BCAA's and Creatine
Creatine can be consumed with BCAA's at the same time.
Can we consume creatine and proteins simultaneously?
Creatine is mainly found in red meat and in some types of fish. This means that creatine is always combined with proteins in nature. This is the reason why stating that creatine does not produce any effect when it is combined with protein is absolutely false.
On the contrary: Creatine needs a great amount of protein to build the muscle properly. This is due to the fact that creatine works as a trigger, while protein offers the neccesary material to build the muscle. The simultaneous intake of creatine and protein increases their effects and produces a quick muscle development, as well as increasing its endurance and strength.
Creatine and Beta-Alanine
This combination can contribute to the improvement of athletes' physical performance. Several studies back this statement, and regard this combination as an excellent supplement for sportspeople.
Creatine and Taurine
This is another combination to enhance physical performance. We can find taurine naturally in foods, or through supplementation.
Nitric Oxide and Creatine
Nitric oxide and creatine is one of the best combinations that we can find in order to produce a synergistic reaction to use as a pre-workout.
Frequently Asked Questions about Creatine
How does creatine work?
When we execute an intense anaerobic workout, we can run out of phosphocreatine, which can lead to an increase in fatigue and a momentaneous inability to carry on with the exercise.
The supplements that include creatine can increase intramuscular creatine up to a third, which favors the production of phosphocreatine, which at the same time helps to maintain a maximum power for a long period of time. Creatine can provide more intense workouts and reduce muscle fatigue.
What is the perfect creatine dose?
The traditional creatine supplementation involves an initial loading phase, followed by a maintenance phase.
Generally, we consume from 20 to 30 grams of creatine monohydrate daily in a week, a dose of 0.3g per kg of body weight approximately.
In theory, this initial loading dose increases the phosphocreatine muscle deposits in a 30% approximately.
The amount of creatine that is accumulated in the muscles is quite limited, which is why it is advisable to continue with a maintenance phase and a dose of 5 - 10 grams daily, in order to maintain the creatine levels which have been previously established through the loading phase.
However, many athletes and weight-lifting amateurs have experienced the same benefits of creatine supplementation without carrying out the initial phase.
Who can benefit from creatine?
Creatine can help those athletes who want to make an explosive performance in their sport, and who require a constant supply of phosphocreatine as energy substrate. Among these activities we can find Weight-lifting, Athletics, skiing, football, biking, CrossFit, collective sports, contact sports...
Just a week after beginning its consumption, you can start noticing its remarkable effects on the muscle, as well as an increase in strength and sports performance.
Moreover, anyone who trains and who wants to improve their physical capacity and enjoy the benefits of creatine can use it, since it is a safe product.
What is the best time to consume creatine?
Creatine must be consumed immediately after being prepared. It is advisable to consume it along with the main meal, since the insulin levels are high, which favors its absorption. It is very important to drink plenty of water when we use creatine.
When should we carry out a loading phase?
We can carry out a loading phase if we are not consuming creatine, but we are planning to participate in a competition in a relatively short period of time, and we want to create a peak.
How does caffeine affect creatine?
A study was carried out on two groups of people in order to test the effects of consuming creatine alone or with caffeine. The caffeine dose was of two cups of coffee. Both groups experienced an increase in the phosphocreatine levels in the muscle. However, the strength production of joints increased in a 23% in the group that was given only creatine, while no changes were observed in the group that used both creatine and caffeine.
It was observed that caffeine seemed to inhibit the ergogenic effects of creatine. However, there are many athletes that drink coffee and other beverages that have caffeine and they still benefit from the effects of caffeine.
How does the consumption of carbohydrates affect creatine?
A study was carried out to see the effects of the consumption of carbohydrates and creatine. Researchers gave 5 grams of creatine and 93 grams of hyperglycemic carbohydrates 4 times a day to healthy men aged 24 for 5 days.
The combination of creatine and carbohydrates increase muscular creatine in a 60%.
This happened because the insulin from simple sugars plays an important role in the transport of creatine towards muscle cells. This is why the formula of creatine supplements includes sugars.
Is it true that creatine can alter the biochemistry of muscle fibers?
Several studies have shown that creatine supplementation can help to run for a longer period of time and with more intensity. It has been observed that creatine can produce a light increase in the percentage of Type IIB muscle fibers, which are the biggest muscle fibers.
In theory, if we could increase the percentage of Type IIB fibers, we would have a greater capacity to generate a better power and strength performance, in regard with other fibers like type IIA and I. A higher increase of strength can result in an potential increase of the development of muscle fibers.
Will I lose muscle mass if I stop consuming creatine?
Creatine absorbs more water and transport proteins (amino acids) to the muscle cells. Therefore, it stimulates the protein synthesis and muscle development. If you stop consuming creatine, the muscle can lose the stored protein and water with time.
However, you will not lose absolutely all the muscle mass that you have gained, that will remain also due to the intensive workout that you have been following.
The only requirement is that you keep on training regularly and eating properly. In this way, you will be able to keep on increasing your muscle mass and guaranteeing its maintenance, even if you stop consuming creatine.
Does creatine retain liquid under the skin?
The muscle is mainly made of water and protein. Therefore, muscle growth is only possible through the increase of water retention and protein. Ocassionaly, when there is a quick muscle growth, the muscle cells only "swell".
However, creatine increases the muscle's ability to store more water in its cells. The great advantage is that, apart from liquid, it also stores more protein in the muscle cell, which increases muscle mass.
Unfortunately, there is still people who think that creatine also stores water outside the muscle, but this is false. On the contrary, it absorbs more water in the muscle cells, which provides the muscles with a hard and voluminous appearance.
If you feel that your muscles are soft and aqueous, it may be due to your diet, since the cause is not the consumption of creatine. It might be because the workout makes you hungrier, and you are consuming more carbohydrates without noticing. In this case, it is advisable to make a diet diary in order to find out why you are retaining liquids.
Does creatine have dangerous side effects?
The possible side effects of creatine are:
- Stomach cramps
- Loss of appetite
- Muscle cramps
- Weight increase
Creatine can produce a water displacement to other areas of the bodya and the muscle tissue, which could increase the risk of dehydration.
High creatine doses could damage the kidneys, liver, and heart. In theory, creatine can cause renal damage due to the fact that its byproduct, creatinine, is filtered through the kidneys to the urine.
It is advisable to consult a specialist before using creatine supplements and to always follow the instructions.
It is recommended to increase the consumption of liquids during the supplementation period.
What do athletes say about creatine?
In his book "Creatine: Nature's Muscle Builder", authors Dr. Ray Sahelian and Dave Tuttle regularly interviewed a lot of athletes, both men and women, and reached the following conclusions:
- All the surveyed athletes agreed on the enormous advantages that they had experienced in their performance when using creatine supplementation.
- The most significant advantage was related to an increase in muscle mass, strength, and energy, as well as a fast recovery after workouts and a decrease in body fat.
- Male athletes were especially impressed with the increase in muscle mass produced by creatine. An 82% of them increased their lean muscle mass, and a 77% said that they had also been able to increase their strength.
Creatine, why does it increase creatinine?
Creatinine is an organic compound derived from creatine breakdown. It is excreted through the urine and used to diagnose possible diseases related to the kidneys.
Creatinine is a waste substance of the muscles metabolism which our body normally and constantly produces, and which depends on the muscle mass and renal function.
Usually, an increase in creatinine levels means that there are kidney problems, derived from kidney damage, a renal infection, or renal insufficiency, among others.
Some of the symptoms of a creatinine increase are: changes in urine composition, nausea, vomits, loss of appetite and weight. In these cases, it is advisable to consult your doctor so that it can set a treatment.
In order to lower the creatinine levels, it is necessary to take care of our kidneys. To do this, it is advisable to consume a lot of water daily, as well as following a healthy and balanced diet, apart from doing physical exercise everyday.
Where can I buy Creatine online?
You can purchase it from sports nutrition stores. HSNstore.com is a website where you can buy creatine online, since we have a wide range of products of different quality and price available.
It is the best store where you can buy creatine monohydrate*, alkalyn, ethyl ester, malate, gluconate, etc.
*If you want to purchase quality creatine monohydrate, always look for the Creapure® seal. This certifies the quality and pharmaceutical degree of the product, and guarantees that it has been manufactured under pharmaceutical quality standards such as GMP procedures (Good Manufacturing Practice).
You can also find more information about creatine, its myths and truth about sports nutrition, in order to purchase creatine with absolute certainty.
Bibliographical references about Creatine
1. Kendall KL, Smith AE, Graef JL, Fukuda DH, Moon JR, Beck TW, Cramer JT, Stout JR. Effects of four weeks of high-intensity interval training and creatine supplementation on critical power and anaerobic working capacity in college-aged men. J Strength Cond Res. 2009 Sep;23(6):1663-9. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181b1fd1f.
2. Santos RV, Bassit RA, Caperuto EC, Costa Rosa LF. The effect of creatine supplementation upon inflammatory and muscle soreness markers after a 30km race. Life Sci. 2004 Sep 3;75(16):1917-24.
3. Anomasiri W, Sanguanrungsirikul S, Saichandee P. Low dose creatine supplementation enhances sprint phase of 400 meters swimming performance. J Med Assoc Thai. 2004 Sep;87 Suppl 2:S228-32.