Creatine is one of the most effective natural dietary supplements that are currently available to improve the performance of athletes.
It increases the muscle mass and provides strength, power and a remarkable weight increase.
Bodybuilders, weightlifters, athletes, skiers, footballers and sprinters usually take creatine supplements. It helps them beat their own records both in competitions and workouts.
Creatine is mainly demanded by weightlifters. However, many of them do not know what it is exactly, how to use it, what are its benefits, or how to make the most of it. Now, we will give you all the information you need to use creatine properly.
The ultimate fuel for athletes
There are many athletes who want 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 these days.
What is creatine?
Creatine is a nitrogenous substance that the body produces by combining 3 amino acids: Methionine, Glycine and Arginine.
Creatine plays a key role in the energy production. More than 95% of the creatine in the body is in the muscles, where it is stored as phosphocreatine, which is an immediate energy source. The remaining 5% can be found in the brain, heart and testicles.
Another of its vital functions is its ability to reject hydrogen ions which reduce the pH muscle and make it more acid. This factor triggers muscle fatigue. After being used, creatine becomes a waste product known as creatinine and it is excreted through the urine.
In the body of an adult that weighs 70 kg, the amount of stored creatine is 120 grams. 40% is in its free form and a 60% is phosphate. Even so, very intense but short exercises (such as a sprint) can empty the creatine reserves more than a 70%. Approximately 1.6% (2 grams) of the total creatine reserveshave to be recharged every day.
This supplement provides energy during muscle contraction or a high energy demand, allowing us to increase the intensity of our workouts without hindering our recovery.
The bloodstream transports creatine to several body tissues. Around 95% is deposited in the muscles and the rest goes to the heart, brain and testicles.
Half of the necessary creatine is produced by the body daily, the rest must be obtained from food or supplementation. You should take around 1 gram of creatine daily on average. However, this amount is not enough for high performance sports.
The foods with the highest creatine content are raw meat (like beef and pork) and fish. Cooking the meat or fish reduces the creatine content.
Vegetarians and vegans have lower blood creatine levels due to the lack of meat. Creatine is vital for the human body and it is totally safe, which 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 is available in 3 forms:
- Creatine monohydrate is the basic creatine molecule and the most studied and consumed form.
- Alkaline creatine, also known as Kre-Alkalyn®, 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 the gastric juices can break down part of the creatine molecule, resulting in an acid pH. This formula can easily avoid this problem.
- Creatine ethyl ester is a structure that results from combining a creatine monohydrate molecule and an ester group (RCOOR'). The purpose is to obtain a more lipophilic creatine so that it can cross the cell membrane more easily, increasing the muscle creatine levels.
Properties of creatine
ATP (adenosine triphosphate) is also known as a 'super fuel' because it helps us 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 the ATP (the super fuel) production will be.
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 sport performance.
Benefits of taking creatine
One of its main benefits is improving our ability to carry out high-intensity workouts. This is due to the fact that creatine phosphate (the form that is stored in the cells), supports type IIB fibers (fast twitch fibers), where there is a higher concentration, providing energy immediately. Thanks to 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.
It can also provide short and high-intensity performance during weight-lifting and speed activities.
Creatine supplementation can reduce the 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 decrease the muscle fatigue by reducing lactic acid, which is an energy waste product that causes this problem.
It is defined as our ability to perform 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 elements 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 as the intensity drops, overlapping with the next energy system. None of these can provide energy as fast as ATP, so we will have to pause in order to resynthesize more ATP, otherwise we will have to continue the activity at a much lower intensity. The type of workout (anaerobic threshold) will depend on the ATP resynthesis rate, combined with the creatine intake. In this study we can observe how the creatine improved the anaerobic capacity and the effort at a high intensity.
Creatine increases the ATP, which is a source of energy for the muscles during short periods of physical activity.
Another important benefit, specially for strength athletes or bodybuilders, is its cell volumizing effect. This is due to its innate properties that keep the cells properly hydrated, apart from producing a powerful stimulus for the protein synthesis.
Some studies have proven that creatine increases the muscle mass since it provides water to the muscle, although this needs more research.
Creatine also increases the intellectual performance
It is widely known that creatine has positive effects on the physical and muscle performance. But now, recent studies have proven how creatine also has positive effects on the cognitive performance. This is because the brain and nerve cells, like muscle cells, also use ATP as energy. This type of energy is supplied by creatine and it is being constantly recharged.
A study conducted in Australia showed that those subjects who took creatine significantly exceeded the expectations in intelligence tests related to short-term memory.
Another study by Japanese researchers proved that the participants were able to solve intelligence tests for a long period of time after taking creatine. This is due 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 could be a complementary treatment for muscle weakness conditions, such as 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 take it with the creatine maintenance phase). If you want more information about how to use creatine, click here.
BCAA's and Creatine
Creatine can be consumed with BCAA's at the same time.
Can we take creatine and protein simultaneously?
Creatine is mainly found in red meat and in some types of fish. This means that creatine is always combined with protein in nature. That is the reason why claiming 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 muscle properly. This is due to the fact that creatine works as a trigger, while protein provides the neccesary material to build muscle. The simultaneous intake of creatine and protein enhances their effects resulting in a quick muscle development, as well as increasing its hardness and strength.
Creatine and Beta-Alanine
This combination can contribute to improving the athletic performance. Several studies support this statement and they are proof that this is an excellent combination for athletes.
Creatine and Taurine
This is another combination that enhances the 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 synergy.
Frequently Asked Questions about Creatine
How does creatine work?
When we perform an intense anaerobic workout, we can run out of phosphocreatine, leading to fatigue and a momentaneous inability to carry on with the exercise.
The supplements that include creatine can increase the intramuscular creatine up to a third, which improves the phosphocreatine production. At the same time, this helps to keep a high intensity for a long period of time. Creatine can help us to perform more intense workouts and decrease the muscle fatigue.
What is the perfect creatine dose?
The traditional creatine supplementation protocol involves a 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 stored 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 preserve the creatine levels which have been previously reached in the loading phase.
However, many athletes and weight-lifters have experienced the same benefits of creatine supplementation without doing a loading phase.
Who can benefit from creatine?
Creatine support those athletes who want to reach an explosive performance and who need a constant supply of phosphocreatine. It can be specially useful for the following activities: Weight-lifting, Athletics, skiing, football, biking, CrossFit, collective sports, contact sports...
In just a week after taking it for the first time, you can start noticing its remarkable effects on the muscle, as well as an increase in strength and 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 with the main meal because the insulin levels are high, improving 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 do not normally take creatine, but we are planning to participate in a competition in a relatively short period of time, and we want a boost.
How does caffeine affect creatine?
A study conducted on two groups of people tested the effects of taking creatine alone or with caffeine. The caffeine dose was two cups of coffee. Both groups experienced an increase in the phosphocreatine levels in the muscle. However, the joint strength 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 seems that caffeine inhibits the ergogenic effects of creatine. However, there are many athletes that drink coffee and other drinks containing caffeine and they still benefit from the effects of creatine.
How does taking carbohydrates affect creatine?
A study was carried out to test the effects of carbohydrates on creatine. The researchers gave 5 grams of creatine and 93 grams of hyperglycemic carbohydrates 4 times a day to healthy men aged 24 for 5 days.
Combining creatine with carbs increased the muscle creatine in a 60%.
This happened because the insulin from simple sugars plays an important role in the transport of creatine to the 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 how 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 slight increase of the Type IIB muscle fibers, which are the biggest ones.
In theory, if we could increase the number of Type IIB fibers, we would have a better capacity to achieve a better performance when compared to other fibers such as 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 taking creatine?
Creatine absorbs more water and transports protein (amino acids) to the muscle cells. Therefore, it stimulates the protein synthesis and muscle development. If you stop taking 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 intense workout routine that you have been following.
The only requirement is that you keep training regularly and eating properly. In this way, you will be able to increase your muscle mass while ensuring its maintenance, even if you stop consuming creatine.
Does creatine retain liquid under the skin?
The muscle is mainly made up of water and protein. Therefore, muscle growth is only possible by increasing the fluid 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, increasing our 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 makes the muscles look bigger.
If you feel that your muscles are soft and aqueous, it may be due to your diet. 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 fluids.
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 body and 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.
We suggest drinking more water while using creatine supplementation.
What do athletes think about creatine?
In their book "Creatine: Nature's Muscle Builder", authors Dr. Ray Sahelian and Dave Tuttle interviewed many 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 faster recovery after workouts and loss of body fat.
- Male athletes were specially impressed with the increase in muscle mass produced by creatine. An 82% of them gained lean muscle mass, and a 77% said that they had also been able to increase their strength.
Creatine, why does it become creatinine?
Creatinine is an organic compound from the creatine breakdown. It is excreted through the urine and used to diagnose possible diseases related to the kidneys.
Creatinine is a waste product from the muscle metabolism which our body constantly produces, and which depends on the muscle mass and renal function.
Usually, an increase of the creatinine levels means that there are kidney problems caused by kidney damage, a renal infection, or a 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 sport nutrition stores. HSNstore.com is a website where you can purchase 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.