Creatine is perhaps the King of the supplement industry in regards to the extensive research backing its efficacy and in its many beneficial effects when incorporated into ones daily supplement regime.
The following are some of the most fundamental characteristics of Creatine:
- Creatine is a compound formed via the combination of the amino acids methionine, glycine and arginine
- Creatine is manufactured endogenously by our liver, pancreas and kidneys
- Creatine can also be acquired exogenously through consumption of foods such as fish and red meat.
So, why take Creatine if it is produced naturally by the body?
Your body’s primary energy source is ATP (adenosine triphosphate). ATP is essential for almost all cellular functions, repair and synthesis, as well as playing a key role in metabolism. Muscle contraction, for example, is elicited through mechanistic pathways that are fuelled by ATP. The problem lies in the fact that ATP is not stored in reserves like creatine, and it is utilized very quickly during everyday bodily functions.
Phosphocreatine (the endogeneous form of creatine stored in our tissues) is used to create ATP via donation of a phosphate group. Thus, creatine acts as a fuel source for your cells through this phosphorylation pathway. Because creatine is stored over time, your body is able to utilize these stores as needed.
Creatine also hydrates cells, enabling ion uptake and thus creating an optimal environment for protein synthesis to occur. More specifically creatine increases INTRACELLULAR hydration. With our body composition containing up to 60% water, hydrated cells are inevitably happy cells and therefore, creatine enables your muscles to function at their optimal potential.
Creatine has been shown to elicit a 5-15% increase in both strength and maximal work output. This combination of increased workload and capacity over time effectively contributes to muscle hypertrophy
So now that we’ve addressed the ‘Why’, let’s get into the ‘When’ and ‘How’ to supplement with creatine.
Your body’s creatine stores have a threshold. It used to be hypothesized that maxing out this threshold by undergoing a ‘loading’ phase (essentially, taking a maximal daily dose ~20g/day over a short period of time prior to reducing to a consistent moderate daily dose) would enhance the effects of creatine. More recent studies have shown this is not necessary, and the same benefits can be derived by simply starting and maintaining a dose of 5g/day. Yes, it will take some time for your creatine stores to reach full saturation, but the benefits of doing this over a loading phase include less water retention (especially for female athletes) and for some individuals with sensitive G.I systems, less gastric upset. Newer research has also suggested that it matters not when you take it, but arguably, for any supplement, your cells are most permeable and absorption occurs with greatest efficiency in a post-workout state. Whether you prefer to take it on its own with water, mix it in with your favorite shake or add it to a concoction of your other favorite supplements. 5g/day is all you need!
Addressing some common questions and concerns:
- Creatine is a NATURAL substance. It is NOT A STEROID, nor is it considered an illegal or ‘frowned upon’ performance enhancer.
Creatine is a naturally occurring substance in the body. And yes, arguably, so are testosterone, growth hormone and other endogenous hormones that ARE steroids. However, Creatine is not a hormone. Creatine happens to be one of the most studied substances in the fitness industry, and is deemed safe for use by all healthy individuals. In fact, many studies have been done on creatine usage in individuals with kidney and liver disorders, musculoskeletal and neurodegenerative conditions, and various other ailments, most of which showed minor to nil adverse effects, many even showing benefits, especially in regards to muscle strength and neurologic function.
- Are there any side-effects of supplementing with Creatine?
One of the most common and anticipated side-effects of creatine supplementation is water-retention. However, Creatine acts to pull water into your cells and primarily hydrates muscle cells, thus making your muscles look and feel fuller, all while enhancing ion uptake and cellular function. It isn’t unheard of to notice a 3-5lb weight gain shortly after beginning to take creatine. Females can be more susceptible to this increase in water weight, and this can be partially mitigated by avoiding partaking in a ‘loading phase.’ Some sources suggest avoiding blends and Creatine monohydrate and opting for pure Creatine HCL, but any form of creatine will act to increase intracellular water, and the effects are largely individual, so trial and error are ultimately the best.
3) Can you take Creatine during Comp Prep?
Being a natural compound with zero effects on hormone expression, creatine does not fall into any of the ‘banned substance’ categories. Creatine can provide many benefits, especially when taken during ‘prep’ when training at a caloric deficit and elevated energy expenditure. While some amount of lean muscle loss is often inevitable in extended fat-loss phases, creatine can help mitigate these effects while keeping strength high. Cutting creatine may only be necessary for individuals who experience gastric upset from supplementation or those who are overly susceptible to water retention or other individualized adverse effects.