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Creatine: Six Proven Benefits

If you've heard of Creatine, you undoubtedly recognise it as the product Bodybuilders swear by and the most heavily researched supplement in the world. But have you ever wondered exactly what it is? Moreover, if it's only for the pumped-up swoldiers, the bench-bros, and the professionals? Surprisingly, Creatine is the most extensively studied fitness supplement globally and one of the safest. Ultimately, it's proven to work. Over and over again. Study after study. And guess what? Everyone can benefit from it! 

The Quick Summary: It produces more energy, improves athletic performance, increases muscle mass, accelerates muscle growth, reduces fatigue/increases mental performance, and it's safe and easy to use. 

What is Creatine?

Creatine helps your body produce energy. It's a combination of three amino acids: arginine, glycine, and methionine. Amino acids are simply the organic compounds that form protein.

Inside of you, Creatine binds with a phosphate molecule to form creatine phosphate. Creatine phosphate is then used to create ATP, your body's energy currency (responsible for most body processes). As you produce energy, one phosphate is lost from ATP (adenosine triphosphate), which then becomes ADP (adenosine diphosphate). For ADP to get converted back into ATP, it uses a phosphate group from the Creatine, which allows you to produce more energy and reach deep for that last rep. Still with me? Great. 


One more time, in simple terms: Creatine's function in the body is to support the creation of ATP - the energy that fuels your body and hence, your workout!

Is Creatine Safe?

Short answer, yes. While we've seen claims of side effects such as kidney damage, muscle cramps, and dehydration, there is no scientific evidence to support detrimental impact on healthy humans. The International Society of Sports Nutrition announced that Creatine is one of the most beneficial sports supplements available and regards it as highly safe. You see, Creatine exists naturally in the body, not only in our muscle cells but in our kidneys, liver, and brain. We also consume Creatine through foods such as red meat and seafood. It's primarily found in animal tissue, so vegetarians typically have lower creatine levels and see more significant benefits from supplementation. Creatine is not only safe; research has shown that it might even be beneficial in injury prevention and management of certain medical conditions. Athletes commonly take the supplement to increase their physical performance, and it's both legal and used in the finest of competitions, such as the Olympics. 

*Note: creatine monohydrate is the most studied form and hence recommended.

Creatine Benefits (6)

1. Produces more Energy

More ATP = more energy, but you knew that already. At maximal effort, your body uses more ATP than it can produce, which is why you run out of power. We've all tried running at full speed for more than a few seconds and failed. A creatine supplement increases the amount of ATP you can create and store during intense exercise. Therefore, people report feeling stronger for longer when taking Creatine. If your goal is heavy lifting and high-intensity training, Creatine might be helpful to you. 

Below, you can see the increase in muscle stores after creatine use:

2. Improves Athletic Performance 

The reason creatine is the most popular supplement globally is most likely because of the improvements seen in athletic performance. Increased muscle fibre adaptation, fat-free mass, and muscle morphology are all proven in clinical studies. In addition, with a significant increase of energy stored in the muscle comes greater energy output during high-intensity exercise. And better yet, as you're able to train harder and with more intensity, you may see more remarkable training adaptations as a result. For example, subjects in a study performed over 12 weeks could increase their bench-press by 10% more than those taking a placebo. The result from enhanced quality and volume of work performed over time, that's our bet.

3. Increases Muscle Mass

There are a few reasons as to why you may see an increase in muscle mass with Creatine. First, a common misconception is that it's just weight gained through water retention. The water content in your muscle cells will indeed be higher, but this is a good thing. Not only will you look more swole, but the phenomenon known as cell hydration or cell swelling is suggested to have lasting effects. It can stimulate protein synthesis and cellular protein turnover, increasing your lean muscle mass over time. 

On the other hand, Creatine can also reduce muscle breakdown, which allows you to retain more muscle. Moreover, Creatine helps to reduce levels of myostatin, a molecule that can stunt muscle growth. But here's the kicker: a meta-analysis including peer-reviewed studies spanning over 30 years found that adding Creatine to a weight training program significantly increased strength and muscle mass without a change in body fat percentage!

4. Accelerates Muscle Growth 

Hypertrophy. A key term in bodybuilding, meaning the increase and growth of muscle cells. When a bodybuilder focuses on hypertrophy, they train to gain muscle size and definition, achieved by a higher number of repetitions in any given set (8-12). As opposed to hypertrophy, you have strength training where you'll typically increase the weight and do fewer repetitions (1-6) to gain strength. We're talking about this because Creatine can increase hypertrophy effects achieved by resistance training, making you build muscle faster. So much so that a study on weightlifters conducted over 12 weeks showed some astonishing results. Using Creatine, they increased fibre growth 2 to 3 times more than weightlifters training without it. Creatine can also help increase cell signaling, which can aid new muscle growth along with muscle repair. Like that's not enough, Creatine has been shown to increase the key hormone for muscle growth, IGF-1.

5. Reduces Fatigue/Increases Mental Performance

The research regarding Creatine's effect on mental performance is far less extensive than that on physical performance. However, there has been evidence supporting decreased mental fatigue. Please note that most studies on this topic were conducted while subjects were sleep-deprived or under high stress.

Creatine may also positively affect your memory, especially for people with lower creatine levels, such as the elderly and vegetarians. As mentioned, Creatine is found in the brain, effectively increasing the phosphocreatine stores, supporting ATP (energy) production. Surprisingly, Creatine may also increase mitochondrial function and dopamine levels.

6. Safe and Easy to Use

Creatine is one of the most researched nutritional supplements there is. There is still no clear evidence of any harmful effects with hundreds of studies over hundreds of years. It's also one of the cheapest supplements available and easy to use. Additionally, you don't need to undertake a loading phase, but more on that later. One study measured 52 different blood markers and found no adverse effects after supplementing for a whopping 21 months. However, as with any supplement, you should always consult your doctor before taking it.

How to Use (Creatine loading)

Most of us have heard of crazy Creatine loading phases where you have to drink excessive amounts of water and consume Creatine multiple times throughout the day. While a super dose of 20g/day for 5-7 days is possible, it's unnecessary. The difference is that you work up your levels and saturate your muscle creatine storage faster. With a more patient approach of using 3g/day, you will saturate your storage in about 3 to 4 weeks. With the loading protocol, we recommend consuming 0.3g/kg/day for 5-7 days (spread out in the day), then 2-5g/day for maintenance. Unless you are pressed for time and need to increase your creatine storage and energy output within a week, progressively working up your levels will be just fine. Another variable you might want to consider is the potential intestinal discomfort, sometimes associated with high doses during a loading phase. 

*Calculate personal need for maintenance: 0.03g x bodyweight in KG = maintenance dose.

Example: 0.03g x 80kg = 2.4g/day

Take Creatine with Carbohydrates

We have known this since the earliest days of the research. To maximally increase your muscle creatine concentration, you need a high physiological dose of insulin. If you take it in a fasted state, you're not going to be taking the Creatine up into the muscle as well...essentially meaning most of the goodness will be wasted. Creatine does not work acutely, meaning you can take it at any point during your day.

Conclusion

So, is Creatine just for the pros? No. Is it safe? Yes. Is it something for you? Probably. 

Creatine is widely used to improve athletic performance, and it's cheap. The research is united on the fact that creatine monohydrate is the most studied and your best choice. No other types of Creatine have, despite their claims, provided a better outcome. More strength, sprint ability, muscle mass, recovery, ballistic power, and fatigue resistance. Vegetarians might see even more upside to using Creatine since levels usually are lower than average. While Creatine might work better for some than others, trying it certainly won't hurt...especially since you don't have to conduct a loading phase to see benefits. So, for those trying to set a new PB, jump higher, run faster, get better, or evolve, we highly recommend giving this epic supplement a go!

References

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Burke, D., Candow, D., Chilibeck, P., MacNeil, L., Roy, B., Tarnopolsky, M. and Ziegenfuss, T., 2008. Effect of Creatine Supplementation and Resistance-Exercise Training on Muscle Insulin-Like Growth Factor in Young Adults

Burge, D., Chilibeck, P., Parise, G., Candow, D., Mahoney, D. and Tarnopolsky, M., 2003. Effect of Creatine and Weight Training on Muscle Creatine and Performance in Vegetarians.

Brose, A., Parise, G. and Tarnopolsky, M., 2003. Creatine Supplementation Enhances Isometric Strength and Body Composition Improvements Following Strength Exercise Training in Older Adults.

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Rae, C., Digney, A., McEwan, S. and Bates, T., 2003. Oral creatine monohydrate supplementation improves brain performance: a double–blind, placebo–controlled, cross–over trial.

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