Today’s offer of sports supplements is a maze of vitamins, minerals, capsules and powders that many people either believe will replace a balanced diet or avoid them because they think they are just a mix of heavy chemicals. Of course, neither one nor the other is true. Some of the biggest myths are woven around the issue of creatine consumption – one of the most popular sports supplements.
So, to begin with, it is important to say that creatine as a substance has been known for many years, but it has only been in widespread use since the beginning of the 1990s. Creatine itself is a nitrogenous compound that is naturally formed in the liver by combining 3 amino acids: glycine, arginine and methionine.
So, creatine is naturally found in the human body, and its main task is to supply energy to tissues with an increased need for it, such as muscles and the brain. Up to 95% of creatine in the body is stored in skeletal muscles, and the rest is found in the brain, kidneys, liver and, in men, in the testicles. However, approximately 1-2% of this amount is naturally converted into creatinine, which is excreted in the urine. The body needs to supplement that amount of 1 to 3 g of creatine in order to maintain its normal level – and that’s why we take a supplement.
Why does our body need creatine?
When we talk about creatine, we need to explain what exactly it is for and what function it has in the human body. Namely, the primary energy substrate in the muscle cell is the molecule ATP (adenosine triphosphate). When the ATP molecule is used during contraction, that is, during effort, it turns into ADP (adenosine diphosphate). Since ADP cannot be used for energy, it is necessary to add the lost phosphate group in order to become energetically active ATP again – and this missing molecule is obtained from CP, i.e. creatine phosphate.
An alternative way for the muscle to get ATP is through glycogen. However, this type of supply results in an inconvenient byproduct, which is lactic acid, i.e. muscle inflammation and muscle fatigue – which leads to the fact that we have to end the training earlier because our body is too weak to continue it.
Therefore, restoring the necessary ATP with the participation of creatine is a much better option, and today there are many ways in which we can additionally introduce creatine into our body and thus improve our physical condition, endurance and muscle strength. Creatine allows us to do longer and more intense series of exercises with a shorter time needed for muscle regeneration and rest – which ultimately leads to better form and an increase in strength and muscle mass in the body.
Today, the most popular form of creatine supplement is creatine monohydrate, which is combined with L-glutamine, vitamin B and ALA (alpha-lipoic acid). It can be obtained from most sports supplement and equipment stores, and when it comes to consumption, it is important to go through the ‘loading phase’ in the beginning – and there are two ways to do this.
Namely, the mentioned ‘loading phase’ serves to create a certain concentration of creatine in the muscles so that it can be immediately available to the body when the body needs it. This actually means that, in the first option, over 4-7 days, about 20-25 g of creatine is taken throughout the day. Five grams are dosed in one serving, with an interval between doses of 3-4 hours. The ‘loading phase’ is followed by the ‘maintenance phase’ when we drink about 5-15 grams of creatine per day. However, with this approach to ‘filling’ the body with creatine, it is important to note that individuals may experience problems with digestion and bowels, and therefore this phase may have negative or unpleasant side effects for some people.
Another option, which is more common and popular today, is to take creatine over a period of 28 days in a ratio of 3 to 5 grams, thus avoiding overloading the digestive system. What is crucial is that while taking creatine, the body requires more water, so it is very important to hydrate adequately. This means that you should drink several liters of water a day.
The best time to consume creatine
Today, it is generally considered that creatine consumption is suitable for any time of the day – regardless of whether it is morning or evening. The latest studies show that the body reacts equally well to the intake and absorption of creatine regardless of the time of day, but many people still believe that it is best to take creatine in the morning – immediately after waking up, because then the body is in a nutritional deficit and the concentrations of transport molecules are elevated, which means enzymes enable faster entry of creatine into the muscle.
Also, some studies claim that it is good to drink creatine an hour to an hour and a half before training because you will take advantage of the increased blood flow through the muscles during training. The third option is drinking creatine after training, when the body is tired and creatine will be more easily absorbed into the muscles because they are ‘hungry’. However, as it was said, these ‘rules’ should not be taken too seriusly and it is best to drink creatine when it suits you personally – the body will know how to use it in the best way.
The body’s reaction to creatine
Although medical studies show that creatine is an extremely valuable supplement with which we can improve not only our physical condition but also the health of the brain and nervous system, there are about 25 percent of people who do not respond to creatine supplementation. That means some people can take creatine as a dietary supplement, but they will not achieve the desired effects.
The best way to check if you are in that population is to monitor your body and its changes through the 28-day ‘loading phase’. If you react to creatine, you will see an increase in endurance, strength and have more energy during training, but if your body is not reactive to the creatine supplement – the changes will be absent and you will not experience the desired results. If, therefore, after a month of taking creatine, your form and stamina do not change at all, it means that you belong to the group of people whose bodies do not react to ‘external’ intake of creatine.
Other benefits of creatine
Although creatine is a well-known and often used supplement in sports and fitness, it also brings numerous other benefits to our body. More and more medical studies show that creatine has a positive effect on brain processes and the nervous system, as well as on immune function and mental health.
As we have already said, in addition to supplying energy to the muscles, creatine accelerates their recovery process after strenuous training. For example, during demanding physical performance, like strength training, muscle fibers are naturally damaged. Creatine has been proven to accelerate their healing. In studies that monitored the effect of creatine on muscle damage after exercise, there was a decrease in indicators of muscle damage such as creatine kinase.
But apart from muscles, creatine is extremely beneficial for our brain and cognitive abilities. As the human brain consumes about 20 percent of our total daily energy intake, creatine can serve as a quick source of phosphate groups to generate ATP and enhance brain function. Creatine thus supplies the brain with energy during energy-demanding situations, such as various complicated cognitive tasks or in stressful conditions, when the body is stressed or suffers from a lack of sleep.
Studies show that creatine helps with long-term memory, reduces stress and balances the body’s nervous functions, and is also prescribed to people with learning disabilities. So, if you want to improve your fitness performance and build strong muscle mass, but at the same time do something good for your brain – be sure to include creatine in your diet.
Key questions about creatine
Creatine is a food supplement that is considered to be one of the most controversial food supplements, and various myths are woven around it. Below we will try to answer some of the most common questions/concerns about creatine consumption:
Is creatine a steroid?
Over the years, many nutritional supplements for athletes have been mischaracterized as steroids, one of which is creatine. Thus, stories could be heard that creatine should only be used by professional athletes or bodybuilders, or that it should not be consumed by women.
However, all modern medical studies show that such statements are incorrect and that creatine is an extremely safe food supplement, as well as one of the food supplements with the greatest benefits for the human body. One study tested the use of creatine on individuals for 21 months, and it turned out that not a single negative side effect of taking creatine was recorded. Therefore, creatine is not a steroid and there are no negative consequences if you consume it.
Does creatine cause cramps or dehydration?
As we mentioned earlier, when consuming creatine it is extremely important to hydrate enough, i.e. drink a lot of liquid, because creatine changes the composition of water in the body, i.e. muscles. Creatine changes an amount of water in your body at the cellular level of the organism. However, such changes will by no means dehydrate the body and one 3-year study on creatine consumption found that athletes who took creatine had fewer cramps and cases of dehydration than those who did not.
Research also shows that there is no correlation between taking creatine as a supplement and the level of electrolytes in the blood, which play a major role in muscle cramping, so the answer is that creatine does not cause cramping.
Does creatine make you fat?
This question often bothers people the most. Research does show that taking creatine can increase body weight but it is extremely important to emphasize that this is also a logical thing to happen – because with creatine, muscle mass grows faster, and muscles are heavy, so the number on the scale also increases. So, creatine can increase body weight, but due to the growth of muscle mass, not body fat.
What is it exactly about? It is important to know that muscles are made up of 70 percent water, and taking creatine will allow the body to collect more water in the muscle tissue and thus grow and strengthen. This is not about the notorious ‘accumulation’ of water in the body and feeling bloated, but about the fact that creatine will bring the addition of water to the muscle tissue and supply it with oxygen, which is then used for the production and burning of energy. Because of this process, the muscle grows and becomes stronger and heavier, so the number on the scale can increase slightly.
Does creatine cause acne?
This is one of the completely unfounded myths related to creatine, because there are no studies that show that creatine is the cause of acne breakouts. What creatine can do is encourage you to exercise harder and better, which leads to more sweating, which in turn can lead to clogged pores and impure skin – leading to acne breakouts. So, if you get acne, you will get it from sweat and poor hygiene, not from creatine, which some studies even show helps smooth out wrinkles and increases skin elasticity.
The effect of creatine on the liver and kidneys
The idea that creatine damages liver and kidneys is another mythical lie related to creatine, because no medical study has shown a correlation between taking creatine and problems with the work of these organs. One study followed a group of people who took creatine daily for as long as 4 years and showed that long-term use of this dietary supplement does not have a harmful effect on the body or on the functioning of organs. Of course, this applies to healthy people who do not have severe liver or kidney damage or illinesses. In their case, it is necessary to consult a doctor before taking creatine.