Years of study show that creatine is one of the essential supplements that should be taken by those looking to build muscle and strength, but this wasn’t always the case. Creatine first got its lime light after the 1992 Olympics when an article came out about Linford Christie taking creatine before winning the gold medal in the 100m sprints. Many baseless claims were spread about creatine. Some think it’s some type of steroid others think it’s bad for your health. Here is everything you need to know about creatine.
What it is?
Creatine is defined as a naturally occurring organic acid that aids in energy supply to all cells, primarily muscles. It does this by promoting the creation of adenosines triphosphate (ATP), a coenzyme that transports energy within your body. When your body needs energy, ATP is broken down by the metabolic process and exothermically reacts to produce energy while turning itself into one of its precursors. Adenosine diphosphate (ADP) is one of these precursors.
Think of this ATP-ADP relationship like a capacitor or a battery. ATP is fully charged and ready to be used as energy when needed. ADP is the depleted cell that can be “recharged” and turned back into ATP from eating. This process goes on and on constantly as we eat and store energy until we move, breath, think, or lift heavy shit. Supplementing with creatine increases the ATP formation. During high energy demands, creatine aids in rapidly rebuilding ATP from ADP increasing your total energy levels.
What does it do?
Taking creatine isn’t like taking a stimulant. You don’t actually feel noticeable energy or awareness like you would with caffeine. What creatine claims it does is provide muscle fibers just enough energy to get that last one to two reps out before complete failure. This many not seem like a big deal but 1-2 more reps on every lift 5x/week over years of training should yield a significant strength advantage over someone not supplementing with creatine.
Study after study after study all positively correlated supplementing with creatine with increase in strength and performance in burst movements such as weightlifting or sprints. This study in particular showed strength increase in 1, 3, and 10 rep maximums to be 8% higher on subjects taking creatine compared to those given a placebo.
Types of Creatine
There are various forms of creatine supplements on the market. Muscleforlife.com has a great write up on all the different forms of creatine I’ve highlighted in orange the ones that I’ve seen most often.
Creatine monohydrate is the form used in the majority of studies demonstrating creatine’s benefits. It’s the gold standard of creatine and a time-proven winner.
Creatine citrate is creatine bound to citric acid and research indicates it’s more water soluble than creatine monohydrate but no more better in terms of absorption and effectiveness.
Creatine Ethyl Ester (CEE)
Creatine ethyl ester is a form of creatine that is supposed to convert back to usable creatine in the body.
It’s usually marketed as having better absorption properties than creatine monohydrate, but research shows it’s actually less effective than monohydrate, on par with a placebo.
The reason for this is once creatine ethyl ester enters your body, it’s converted into an inactive substance known as “creatinine.”
Liquid creatine is simply a form of creatine–usually monohydrate–suspended in liquid.
Studies show that it’s less effective than creatine monohydrate because, when suspended in a solution for several days, creatine breaks down into the inactive substance creatinine.
Micronized creatine is creatine that has been processed to reduce the particle size of the powder. The form most commonly sold as micronized creatine is monohydrate.
Micronization increases water solubility but changes nothing in terms of absorption or effectiveness.
Creatine nitrate is a form of creatine bound with a nitrate group.
This increases water solubility and nitrates do have ergogenic properties, but no studies have been conducted comparing creatine nitrate to monohydrate, so we don’t know yet if it’s a better choice.
Creatine Magnesium Chelate
Creatine magnesium chelate is a form of creatine bound to magnesium.
Magnesium plays a role in creatine metabolism and thus, theoretically, supplementing with it alongside creatine may increase its effectiveness.
However, one study found that creatine magnesium chelate is more or less the same as creatine monohydrate in terms of ergogenic effects but may result in less water weight gain.
More research is needed on creatine magnesium chelate to determine if it offers any reliable advantages over creatine monohydrate.
Buffered creatine is a form of creatine touted to outperform monohydrate due to a higher pH level.
Research indicates otherwise, however: it’s no more effective than monohydrate.
Creatine Hydrochloride (HCL)
Creatine hydrochloride is creatine bound with hydrochloric acid.
It’s turned into a basic creatine molecule in your stomach while it may be more water soluble than creatine monohydrate, no research has yet proven it to be any more effective.
Creatine malate is creatine bound with malic acid.
While malic acid alone may enhance performance, it hasn’t been researched in conjunction with creatine.
Creatine pyruvate is creatine bound with pyruvic acid.
Research shows it may produce higher plasma levels of creatine than monohydrate, but this doesn’t translate into greater muscle absorption or performance enhancement.”
I personally stick with good ol’ fashion monohydrate. It’s been tried and tested over the years and still remains the most popular choice among athletes and bodybuilders.
How do you take it?
People debate over “load and maintain” vs daily dosing. I personally don’t believe in that. I’ll just take 5g/day of monohydrate on training and non-training days. This helps combat the bloated feeling you may get during the loading phase. I have noticed no difference in strength but it may take longer to reach its full potential but none the less after a week of just 5g/day the benefits are the same.
The second debate is about WHEN to take it. Many commercial pre-workouts have some creatine in it. For example C4 has 1g of creatine nitrate in it, Pre JYM has 2g. I take my 5g after my workout mixed in my protein shake. One study says that it really doesn’t matter at all. Once you saturate your bloodstream with it it will be readily used up when the strenuous lifting starts.
Health and Side Effects
Creatine is processed in the liver and kidneys. Those with risk of kidney disease or high blood pressure are advised against taking it but studies show that when taken as directed there are no short-term or long-term health issues.
One of the most noticeable side effects is increased water retention… in your muscles. Are you serious?! Not only does this supplement make you stronger but also makes you look bigger too!? No wonder why creatine is known as a staple supplement, It’s god’s gift to lifters! All kidding aside creatine may dehydrate you so be sure you’re drinking more water. Stomach cramps and indigestion are also common which is why I only do 5g/day and don’t “load and maintain”
Where can I get some?
I hope by now you realize the benefits you may be missing out by NOT taking creatine while training. The evidence is there showing both its safety and its potential strength gains. You can find it at any health shop like GNC or Vitamin Shoppe. Online venders like Amazon.com (affiliate link) or Bodybuilding.com (affiliate link) have numerous vendors and types to choose from. Since creatine is something I take daily I like to buy in bulk at Bulksupplements.com (affiliate link) on monohydrate.
Whew! that was exhausting but I’m pretty sure I’ve covered creatine from every angle. As with any supplement do your own research and check with a health professional before deciding to give it a try. If you have any questions or comments I’d love to hear them in the comment section below.