Of all the supplements closest associated with the fitness world, creatine is unanimously agreed as being beneficial for improving training performance. Numerous studies have proven creatine to also enhance muscle mass and strength. While the effectiveness of fad products are uncertain, creatine is one of the world’s most tested supplements and has an outstanding safety profile - some doctors even now prescribe it to patients with early-onset Alzheimer's disease for its incredible neurological boosting properties along with other health benefits. But what exactly is creatine? What are the main sources of creatine? What does creatine do? And, how much should you take?
What is Creatine?
Creatine is a molecule naturally produced in the kidneys and completed in the liver, by three amino acids: glycine, arginine and methionine. These amino acids are converted into creatine phosphate and phosphocreatine which is then stored in the skeletal muscles, helping to produce energy during heavy lifting or high-intensity exercise. Simply put; creatine is part of the cycle that produces energy needed to contract your muscles.
About 95% of the body’s creatine stores are found in muscles in the form of phosphocreatine (the rest is found in your brain, kidneys and liver).
Although the body produces creatine, it is only in small amounts and we constantly use this during our daily non-exercise movement. Creatinine is the waste product produced in your muscles from breakdown of the creatine compound.
What are the main sources of Creatine?
As explained above, creatine is naturally found in flesh and therefore intake can be boosted by a diet rich in;
It cannot be obtained through plant based foods. Therefore, it is especially recommended that athletes on a vegetarian and vegan diet supplement it.
Dietary preferences aside, even carnivores rarely ingest enough creatine through animal products to meet the demands of a physically active lifestyle. So if you’re serious about progressing with training, you will choose to supplement with creatine. The most reputable product is;
What does Creatine do?
Taking creatine as a supplement is very popular among athletes and bodybuilders in order to gain muscle, enhance strength, improve exercise performance and even recover better.
When you supplement, you increase your stores of phosphocreatine, a form of stored energy in the cells which helps produce a high-energy molecule called ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate). When you have more ATP, your body can perform better during exercise.
Creatine boosts muscle gains in the following ways:
- Increased workload: It is reported to improve lifting volume in a single training session, key to long-term muscle growth
- Raised anabolic hormones: Studies have shown levels of anabolic hormones to actually rise after supplementing with creatine
- Enhanced cell signalling: Creatine can increase cell signaling to aid muscle repair and growth
- Increased cell hydration: Creatine monohydrate is created with one molecule of water attached to it (hence the name, ‘monohydrate’. The effect of the water retention within your muscle cells causes a volumising effect that can play a role in muscle growth (in addition to making you look ‘fuller’).
- Reduced protein breakdown: Creatine may increase total muscle mass by reducing muscle breakdown
- Lower myostatin levels: Elevated levels of the protein myostatin can inhibit new muscle growth but supplementing with creatine can reduce myostatin levels, increasing overall growth potential
How much Creatine should you take?
The most common approach for supplementing with creatine is to start with an initial loading phase of 20 grams daily (typically divided into 4x 5 gram servings spread throughout the day), for 5–7 days. Research has shown this to effectively boost creatine stores by 10–40%. But do expect to see a 1-2kg gain on the scales due to the associated water retention that comes with this supplement (see above).
After the loading phase, you can maintain your creatine stores by taking a lower dose of creatine, which generally ranges from 5 grams daily for the average exerciser to 10g daily for athletes and individuals with a higher training load and large muscle mass.
Consuming creatine with an optimal nutrition plan including adequate protein and carbohydrate can hugely enhance muscle creatine uptake. Some people choose to cycle creatine but in over 1,000 studies to date, there have been no negative safety issues associated with long-term use of this supplement.
Fuelled By Macros Top Tip
There are split opinions on the best time to take creatine. My personal favourite is immediately after training, when my body is best primed to absorb anything I refeed it with after a heavy session.
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