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Creatine is one of the most popular dietary supplements currently on the market. With a variety of different well-documented benefits, it’s now taken by everyone from competitive athletes to casual gym-goers.
Even so, there are all sorts of myths out there about creatine that can often make the layperson weary. But before we get too far into the benefits and the myths, however, let’s first discuss what creatine actually is and how it works in your body.
What is Creatine?
Creatine is a naturally occurring chemical compound that's found primarily in your muscle cells. Well...It’s mostly stored in your muscles but your body also stores small amounts in your brain as well.
When it comes to classifying creatine, it’s similar to an amino acid but then again, it’s not exactly an amino acid. It is, however, derived from the amino acids glycine and arginine. Creatine is also not considered an essential nutrient because it’s produced naturally in the human body in small amounts -- your body synthesizes around 1g of creatine per day.
While not an essential nutrient, it can also be obtained through your diet and can be found primarily in meats and to a lesser extent, in some dairy products as well. However, most people usually don’t consume more than 1g of creatine per day via their diet either.
What Does It Do?
Although it may be stored in other places, creatine is actually synthesized in your liver and kidneys. From there, it’s transported via your bloodstream to tissues throughout your body with high energy demands -- places like your muscles and brain.
When your muscles are in need of energy, creatine plays an important role in increasing levels of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) in your muscle cells. ATP is an organic energy-providing chemical and the driving factor behind numerous processes within the human body, including things like muscle contractions and certain brain functions as well.
In addition to being an important chemical fuel source to your brain cells, ATP also plays a critical role in your brain's production of neurotransmitters, which are the chemicals your nerve cells use to communicate with each other.
What are The Benefits of Taking Creatine?
As you can see, creatine plays a number of different roles in your body and can be found everywhere from your muscles to your blood to your brain. The issue is that your body doesn’t produce a lot of creatine on its own and most people don’t consume a whole lot through their diets either. So what exactly do you stand to gain from supplementing with creatine?
⫸Creating and Muscle Growth
Creatine’s effects on muscle growth have been well researched and numerous studies have found that in combination with resistance exercise, it can significantly increase the size of your muscles.
Creatine can help to increase intramuscular concentrations of insulin-like growth factor (IGF) during exercise, which can play an important role in muscle growth. (1)
Researchers have found that those who supplement with creatine on average have higher concentrations of IGF in their muscles, which over time, also leads to greater increases in lean body mass. (2)(3)
Several other studies have also found that creatine supplementation helps to increase the number of satellite cells and myonuclei in your muscle fibers.(4)
Myonuclei are derived from satellite cells and play an important role in muscle growth. (5) When stimulated by resistance training, the presence of additional satellite cells in your muscles can help to enlarge your muscle fibers, leading to increases in lean muscle mass. (6)
⫸Creatine and Exercise Performance
Creatine supplementation has been shown to increase the amount of phosphocreatine within your muscle cells. Phosphocreatine is used by your muscles during high-intensity activity to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is an energy source. Thus, one of the main benefits of creatine supplementation is the increased availability of energy in your muscles when you’re exercising.
Studies have consistently demonstrated that creatine supplementation increases phosphocreatine concentrations in the muscles by as much as 40%. This increased concentration of ATP ultimately translates into improvements in both anaerobic and aerobic endurance.
On the strength side of things, having more energy in your muscles means that you can increase your training volume in the weight room. Heavier weights, combined with more sets and reps equates to increases in strength (and size) over time.
For instance, one study examined the effects of creatine supplementation on handball players. The study tasked participants with performing as many reps as possible at 60 - 70% of their one-rep max on the bench press and squat.
The researchers found that those who were given creatine, on average, were able to perform more reps before their muscles reached failure compared to those who were given a placebo.(7)
Creatine has been found effective at increasing your capacity to perform on aerobic exercises as well. Studies on athletes ranging from sprinters to cyclists to swimmers have found that creatine supplementation improved their performances on high-intensity aerobic exercises.(8)(9)(10)
For instance, one study on soccer players found that those who supplemented with creatine demonstrate better running ability as well as superior vertical jumping capabilities at lactate threshold.(11)
Ultimately, the research strongly suggests that supplementing with creatine helps your muscles to work harder for longer, which translates to an improved aerobic capacity both during training and in competition.
⫸Creatine and Brain Function
While creatine has primarily been studied for its impact on muscle growth and exercise performance, it’s effects on brain functions have also started to attract the attention of some researchers. In fact, many people now consider creatine to be a nootropic substance due to its enhancing effects on mental energy.
ATP is one of your brain’s primary chemical energy sources and researchers speculate that increased levels of ATP in your brain may enhance your ability to perform cognitively demanding tasks. Although there have been some promising findings up until this point, the research on the matter is still very much underway.
Is Creatine Safe?
For some reason or another, there is a lot of misinformation out there when it comes to creatine; here at Dioxyme, we come across unsubstantiated claims all the time. The fact of the matter is, however, that creatine and its effects have been extensively studied -- it’s actually one of the most well-research supplements currently on the market.
The overwhelming consensus amongst researchers is that creatine is perfectly safe and effective when taken at the proper dosages. Even so, certain claims still persist despite the lack of scientific evidence.
Will It Cause You to Gain Fat or Water Weight?
One of the most common myths out there about creatine is that you’ll get fat if you take it for too long. While you are more likely to gain weight, it’s mostly a result of muscle growth, not increases in body fat.
Research does show that when you first start taking creatine, you may gain as much as 5 pounds in the first week but that’s mainly due to increased levels of water in your muscles. (12)
As opposed to popular belief though, those levels don’t stay elevated much past the first week or two. In fact, researchers have on average, found no significant difference between water retention observed in creatine users vs. non-users.
Over an extended period of time, creatine users may be more likely to see increases in their body weight, however, for those who regularly weight train, those gains are likely to be due to increases in lean mass, not fat or water.(13)
Does it Cause Cramps or Dehydration?
One claim you’re likely to come across is that taking creatine will give you cramps and make you vulnerable to dehydration. However, in reality, there doesn’t appear to be any evidence to support this claim.
In fact, several studies have found the exact opposite to be true. For instance, one study investigated whether or not creatine supplementation had an effect on the occurrence of injury amongst Division 1 football players.(14)
Over the course of three years, researchers found that athletes who regularly took creatine did not demonstrate any significant difference in their likelihood of experiencing cramps or dehydration either during training or in competition.
A further study concluded that creatine supplementation may actually help to reduce your heart and sweat rates during physically demanding exercise, especially when your performing in a hot environment.(15)
Is it Bad For Your Liver and Kidneys?
Another common myth is that creatine supplementation can cause harm to your liver and kidneys. However, a number of studies have actually repudiated this claim.
For example, one study published in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism looked at creatine usage in collegiate football players over multiple years. The research found no difference in the liver or kidney functions between those who took creatine and those who didn’t. (16)
The study ultimately concluded that for those with previous training experience, creatine supplementation “had no long-term detrimental effects on kidney or liver functions”.
Does Creatine Cause Digestive Problems?
As opposed to what you might hear on some discussion boards, the research is also pretty clear that creatine doesn’t cause digestive problems when taken at correct dosages.
For example, a double-blind placebo-controlled study published in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition found no significant difference in the occurrence of gastrointestinal discomfort or diarrhea between those who took creatine and those who did not.(17)
Are Some Forms Of Creatine Better Than Others?
Over the years, multiple different forms of creatine have been produced with claims that they are more effective than the original form -- creatine monohydrate.
Some of these other forms include creatine ethyl ester, krealklyn, pyruvate, hydrochloride, and buffered creatine. While they may also be effective, there is no scientific evidence to support the argument that they’re more effective than creatine monohydrate.
Creatine Dosage Recommendations
There are 2 basic ways of taking creatine. The standard method is to saturate your system through what is called a loading phase. During the loading phase, you consume 0.3 g of creatine per kilogram of body weight per day -- usually, that’ll be divided up into 4 doses per day.
It’s often recommended that your loading phase lasts for between 5-7 days. After about a week, you’ll switch over to a once a day dose of 0.03 grams per kilogram of body weight.
For a typical 180 pound individual this would work out to taking a 6.5-gram dose, 4 times a day for the first week followed by 2.5 grams daily. Dosing, however, is not an exact science and everyone’s specific requirements are going to vary. Your dose can ultimately be adjusted over time based on how it’s working for you.
The other method is to skip the loading phase and just begin taking the recommended daily dosage of 0.03g of creatine per kilogram of body weight. Several studies have compared the 2 approaches and found that two weeks after the start of consumption, there is no difference in benefit. In other words, the creatine will take longer to kick in if you don’t do a loading phase but it can still be just as beneficial in the long term.
When Should You Take Creatine?
The most commonly recommended times to take creatine are right before and after exercise, although, the research isn’t all that clear as to whether one specific time is better than the other.
Long story short, there seem to be advantages to supplementing with creatine both before and after your workout, so you may need to experiment a little to find what works best for you.
You will still want to take creatine on days that you don’t exercise but timing isn’t all that important. It is probably best, however, to take it with a meal.
Does Creatine Interact With Other Drugs?
You will need to speak with your doctor before you begin taking creatine if you’re on other drugs. In particular, creatine may cause unwanted interactions with other substances related to blood sugar management. It may also lead to unintended side effects when mixed with certain anti-inflammatory medications.
Stacking Creatine With Other Supplements
Although combining some substances with creatine can be dangerous, there are other combinations that can be perfectly safe and even advantageous when taken appropriately. In fact, a number of supplement companies offer ‘creatine stacks’ where creatine has been paired with other substances in order to amplify its effects.
For example, beta-alanine is a naturally occurring amino acid that like creatine, helps to improve your endurance during both anaerobic and aerobic performances. When combined with creatine, the effects become even further amplified, helping athletes to perform at higher work capacities for longer periods of time.
the ultimate creatine stack:
creatine + beta alanine + HMB + HICA + phosphatidic acidLearn More
Another supplement that is commonly combined with creatine is HMB (β-hydroxy-β-methylbutyrate). HMB also helps to promote muscle growth by stimulating muscle protein synthesis (MPS), although through different pathways than creatine. When the two substances are taken together, it helps to produce greater spikes in MPS than when either is taken in isolation.
While there are plenty of myths out there, creatine is perfectly safe and effective when taken appropriately. In fact, there are a number of scientifically backed benefits. From improving your muscle-building potential to increasing your anaerobic endurance, creatine has multiple applications.
Most research shows that before and after your workout are the best times to supplement with creatine, although you should also still take it on rest days. If you’re on other medications -- particularly drugs that have to do with your blood -- you’ll certainly want to speak with your doctor before you begin taking creatine.
For most people, the recommended dose is 0.03g of creatine per kilogram of body weight per day -- that’s after an initial 1-week loading phase of 0.3g per kilo per day.
- "Effect of Creatine Supplementation and Resistance-Exercise Training on Muscle Insulin-Like Growth Factor in Young Adults" Burke, D.G., Candow, D.G., Chilibeck, P.D., MacNeil, L.G. Human Kinetics Journal. Aug. 2008.
- "Increased IGF mRNA in human skeletal muscle after creatine supplementation." Deldicque, L., Louis, M., Theisen, D., Dehoux, M., Thissen, J.P., Rennie, M.J., Francaux, M. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. May. 2005.
- "Creatine and β-hydroxy-β-methylbutyrate (HMB) additively increase lean body mass and muscle strength during a weight-training program" Jowko, E., Ostaszewski, P., Jank, M., Sacharuk, J., Zieniewicz, A., Wilczak, J., Nissen, S. Nutrition. Aug. 2001.
- "Creatine supplementation augments the increase in satellite cell and myonuclei number in human skeletal muscle induced by strength training" Olsen, S., Aagaard, P., Kadi, F., Tufekovic, G., Verney, J., Olesen, J.L., Suetta, C., Kjaer, M. The Journal of Physiology. May. 2006.
- "Skeletal muscle adaptation and cell cycle regulation." Yan, Z. Exercise and Sports Science Reviews. Jan. 2000.
- "Dietary creatine monohydrate supplementation increases satellite cell mitotic activity during compensatory hypertrophy." Dangbott, B., Schultz, E., Mozdziak, P.E. International Journal of Sports Medicne. Jan. 2000.
- "Effects of creatine supplementation on muscle power, endurance, and sprint performance." Izquierdo, M., Ibanez, J., Gonzalez-Badillo, J.J., Gorostiage, E.M. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. Feb. 2002.
- "Combined creatine and sodium bicarbonate supplementation enhances interval swimming." Mero, A.A, Keskinen, K.L., Malvela, M.T., Sallinen, J.M. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. May. 2004.
- "Creatine supplementation improves sprint performance in male sprinters." Skare, O.C., Skadberg. Wisnes, A.R. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports. Apr. 2001.
- "The effect of longer-term creatine supplementation on elite swimming performance after an acute creatine loading." Theodorou, A.S., Cooke, C.B., King, R.F., Hood, C., Denison, T., Wainwright, B.G., Havenetidis, K. Journal of Sports Sciences. Nov. 1999.
- "Creatine monohydrate supplementation on lower-limb muscle power in Brazilian elite soccer players." Claudino, J.G., Mezencio, B., Amaral, S., Zanetti, V., Benatti, F., Roschel, H., Gualano, B., Amadio, A.C., Serrao, J.C. Journal of The International Society of Sports Nutrition. Jun. 2014.
- "Effects of creatine supplementation on body composition, strength, and sprint performance." Kreider, R.B., Ferreira, M., Wilson, M, Grindstaff, P., Plisk, S., Reinardy, J., Cantler, E., Almada, A.L. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. Jan. 1998.
- "Effect of creatine supplementation on body composition and performance: a meta-analysis." Branch, J.D. International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism. Jun. 2003.
- "Creatine supplementation during college football training does not increase the incidence of cramping or injury" Greenwood, M., Kreider, R.B., Melton, C., Rasmussen, C., Lancaster, S., Cantler, E., Milnor, P., Alamanda, A. Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry. Feb. 2003.
- "Putting to rest the myth of creatine supplementation leading to muscle cramps and dehydration" Dalbo, V.J., Roberts, M.D., Stout, J.R., Kerksick, C.M. British Journal of Sports Medicine. Jul. 2008.
- "Effects of Long-term Creatine Supplementation on Liver and Kidney Functions in American College Football Players" Mayhew, D.L., Mayhew, J.L., Ware, J.S. Human Kinetics Journal. Dec. 2002.
- "Few adverse effects of long-term creatine supplementation in a placebo-controlled trial." Groeneveld, G.J., Beijer, C., Veldink, J.H., Kalmijn., S., Wokke, J.H., van den Berg, L.H. International Journal of Sports Medicine. May. 2005.