Creatine 101: the straight dope on this wonder supplement

spoon on white powder supplementCreatine is one of the most widely-used supplements available, yet it’s still very misunderstood by many. Creatine myths run rampant. If you understand creatine and use it properly, you know that it’s a must-have for almost any athlete or bodybuilder.

You may have heard a conversation like this in your gym, or perhaps read it on bodybuilding forum somewhere:

Bro 1: Bro, I started doing creatine and I’ve already gained 5 pounds in a week.
Bro 2: Bro that’s crazy! I’m not touching that stuff. Creatine is a steroid man!
Bro 3: Creatine is not a steroid, but it acts like one in your body. There is a BIG difference.
Bro 1: All I know is that I am feeling so aggressive on this stuff and I’m breaking out like crazy.
Bro 2: I heard one guy died from Creatine, just totally killed his liver.
Bro 3: It wasn’t his liver, it was kidneys.

And so the “Bros” prattle on about this over the counter steroid-like supplement called creatine. The sad fact is that many people still believe all this nonsense. So, in the spirit of Mind and Muscle’s mission to love our minds and the role of science in fitness, we offer you a pretty damned comprehensive Creatine 101

What Is Creatine?

Creatine is natural compound that helps restore energy supplies to the muscles. It is created naturally in the human body; it’s also consumed through natural sources such as meat. Creatine is composed of the amino acidsL-arginine, glycine, and L-methionine. Primarily in the kidneys, it is transported in the blood to fuel the muscles. Creatine supplies muscles with energy by increasing the formation of ATP (adenosine triphosphate). Adenosine Triphosphates are high energy molecules with strongly bound phosphates in the muscle tissue. When a phosphate breaks loose, energy is released. Creatine’s job is to replenish the phosphates to keep ATP running.

Creatine’s role in athletics

For years creatine has been crowned as the most effective athletic performance supplement- for many reasons. Creatine has the ability to supercharge your body’s energy system. This has given athletes the fuel to play longer, with more intensity. Creatine allows you to sync into high energy reserves at during critical moments in your game. Numerous studies have shown that creatine increases both strength and lean muscle mass.

It’s in our Food

Although creatine is naturally formed in our body from amino acids, a large portion is accumulated from consumption of certain foods. Creatine is primarily found in fresh meats such as: pork, beef, salmon and tune- these contain ~ 2grams per pound. Herring (a forage fish) contains among the highest content of 3-4 grams per pound.

If food were enough there would be no reason to supplement. The problems lies with creatine’s heat sensitivity. When you cook your meat, a large portion of the natural creatine is destroyed in the preparation.

Just for muscles?

Creatine’s popularity has earned its way into numerous studies. Researchers have found that creatine serves different roles in the body and is an essential part of good health.

  • Alzheimer’s disease: Supplementing creatine can decrease high homocysteine levels. High serum level of homocysteine is connected to many neurological and psychiatric problems. These include dementia, Alzheimer’s and depression. Studies that shows that high level of homocysteine double chances of developing Alzheimer’s.
  • A powerful antioxidant: It’s been shown that creatine is highly effective as an antioxidant. Creatine almost as effective as glutathione in battling free radicals: a known cause of cancer.
  • Add B vitamins: Vitamins B2, B6, B9 and B12 increase creatine synthesis. B vitamins and creatine increases cellular methylation. Health methylation benefits cell growth and ultimately muscle growth. Poor methylation function can lead to cancerous cell growths.
  • Heart Disease: Along with Alzheimer’s, increased homocysteine increases the risk of Coronary Heart Disease (CHD). Creatine helps lows these serum levels decreasing the risks of heart disease. Heart disease is the largest cause of death in the Western world with 13million battling it to this day.
  • Cognitive Function: Research has revealed that creatine improves brain functioning. Studies have concluded that creatine enhances problems solving abilities and improves short term memory. When examined, those taking an IQ test performed when supplementing creatine.

Anabolic Effects

Anabolism is the state of which muscle grows. Supplementing creatine performs on different levels to create an environment for anabolism.

Optimized Performance

Creatine allows for an athlete to train much longer before failure, this sate of endurance allows for longer reps and heightens intensity. Bodybuilders note that the last few reps are critical for proper muscle response. Allowing an extra three repetitions can be the difference in muscle plateau and muscle creations. An increased intensity forces the body to compensate by adapting to the new work load and building larger, stronger muscle tissue.

Cell Volumization

Cell volumization is the most notable ability of creatine anabolism. Creatine forces muscle cells to fill with water. This hydration leads to larger muscle and better pumps. The muscle swelling makes protein synthesis easier by leading amino acids and nutrients into the cell. Creatine not only enlarges cell size, but strengthens it. This volumizing effect leads to greater lean mass.

Effects of muscle growth and repair

  • As an anti-oxidant, to removes free radical and other harmful waste that seeks to destroy healthy muscle cells. It strengths and repairs cell membranes, allowing for proper growth.
  • Creatine buffers catabolic acids from entering the cell after a workout. Proper PH balance reduces fatigue and increase recovery.
  • Creatine aids calcium into the muscle tissue, which in turn allows proper muscle contractions. Creatine deficiency creates a calcium imbalance with the muscle and decrease contraction performance- end result, a loss of endurance.

Creatine Supplements

man in gym drinking from a shaker bottleApart from protein supplements, creatine is the most talked about performance aid. Why? Because it’s the most effect legal muscle building aid available! Supplementing creatine can improve over-all strength by 10-15% and increase solid mass by 10lbs. Creatine supplements are both cost effective and easy to use.

Creatine’s History in a Nutshell

Creatine was first discovered in 1835 by a French Scientist named Chevreul, naming creatine as the Greek word “ Kreas” meaning flesh.

Creatine supplementation was first under the light during the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. During that year, The Times wrote about athletes using creatine supplementation in the Olympics- most importantly the 100m dash winner, Linford Christie.Later that year the first creatine supplement arose into the market. In 1993 EAS created PhosPhagen Elite.

Forms of Creatine Supplements

Creatine is sold as:

  • Powder: Powdered creatine is the most popular. Commonly sold as un-flavored, creatine comes in flavors such as grape. The Easy to use un-flavored power is easy to add to an athlete’s favorite drink or protein powder.
  • Capsules: For creatine on-the-go capsules and pills have become increasingly popular.
  • Liquid: Pre-packaged creatine is less popular due to cost, but is equally effective and has its uses.
  • Creatine Blends: Some products will have various types of creatines along with simple carbs, minerals and herbs to increase both absorption and potency.

Who Uses Creatine?

Creatine is popular among types of athletes for its strength muscle increasing effects.

Power lifters: commonly use creatine for heavy lifting. When seeking to break a personal record or land their name in the hall-of-fame creatine is uses for max lifts. When lifting 100% of your 1RM as many times as you can, you need that extra energy reserve. Typically lifts such as the deadlifts are done in a quick, consistent motion. Creatine allows for that bursts energy needed.

Bodybuilders: In order hit reach perfect muscle hypertrophy, bodybuilders need to hit the right amount of reps with solid range. Creatine gives the energy available to get those last few reps in and blast the muscle into growth.

Endurance Athletes: Bikers, runners, swimmers and the like all use creatine to increase their endurance to high intensity workouts. Creatine is found when these athletes search for that energy during the last stretch of the race.

Average lifters: Creatine usage isn’t just for the “pro” athletes. Anyone looking ot get back into shape and build a leaner body can benefit from this staple supplement. Along with all of the help benefits, it’s a need for any dietary regimen.

Types of Creatine

  • Creatine Monohydrate: Creatine Monohydrate is the most popular creatine on the market. It is the least expensive and most studied form. It’s gained its popularity because it simply works. No legal compound, non-hormonal substance works as well as creatine at building muscle and increasing workload. Monohydrate is 88% creatine bound to 12% water.
  • Creatine Ethyl Ester: Creatine Ethyl Ester is fairly new, but highly favored ranking it as second in popularity. This creatine is attached to an ester, making it easier to pass into the cell membranes much easier. This form absorbs more quickly than other forms.
  • Creatine anhydrous: This form of creatine in made without a water molecule. It provides 6% more pure form creatine than monohydrate.
  • Creatine citrate: This creatine is a citric acid molecule bonded onto creatine. In theory because citrate provided more energy to muscle, it will work better combined with creatine.
  • Creatine phosphate: This is creatine bonded onto phosphate. Naturally creatine bonds to phosphate in the body. It’s believed that by pre-bonding the creatine, it will work more effectively. Many users report it less effect than monohydrate.
  • Creatine tartrate: This is creatine bonded onto tartaric acid. Used mainly in chewables, pills, and bars is has no reported benefit over monohydrate.
  • Magnesium creatine: This form is a creatine bonded to a magnesium molecule. When bonded together, magnesium helps aid creatine in the recollection of phosphates for ATP. It also increases the digestion of creatine,
  • Creatine glutamine taurine: This is creatine bonded to the molecules glutamine and taurine. Glutamine and taurine both aid the volumizing of cells. They are bound in hopes of increasing each other’s volumizing effects. Taurine has also been shown to increase strength loads.
  • Creatine HMB: This form of creatine is attached to beta-hydroxy beta-methylbutyrate. HMB aids in muscle growth and recovery.
  • Effervescent creatine: This creatine is a mixture of citrate or monohydrate with citric acid and bicarbonate. Effervescent creatine when in water, allows creatine to carry a neutral charge.
  • Creatine titrate: This works similar to effervescent creatine, by changing the water’s PH balance.

Maximizing Creatine Use

What is Creatine Loading?

The human body contains on average 120 grams of creatine. 95% of this is held inside the muscle. Our muscles are capable if holding another 30-40 grams of creatine, at a total of 150-160 grams. Those with more muscle mass are able to hold more.

There are two ways of creatine loading:

  • Rapid Loading: This is done by taking a large dose of ~20 grams for a week then 5-10 grams for maintenance thereafter. Most users take it in 5g doses with juice or dextrose to increase absorption.
  • Slow Loading: This basic loading is done by taking 5-10 grams a day allowing creatine is gradually build up.

Both approaches to loading creatine work. It’s best to try each and see which works best for you.

Is Cycling Required?

The short answer: NO. Although no long term studies prove that it is necessary to cycle creatine, many nutritional and fitness experts recommend cycling it. So if you decide you want to cycle it, then here some key info for you! It’s popular to cycle in 4 weeks. Longer cycles are around 9 weeks- if cycled at all. Here are easy cycling charts:

4 week cycle

Week 1: 20 gram creatine load (4 servings of 5 grams)

Weeks 2-4: Maintenance of 5-10 grams. (2 servings of 5 grams)

Weeks 5-8: Off cycle


9 week cycle

Week 1: 20 gram creatine load (4 servings of 5 grams)

Week 2-7: Maintenance of 5-10 grams. (2 servings of 5 grams)

Week 8-9: Off cycle


Creatine and High Glycemic Carbs

It is best to supplement creatine with fruit juice- grape is best. An alternative is to take it with high glycemic carbs such as dextrose. These will increase the synthesis of creatine into the body. Carbs such as dextrose increase insulin, which allows for higher creatine absorption. It requires around 70 grams of carbs to create an effective insulin spike.

When to take creatine

Although there is no set way to supplement your creatine during the day, it is best to space it out and allow for consistent dosing. Here is a logical way to spread your creatine evening throughout the day.

Loading example:

  • Morning: 5 grams with juice- grape, etc
  • Pre-workout: 5 grams with waxy maize
  • Post-workout: 5 grams with dextrose and whey protein
  • Before Bed: 5 grams with carb of choice and protein again. (Gotta stay anti-catabolic!)

Water Consumption with Creatine

It’s recommended to drink at least 8 glasses of water a day when supplementing creatine. Some athletes normally drink a gallon of water throughout the day to stay properly hydrated and keep muscle cells full. Drinking inadequate water when supplementing can make its effects diminished and cause mild dehydration. Creatine and hydration are friends.

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