Creatine is an indispensable supplement for any athlete. In this article, we will tell you everything you need to know about it.
- 1. What is Creatine?
- 2. Creatine, what is it for?
- 3. Main Features of Creatine
- 4. Creatine: the Best Ergogenic Support
- 5. Effects of Creatine
- 6. How does Creatine work?
- 7. Creatine and ATP
- 8. Creatine and Energy Substrate
- 9. Who can benefit from taking Creatine?
- 10. Creatine and the Brain
- 11. Sources of Creatine
- 12. Blood creatine
- 13. Creatine Supplementation
- 14. Contraindications of Creatine
- 15. Results of Creatine Supplementation
- 16. Sports that benefit from Creatine Supplementation
- 17. Creatine, why does it not work?
- 18. What Creatine should I buy?
- 19. What do the Experts think?
- 20. FAQ
- 21. Bibliography
- 22. Related Entries
What is Creatine?
It is an organic acid produced by our body (in the liver) by combining 3 amino acids: arginine, glycine and methionine. Later on, it is stored in the muscle fibers.
Creatine, what is it for?
It keeps the phosphocreatine deposits full (saturated). Therefore, we will have energy available to perform activities that need a lot of ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate)
This will allow us to benefit specially in explosive or high intensity activities and exercises.
Main Features of Creatine
As we mentioned at the beginning, many studies back up the use of creatine. In fact, it has many properties for athletes, from amateurs to professionals:
- It is a type of stored energy, ATP, which is released faster than glucose. This allows us to perform high intensity efforts.
- When we perform a physical effort, our body releases as energy so that we will have energy immediately available. This mainly occurs in short and intense activities.
- Moreover, it has a not so well-known effect because it does not have to do with sports. It is a nootropic, that is, a substance that keeps our brain healthy by providing cognitive support.
- On the other hand, it can be used both for cutting or bulking phase. All in all, it will improve our physical composition (lose fat, gain muscle mass).
- Most of the time, people use it like a Pre-workout supplement, although there are other ways to take it. In fact, you can combine with other supplements, like amino acids.
- To top it all, it has been proven that it does not have any adverse side effect
Creatine: the Best Ergogenic Support
It is an ergogenic support, in other words, it supports the physical performance. With it, you will be able to enhance your abilities during high intensity efforts while increasing the amount of lean mass.
In strength and explosive sports, such as rugby, creatine can be a plus in improving the performance.
Effects of Creatine
In terms of sport, it will:
- Increase the strength
- Enhance our muscle resistance and delay the fatigue
- Help to gain muscle mass (hypertrophy)
- Shorten the recovery
A common visual effect of this supplementation is bulkier muscles
How does Creatine work?
Muscle tissue needs
When the muscle needs energy, the cells use stored ATP. When it runs out, the cells tend to look for another method, albeit less effect, to synthesize ATP once again. This process is catalyzed by the phosphokinase creatine enzyme, also known as creatine kinase.
The reaction is reversible, since said enzyme is capable of adding a phosphate to create phosphocreatine. Or it can remove it, depending on the needs of the cell.
Recharge the ATP deposits
When the cells are “at rest”, they “recharge” the creatine phosphate deposits”. They “remove” a phosphate from ATP and add it to creatine, resulting in ADP.
Constant ATP synthesis
There is not ATP in the tissues, except for the muscle tissues which does have reserves. However, these reserves only last for a few seconds.
Therefore, it is necessary to synthesize ATP constantly and hydrolyze it immediately (ATP cycle)
Our body recycles the phosphate released due to the hydrolysis of the original ATP molecule. Consequently, this helps to preserve the energy without running out of ATP.
The ATP cycle helps to prolong the activity until we run out after using it for 3-5 minutes without stopping. Without creatine reserves, we would run out of ATP much sooner.
Muscle fiber Creatine reserves
Its reserves in the skeletal muscle are mostly located in the fast twitch fibers (FTx > FTa). In fact, they have more than slow twitch fibers (ST).
Fast twitch fibers are the ones that allow us to make muscle contractions quickly, mainly due to its higher ATPase concentration (check previous image) that is in charge of hydrolyzed ATP.
Source: David Arroyo – As we can see in this image, phosphates run out quickly (less than 30 seconds). Therefore, the body will use glycogen that will produce lactate.
Creatine and ATP
The time to regenerate phosphocreatine will depend on the person and the intensity of the activity.
Thus, speed or strength athletes like powerlifters/bodybuilders need less time to recharge them.
Even though there is not much written about this, I think this is due to a better oxidative metabolism. In other words, our body uses more glucose or fatty acids as energy during a high intensity workout. Consequently, we will regenerate the phosphocreatine that we spent during the first minute.
Both Decathlon and CrossFit athletes can benefit from this supplement
Creatine ATP-ADP Scheme
Breaking down ATP into ADP and a phosphate molecule produces a lot of energy
Then, creatine donates its phosphate group to ADP, resulting in another ATP molecule that we can use. To sum up, we could say that it delays the fatigue by increasing the energy that is available throughout the workout:
This effect reduces the use of muscle glycogen and reduces the protein breakdown in the muscles
Creatine and Energy Substrate
This supplement will support the functioning of the phosphagen energy substrate. In other words, the energy that our body uses at the beginning of a physical activity that requires a certain intensity.
During the muscle contraction, adenosine triphosphate (ATP) becomes adenosine diphosphate (ADP). Creatine phosphate is necessary to transform ADP into ATP, which is crucial for muscle contraction
Further on, the glycolytic and oxidative substrates will become more important, even if they overlap
Therefore, creatine supplementation will support explosive and high intensity activities
Who can benefit from taking Creatine?
As we have seen before, it helps to keep the ATP deposits full, so it can be used for all those activities that use it as the main substrate. It will mainly be activities of an explosive nature where factors like Strength, Reaction, Speed play an important role.
High Intensity Activities will take more advantage of this supplement
- Collective Sports
Those who train with weights within the Fitness field can also take advantage of this supplement.
Creatine and Diabetic People
One of the main objectives of diabetic people (type II) is stabilizing their blood glucose on an empty stomach
Having high blood glucose levels can damage the eyes, nerves, kidneys… Creatine alone cannot reduce the blood sugar levels. However, it can reduce these levels when doing physical exercise.
Physical exercise tends to lower the blood glucose. Moreover, creatine can make the muscle more receptive to absorbing said glucose.
Creatine and the Brain
Its effects on the brain are quite similar to the ones on the muscles.
Both use creatine phosphate (PCr) as energy source. However, the PCr levels can drop during the workout if we do not recharge them. Your brain can become tired when performing intense mental tasks, just like your muscles do.
When we perform cognitive tasks we will need to make an effort in order to focus
Reducing mental fatigue
The muscles use this type of energy during the contraction and movement. On the other hand, the brain cells will use it to create electric signals for neuronal communication.
Higher phosphocreatine levels will provide more energy for our brain. Therefore, it will be able to process information more quickly and communicate with the rest of the body effectively.
Having more phosphocreatine for the brain delays the onset of mental fatigue, tiredness. It also helps us stay focused after spending a long time on a cognitive task.
This is particularly important for athletes, since mental fatigue hinders the physical performance.
When the brain is tired, everything seems to require more effort. We feel like we are struggling to move or breathe when doing physical exercise.
The neurons transmit electric signals to each other. But the reuptake phenomenon occurs when the neuron does not send the message to the closest neuron. Nevertheless, there are ways we can ensure the neurotransmission between brain cells.
SSRIs is an acronym for “Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors” which are used as antidepressants
In other studies, specially on women, the scientists enhanced the effects on antidepressants by using this supplement.
The results from many studies show how cell death is due to a lack of cell energy.
In fact, the cells avoid being destroyed by toxins when they have energy (ATP). Then, due to the supply of extra ATP from creatine, we will save more cells from dying.
Currently, the research is focusing on Parkinson’s disease
Cell Membrane Protection
People tend to believe that creatine supplementation causes fluid retention
But this statement has certain nuances: mainly, the molecule can bind to a cell wall. Therefore, it accumulates fluid in the cell, producing a protective effect against damage.
Sources of Creatine
Our body produces around 2g naturally every day
However, it is also available in some foods, like meat or fish. For example, you can take creatine from natural products like:
- Lean beef, around 5g per kg
- Chicken meat, around 3.4g per kg
- Rabbit meat, around 3.4g per kg
- Heart tissue, around 2.5g per kg
The liver, pancreas and kidneys are in charge of its synthesis
The kidneys are the organs in charge of detoxifying the body. Therefore, it has to go through them. Consequently, its metabolization in the liver will result in creatinine.
The kidneys regulate the blood creatinine levels (women: 0.5-1.1mg/dL and men 0.6-1.2mg/dL). Creatinine is a renal function marker, in fact, a high level could be a sign of disease or malfunctioning.
Relation between Creatine and Creatinine
Then, if we take creatine, it could increase the creatinine levels, right? However, it does not have to be related to a malfunctioning of these organs, just to its metabolization in the kidneys.
Most studies perform an initial loading protocol. It consists of saturating the reserves with around 0.3g per kg of body weight for 5-7 days.
This phase would be followed by a maintenance phase of 5g of creatine daily.
Performing the loading phase saturates the cells, we can do this too by taking 5g from the beginning.
Although it would be enough to take 2g of product for a long time in order to preserve the gains.
Or we can progressively saturate the cells by taking a dose of creatine monohydrate between 3 and 10g (0.1g per kg) for a long time.
Find out how to take creatine properly in this specialized article.
Contraindications of Creatine
Compatibility with Caffeine
For some people, its combination with caffeine could partially cancel out the effects of creatine.
One of the reasons could be that caffeine causes dehydration since it is a diuretic substance. This is exactly the opposite of what we are trying to achieve with this supplement.
If the person is taking diuretics, there is a risk of suffering dehydration. We suggest consulting your doctor previously.
Is Creatine bad for the kidneys?
People believe that creatine can affect the kidneys and cause renal damage.
A tip: drink more water when taking supplementation
Results of Creatine Supplementation
After several tests we can say that it improves these qualities:
- Physical power
- Anaerobic capacity
- More lean mass
- Volume gain
- Intramuscular accumulation
- More VO2 max
- Fatigue delay
Sports that benefit from Creatine Supplementation
Creatine, why does it not work?
Individuals with more FTx fibers (sprinters, bodybuilders, weightlifters, strongmen…) have a better response to creatine than those with more ST fibers (long distance runners, cyclists, etc…).
There are also differences between members of a same sport, but different race in terms of performance and muscle composition: black -> latino, mediterranean > white.
There are Responders and Nonresponders to Creatine
Responder and Nonresponder
A responder to oral supplementation tends to have a high muscle percentage. Between a 15-20% above the baseline (that is, around 20mMol/kg).
Those who have less than 10mMol/kg of muscle creatine after prolonged supplementation are nonresponders.
Those that are in the middle (between 10 to 20 mMol/kg) are quasi-responders. Although in terms of progress, they could reach the same point of a responder (if they stopped taking supplementation).
What Creatine should I buy?
The most common format is the monohydrate (under the Creapure quality seal). You just have to mix the powder in some liquid and drink it.
What do the Experts think?
There is no reason why you should not use this supplement, which is backed up by many studies. Its efficacy has been proven and contrasted by many athletes, whose opinion has been very positive in general.
Its intake is strongly advised because it increases the strength, muscle gains, and recovery.
So to speak, it works!
What is ATP and how does it work?
It is the organic component found in the muscle fiber. Our body synthesizes it to produce energy when there is a muscle contraction.
ATP is an adenine nucleotide, an organic molecule made up by combining a five-carbon monosaccharide (pentose), a nitrogen base (adenine) and a 3-phosphate group (triphosphate).
There is a lot of energy stored in the union of these phosphates, and their breakdown produces said energy, stimulated by the cell itself. Consequently, it results in: adenosine diphosphate (ADP) and a phosphate-free molecule. If the cell has an excess of energy, it stores it as ATP, from ADP and free phosphate.
ATP is necessary for any biomechanical reaction involved in any muscle contraction. If we increase the muscle work, our body will consume more ATP. Therefore, we will need to resynthesize it if we want to have energy.
The body uses several mechanisms to synthesize ATP, adapting to the intensity of the exercise, the substrate that is used to produce ATP.
Will creatine help me to lift more weight?
Strictly speaking, yes.
It allows you to increase the intensity of the workout, to use more fiber. Thus, it exerts more strength when facing an stimulus.
On the other hand, it shortens the recovery processes, so we will be ready for the next workout sooner.
Can creatine become toxic after taking it for a long time?
There is no evidence of toxicity as long as we follow the corresponding dose, as well as a proper hydration.
Is creatine safe?
Yes, since it is an amino acid that is present in the body of humans and animals. The body has around 100-115g of phosphate.
What is the best moment to use it?
After training, since it is when the energy deposits are recharged, as well as to avoid any stomach discomfort during the workout.
Nevertheless, the moment you use this product is irrelevant, since you have to take it daily to experience its effects.
You have to drink creatine immediately after preparing it. Take it during the main meals, since the insulin levels will be high, improving its absorption. Drink plenty of water when taking creatine supplementation.
Is it necessary to take creatine with sugar?
It is not necessary to create an insulin peak.
However, you can add a simple carbohydrate if necessary, as a post-workout.
It is said that the creatine transporter in the organism is not insulin-dependent.
Do I need to do a loading phase?
It is not necessary.
It should be enough to maintain the dosing from the very first day (1g per 10kg of body weight).
Will I lose weight if I stop using it?
There is not reason why you would lose muscle.
However, there is a loss of weight that can be due to the water that the creatine no longer carries to the cell.
Does creatine retain water?
Yes, but at an intracellular level, not subcutaneous retention.
There is a difference between water retention and cell volumization. While the former produces a smooth aspect of the muscles, the latter produces a bulky aspect of the muscle tissue.
How does caffeine affect creatine?
A study conducted on two groups of people assessed the effects of taking creatine alone and combining it with caffeine. The dose of caffeine equalled two cups of coffee. The two groups experienced an increase of the muscle phosphocreatine levels. However, the joint strength increased a 23% in the group that only took creatine. On the other hand, the group that took creatine and caffeine did not experience this effect.
In the end, the study assessed that caffeine seemed that caffeine inhibited the ergogenic effects of creatine. However, there are many athletes who drink coffee or other drinks with caffeine and still benefit from creatine.
- International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine.
- Contribution of creatine to protein homeostasis in athletes after endurance and sprint running.
- Creatine and beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate (HMB) additively increase lean body mass and muscle strength during a weight-training program.
- Caffeine counteracts the ergogenic action of muscle creatine loading.
- Caffeine is ergogenic after supplementation of oral creatine monohydrate.
- The effects of a pre-workout supplement containing caffeine, creatine, and amino acids during three weeks of high-intensity exercise on aerobic and anaerobic performance.
- Creatine and caffeine in anaerobic and aerobic exercise: effects on physical performance and pharmacokinetic considerations.
- The effects of creatine and glycerol hyperhydration on running economy in well trained endurance runners.
- Effects of creatine supplementation on renal function: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial.
- How to take Creatine
- How to combine Beta-Alanine and Creatine
- Other types of creatine: Liquid Creatine
- Creatine and Myostatin