Myths about Creatine

Myths about Creatine

Creatine is a supplement that has been studied in depth. That is why it is one of the supplements with most scientific evidence that supports its use. However, there are still some myths about creatine that spring from a lack of knowledge or trust in supplementation.

First of all, creatine is a molecule body synthesizes in the organism, particularly in the liver, pancreas and kidneys.

Its reserves are made up of phosphocreatine, which releases a lot of energy when its bonds are broken.

This happens when our body receives a stimulus that requires a lot of energy, such as physical exercise.

Can creatine make you fatter?

Surprisingly, a lot of people believe that creatine makes you fatter

Above all, this affects women, who refuse to try out this supplement, since they will not be able to benefit from all its advantages.

However, the truth is that creatine does not make you fatter, but it can make you gain body weight. Gaining or losing weight does not mean that you are gaining or losing fat. Our body weight is the sum of our lean mass, bone mass, muscle mass, fat and water.

The last one will change depending on our diet and even due to some medicines, as well as our hydration and fluid retention

Pull ups

What happens with creatine is that it increases the cell hydration due to its ability to carry water

This will mainly benefit the muscles, since it lowers the protein breakdown and stimulates the protein synthesis. Moreover, the fact that it carries water increases the glycogen synthesis.

Therefore, creatine does NOT make you fatter, but it can increase your weight due to a higher intracellular water volume. Consequently, this results in a series of benefits on the skeletal muscles that improves the synthesis of protein and increases the muscle mass.

That is why creatine is an optimal supplement when it comes to increasing or protecting the muscle mass, apart from improving the sport performance

You have to cycle creatine

Nowadays, there are many questions about creatine intake protocols which only helps to creatine more myths about creatine. So, do you need to do a loading and discharge phase?.

Like we said before, creatine is a supplement that increases the phosphocreatine levels in the muscle in order to provide energy at the beginning of the exercise.

Some people say that you need to do a loading phase if you want to fill your phosphocreatine reserves quickly

This is true, but it does not mean that it will work for everyone. To put it simply, the loading phase consists of taking a higher those than normal (0.25-0.35g/kg/day) for 5-7 days in a row. Then, we will have to do a maintenance phase of 0.07-1g/kg/day.

There are other theories that suggest that we only have to take creatine for a month approximately. Otherwise, our body will become used to it and our muscles will absorb less creatine.

Therefore, we would have to cycle creatine. In other words, we have to alternate periods of intake with periods of rest in order to ensure that sensitivity to creatine.

Scoop of creatine

But this is not true

There is a receptor called SLC6A8 which is in charge of absorbing creatine properly in the intestine. If we take doses that are higher than 10 grams of creatine, we may saturate the receptor and trigger the excretion of the creatine excess.

So, you may be thinking that doing a loading phase is quite pointless. In reality, what happens is that the muscles absorb more creatine during the loading phase because the reserves are relatively low. Therefore, our body absorbs more creatine at the beginning, which is why we will have to lower the dose afterwards. After the loading phase, our muscle creatine reserves will have increased.

Once we reach the optimal levels of muscle creatine, it is advisable to take a maintenance dose to maintain those levels with time. So, the absorption rate of creatine does not drop because our body becomes used to it.

Therefore, it is not necessary to cycle creatine, alternating periods of intake with periods of rest

Does creatine damage the kidneys?

If creatine is excreted through the urine, it may affect the kidneys, right?

The more creatine we have, the more muscle mass we will gain, being an important marker of renal damage.

In fact, high blood creatinine levels can point to anomalies in the renal system

Creatinine test

Moreover, if we take into account that taking creatine increases the blood creatinine levels… we may think that creatine is bad for the functioning of our kidneys

However, can the levels increase so much that they can cause a renal disease? Well the answer is no, since this is just another myth about creatine

The studies have proven that humans that take creatine do not have renal damage markers. In addition, there were no alterations of the glomerular filtration rate, proteins in the blood or urinary proteins. Therefore, we can conclude that creatine is not bad for the kidneys.

Moreover, there have been several studies with people who already had renal damage, such as patients with type II diabetes or hemodialysis. None of them had a worse renal function.

To sum up, we can conclude that creatine does not trigger renal damage on healthy people. It does not cause negative effects on people with a damaged renal function either.

It increases the testosterone

Creatine is a renowned testosterone enhancer

This myth about creatine is mainly supported by the fact that it is a supplement that increases the phosphocreatine levels. Consequently, it increases the energy supply as ATP, which improves the sport performance. In the end, we will be able to lift more weight, increasing our muscle mass.

But the truth is that lifting more weight is what increases the testosterone levels

Creatine and testosterone

…and this only lasts for a short period of time…

Taking creatine and not doing physical exercise will not actually increase your testosterone levels. Therefore, we could say that it is an indirect effect.

In fact, there is not scientific evidence that supports the creatine has a direct effect on the testosterone levels

Creatine can only improve the performance

It is true that creatine can help to improve the performance, this has actually been proven in many studies

Nevertheless, scientists are also studying the benefits of creatine on the nervous and cardiovascular system, for example. Therefore, the benefits of this supplement go beyond just improving the physical performance.

In fact, it can be a very interesting supplement when it comes to preventing chronic pathologies. For instance, thanks to the energy supply from creatine, it can buffer the processes that trigger diseases like Parkinson, brain damage, etc. Thanks to the extra energy from creatine, it protects the integrity of the cell membrane.

Moreover, other studies have concluded that creatine has effects on the synthesis of neurons. It seems that this effect is due to an increase in mitochondrial breathing, that activates the synaptic neurogenesis.

On the other hand, creatine has properties for the cardiovascular health. This is quite interesting because cardiovascular diseases are the first cause of death in develop countries.

One of its benefits consists of reducing the blood homocysteine levels, which is a cardiovascular risk marker

Cardiovascular health

Therefore, we can say without any doubt that creatine improves the sport performance while preventing many chronic pathologies

Creatine does not increase the muscle mass

Some people think that creatine does not increase the muscle mass and it can only improve the performance and strength

However, the truth is that taking creatine does not increase the protein synthesis. In fact, what it does is increasing the muscle volume due to a higher intracellular water retention.

Moreover, taking creatine also buffers the protein breakdown, which stimulates the muscle growth processes.

Muscle growth

In other words, creatine is not directly involved in the protein synthesis. Nevertheless, it can support the muscle growth processes in different ways

It is not safe

It is not the first time that people question the safety and effectiveness of creatine or other supplements for that matter

However, creatine is one of the safest products available in the market, apart from being effective. There are many studies that have tested the safety of creatine and it does not have side effects whatsoever. Unless you take a high dose that could potentially trigger gastrointestinal problems.

Other studies have also focused on the safety of creatine in the long term. Moreover, like we previously mentioned in one of the myths about creatine, it does not cause renal damage.

It is not true either that creatine causes baldness

Creatine and hair loss

To sum up, we can say that creatine is a very safe supplement that can even protect us against several diseases

Caffeine counters the effects of creatine

The fact that caffeine counters its effects is just another one of the myths about creatine

However, the studies have proven that combining creatine + caffeine does not have a single negative effect on the performance. In fact, several studies have proven how this combination even improves the performance in high intensity interval exercises.

Even though there is still controversy about the effect of combining caffeine and creatine on the sport performance.

Caffeine

However, there are many studies that conclude that there are no negative effects, so there is not a clear conclusion
Many athletes are worried about the possible interactions of combining two of the most used supplements of our time: caffeine and creatine.

Two cups of coffee

Is there really scientific evidence about said interaction? Unlike what many people think, there is actually

Are they compatible? This rumor spread all over the fitness community by those who believe that combining caffeine and creatine will buffer the benefits from the latter.

Studying the origin of the rumor

We have to go back to 1996, when a group scientists conducted a study with 9 subjects to compare the effect of caffeine with the previous combination.

The subjects did a workout made up of three sets (90, 80 and 50) of isometric contractions with a 2 minute break.

The muscle ATP remained stable, however, the group that only took creatine increased their strength. On the contrary, this did not happen with the one that combined creatine and caffeine.

Interestingly though, the dose of caffeine used in this study was actually really high, around 5mg of caffeine/kg body weight. Therefore, a person that weighs 75kg should take 375mg of caffeine, which are around 11 cans of coca cola…

Study to debunk the rumor

Later on, there was a double-blind study that debunked this myth.

Said study assessed the effects of taking caffeine after a dose of creatine. The subjects were 14 trained men in order to avoid questionable results, since untrained subjects experienced more improvements due to a physical adaptation.

They did short high intensity exercises (120VO2max) after taking 5mg of caffeine/kg body weight (the same amount as the previous study) or a placebo.

During the first 120 seconds of exercise, they measured the perceived exertion once every 30 seconds.

The result was completely different to that of the first study. In fact, both groups gained more strength and the group that took caffeine also felt less fatigue, exercising for a longer period of time.

Caffeine exercise time

Performance comparison between caffeine and placebo. Only one of the fourteen subjects had a significantly worse performance.

More studies support their compatibility

But this is not the only study that concluded that combining creatine + caffeine improved the performance.

Abbie and others compared the effects of taking a pre-workout with amino acids + caffeine + creatine or the same amount of maltodextrin on the performance of trained subjects.

The combination resulted in a higher volume of work and a better physical composition with more muscle mass.

Workout graphic

Study graphic

The result would have been more remarkable if they had used a real amount, since they only used 100mg of caffeine and 1.5g of creatine.

Conclusion: You can take Caffeine and Creatine together

As we can see, the scientific evidence on the negative effect of caffeine over creatine is too scarce. Both substances are compatible according to pharmacokinetics, which means that this combination will not affect the ADME processes.

That is why it is possible to combine both supplements without hindering our performance our body composition

Creatine causes hair loss

Before anything, we have to say that there is NOT a single study that DIRECTLY related taking creatine with hair loss

Then, why do people associate creatine with hair loss?

There is one study (9) that assessed the effects of taking creatine for three weeks in a sample of 20 young Rugby players. Particularly, the study analyzed the levels of Testosterone and Dihydrotestosterone.

Rugby

The latter (DHT) is relevant because it is directly related to some types of androgenic alopecia, specially in subjects with genetic predisposition. Let’s be clear, the higher the DHT levels, the higher the risk of hair loss…

The study in question was a double-blind cross study with a washout period and it was designed in the following way:

  • Control group: 50g of glucose in the loading phase and 25g of glucose in the maintenance phase. Without creatine.
  • Active group: 25g of creatine + 25g of glucose in the loading phase (7 days) and 5g of creatine + 25g of glucose in the maintenance phase (two weeks).
The results were the following: the testosterone levels did not change. However, the DHT increased up to a 56% over the basal levels after the loading phase and up to a 40% higher after the maintenance phase when compared to the control group

Does that mean that I will not lose my hair?

No. This means that there is a study with a sample of 20 subjects that concluded that creatine supplementation can increase the DHT levels.

There is a huge difference between saying that and claiming that it causes hair loss. Why?

  1. The sample of the study had 20 subjects. Making a general statement that applies to the ENTIRE population with that number of participants is quite questionable.
  2. DHT increasing from 1.06nmol/ml to 1.36 nmol/ml (active group) will hardly condition alopecia. Why? Other studies have analyzed the DHT levels of patients with genetic alopecia had over 3nmol/ml of DHT, even in women. Therefore, this means that if you are going to lose your hair due to genetics, taking creatine or not is not going to make a difference. Or at least, we do not have information that says otherwise.
  3. There are several factors that could ALSO increase the DHT levels and which do not appear on the study. For example: the fact that they were rugby players (would the same thing have happened with basketball players?), the specific workout of these athletes (what if they were triathletes?), other factors (were they 100% natty?), or specific genetics.

Therefore, can creatine cause hair loss?

WE DO NOT KNOW. There is not way to know because there are no serious studies about this issue. Although we believe that drawing such conclusions from this study is scientifically questionable.

Then, what do we do?

Well, if you have a family history of androgenic alopecia (fathers or brothers with early alopecia) and you DO NOT want to risk it, then don’t

Otherwise, I would not worry about that and I would focus on other lifestyle factors that CAN cause hair loss: For instance, chronic stress, lack of rest, a bad diet or smoking

Does creatine retain water?

Yes, it is true: creatine can help us retain intracellular and not extracellular water, like so many people believe.

By increasing the intracellular water, the cell increases its volume, which means that creatine hydrates the muscle cells.

Swimming

Regarding the performance, it can slow down the heart rate but it will never hinder the performance

Cell hydration is indispensable for athletes, since a hydrated cell will burn more fat and lose less muscle protein.
Find out all the possible side effects from creatine.

Bibliography

    1. Alfieri, R. R., Bonelli, M. A., Cavazzoni, A., Brigotti, M., Fumarola, C., Sestili, P., Vacondio, F. (2006). Creatine as a compatible osmolyte in muscle cells exposed to hypertonic stress. The Journal of Physiology.
    2. Kim, H. J., Kim, C. K., Carpentier, A., Portmans, J. R. (2011). Studies on the safety of creatine supplementation. Amino acids.
    3. Norman, K., Stübler, D., Baier, P., Schütz, T., Ocran, K., Holm, Pirlich, M. (2006). Effects of creatine supplementation on Nutritional status, muscle function and quality of life in patients with colorectal cancer-a double blind randomised controlled trial. Clinical Nutrition.
    4. Poortmans, J. R., Francaux, M. (1999). Long-term oral creatine supplementation does not impair renal function in healthy athletes. Medicine and science in sports and exercise.
    5. Branch, J. D. (2003). Effect of creatine supplementation on body composition and performance: a meta-analysis. International Journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism.
    6. Brustovetsky, N., Brustovetsky, T., Dubinsky, J. M. (2001). On the mechanisms of neuroprotection by creatine and phosphocreatine. Journal of neurochemistry.
    7. Lee, C. L., Lin, J. C., Cheng, C. F. (2011). Effect of caffeine ingestion after creatine supplementation on intermittent high-intensity sprint performance. European jorunal of Applied Physiology.
    8. Spradley, B. D., Crowley, K. R., Tai, C. Y., Kendall, K. L., Fukuda, D. H., Esposito, E. N., Moon, J. R. (2012). Ingesting a pre-workout supplement containing caffeine, B-vitamins, amino acids, creatine, and beta-alanine before exercise delays fatigue while improving reaction time and muscular endurance. Nutrition & metabolism.
    9. van der Merwe J, Brooks NE, Myburgh KH. Three Weeks of Creatine Monohydrate Supplementation Affects Dihydrotestosterone to Testosterone Ratio in College-Aged Rugby Players. Clin J Sport Med [Internet]. 2009 Sep.

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About Paloma Sala
Paloma Sala
Paloma Sala is an athlete who is constantly learning to give her best. Paloma is an experienced high performance athlete who has been doing Athletics for more than 20 years.
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