What is Creatine?
Creatine is a union of three amino acids: arginine, glycine, and methionine. It is naturally produced and stored in our muscle cells, approx. 95%, and the rest 5% is in the brain, liver, and kidney. Some creatine-rich foods are red meat and fatty fish like tuna and salmon.
Creatine is the most famous and widely used sports supplement by athletes and bodybuilders for performance enhancement. It is believed to help boost strength, power, and endurance and enhance muscle recovery from exercise. Creatine helps produce ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate), the primary source of cellular energy, which is helpful for our bodies during heavy lifting and high-intensity exercises.
You may find various forms of creatine in the supplements, but the most popular and effective one is creatine monohydrate.
Creatine: Benefits & Uses
Even after multiple benefits, many misconceptions are attached to creatine, and because of this, researchers have studied creatine extensively. Creatine is absolutely safe to consume, and it is not a steroid.
Let’s discuss the benefits of creatine.
1. Increase energy: One of the primary creatine benefits is providing explosive power for a longer duration, enabling the training for long hours without fatigue.
2. Promote muscle synthesis: Creatine encourages the synthesis of new muscle fibres and boosts the levels of insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), a hormone that promotes mass muscle gain.
3. Improve muscle size and volume: Creatine holds water in muscle cells and keeps them hydrated, causing cell volumization and increased muscle size. Meta-analysis has shown that creatine also decreases myostatin levels, a protein that inhibits muscle growth.
4. Support brain health: Our brain is in continuous need of energy, which is also supplied by the stored creatine in the brain. Inadequate energy levels can lead to cell death and increase the risk of age-related neurological disorders like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. Due to this, older adults who are vegetarian are more prone to neurological disorders. Oral creatine supplementation has been shown to repair damaged brain cells, reduce disease progression, prevent muscle loss and improve motor function.
5. Manage blood sugar levels: Research on creatine suggests that it helps keep blood sugar levels in control, especially after a high-carb meal. However, if you have diabetes, it is good to consult your doctor first before taking creatine.
6. Minimize fatigue: Creatine supplements can help delay the onset of fatigue by supplying energy for a longer duration during workouts.
How does creatine work?
Let’s discuss the mode of action behind all the effects of creatine supplementation.
We all know that creatine powder is perfect for getting that energy burst for intense workouts. But it is essential to understand how this happens. When we consume creatine, it combines with a phosphate molecule to form phosphocreatine or creatine phosphate. Our primary energy source is ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate) which is formed from ADP. Phosphocreatine donates its phosphate group to ADP (Adenosine Diphosphate) for the synthesis of ATP, which ultimately results in enhanced energy levels.
Various forms of creatine are available as dietary supplements and used as performance-enhancing supplements by fitness enthusiasts and bodybuilders.
Creatine Monohydrate: It is the most common and majorly studied form. It contains creatine and a water molecule. Creatine monohydrate is typically used to gain muscle strength, build new muscles, and keep them hydrated.
Creatine Ethyl Ester (CEE): Some studies say it is better absorbed than in monohydrate form but generally not recommended due to ethyl ester form, which has been shown to worsen creatine levels in blood and muscles.
Creatine Hydrochloride (HCl): This form is believed to have more solubility than the monohydrate and reduce the chance of an upset stomach on consumption. But this form has yet to be tested and studied well with conclusive results.
Buffered Creatine: It combines creatine with an alkaline powder that acts as a buffer and reduces bloating. Studies say that this form has no exceptional advantage over the monohydrate form.
Creatine Nitrate: In this form, creatine is combined with nitric oxide to augment blood flow and oxygen delivery to the muscles. However, this form is relatively new and needs more clinically proven studies.
To sum up, the creatine monohydrate form is the best.
How to choose the right creatine for you?
If you plan to opt for a creatine powder supplement, prefer the creatine monohydrate form. Go for micronized creatine monohydrate, which has better mixability because of reduced particle size.
Choosing unflavoured creatine free from artificial additives, colours, or preservatives is always good.
It is advisable to purchase a certified supplement from an authorized seller. People with prevailing medical conditions like diabetes, gout, liver, or kidney disease must consult a doctor before using creatine.
One should prefer a certified and lab-tested creatine supplement to ensure that the creatine present is free of contaminants.
It is better to follow the recommended dosage instructions on the product label and avoid exceeding it, as taking excessive amounts of creatine may prove harmful.
How to use creatine?
The dosage and timing of using creatine are pretty debatable. Many experts have multiple answers to “how and when to take creatine.”
Some studies say that the effects of creatine were better when consumed post-exercise. But most professional athletes recommend taking creatine at any time of the day.
It is advisable to consume 3 grams of creatine daily for at least a month to see the results. However, some bodybuilders and athletes prefer loading creatine. During the loading phase, 15-25 grams of creatine is taken for the initial five days, post which arrives the maintenance phase in which 3-5 grams is consumed per day to maintain creatine levels.
If you take creatine for weight gain or bulk up, prefer it with carbs or gainers. One can also consume protein with creatine.
Drinking plenty of water while taking creatine is essential, as it can cause your muscle cells to retain water and may lead to dehydration if adequate fluid intake is not maintained.