Everything You Need to Know About Creatine

creatine supplements

If someone came up and told you about an ‘amazing’ new supplement that can do everything from increase your strength to make you smarter, what would you do?

Call them a liar and walk away, right?

And to be completely honest, I would probably think the same.

Unless, of course, they were talking about creatine.

What is creatine?

Creatine is a natural substance made by your body from amino acids.

Most of the creatine you have in your body is stored in your muscle cells. It is then broken down for energy during physical activity. Considering this, creatine supplements simply increase your creatine stores, enhancing your exercise performance in the process.

It is for this reason that creatine has become one of the most used supplements on the planet.

The benefits of creatine for athletic performance

Woman lifting

It is important to note that we predominantly use creatine to fuel exercise that is short in duration, and of a super high intensity. Think of something like a 100 meter sprint – 10 seconds of maximum effort, almost entirely supplied by creatine.

With this in mind, supplementing with creatine has been shown to cause significant improvements in muscle strength and power (Branch, 2003).

This has obvious implications for those who complete in any events that involve explosive efforts such as track and field, and any team sports.

Interestingly, because creatine allows you to lift more weight (and often for more repetitions) in the gym, it has also been shown to cause significant improvements in muscle growth (Olsen, 2006).

This makes it essential for anyone competing in a sport where lean muscle offers benefit (which is pretty much every sport ion the planet…).

Finally, creatine has even been shown to improve endurance performance.

In sports that require sustained high intensity efforts (think middle distance running, rowing, swimming, and cycling), supplementing with creatine has been shown to improve performance significantly (Chwalbiñska-Moneta, 2003).

So, I guess you could say that if you compete or train in any capacity, you should be taking creatine.

Creatine and neurological benefits

But wait, there’s more.

As difficult as it may be to believe, recent research has shown that creatine also offers some key benefits that sit beyond athletic performance.

And it all happens in the brain.

Supplementing with creatine has been shown to help fight against age-related cognitive decline and dementia, prevent the onset of depression and anxiety, and even increase mental acuity and cognitive capabilities (McMorris, 2007; Kondo, 2011; Avgerinos, 2018).

In short, it makes you smarter.

In my opinion, this truly makes it one of the most effective supplements on the planet.

When is the best time to take creatine?

When it comes to taking creatine, it is important to note that there is not really a ‘best time’ per se.

See, the goal of creatine supplementation is to increase your natural stores above normal levels for a prolonged period. As a result, most people recommend a two-phase supplementation protocol. This is made up of a ‘loading phase’ and a ‘maintenance phase’ (Burford, 2007).

  1. The loading phase revolves around taking about 20 grams of creatine per day for 5 to 7 days. During this phase, the dose should be spread out evenly into 3 or 4 smaller doses. This is taken evenly throughout the day.
  2. Then, in the maintenance phase, creatine doses should be kept at 3 to 5 grams per day for anywhere between 6 and 12 weeks. After this period it is often recommended that you take 1-2 weeks off, before starting the entire protocol again.

Research has shown this to be one of the most effective ways of supplementing with creatine.

With this dosing schedule, the time of day is much less important than simply making sure you take it every single day.

What foods contain creatine?

Salmon meal

With all this talk of creatine supplements, I should note that creatine can also be found naturally occurring in many foods.

Meat like beef, pork and fish are all excellent sources of creatine (remember, creatine is found in muscle tissue). Both eggs and dairy contain moderates amounts.

While creatine can be found in food, it is typically only obtained in small amounts. In fact, most people will only obtain between 1 and 2 grams of creatine per day from their normal diet. This is pale in comparison to what can be obtained through supplementation.

Vegetarians and creatine

Taking a quick look at the foods mentioned in the above section, it is highly likely that you may have noticed something.

Yep, they all come from animal sources.

This naturally means that vegetarians have a very difficult time obtaining adequate creatine from their diet. Over time, this can even impact their creatine sores in a negative manner (Blancquaert, 2018).

This also means those who follow a vegan or vegetarian diet may have issues improving performance and maintaining cognitive function when compared to those who are happy to eat meat (Rogerson, 2017).

I would consider creatine an essential supplement for vegans and vegetarians, irrespective of whether they perform a sport or not.

Related Article: 6 Vegan Athlete Meal Plan Ideas to Boost Performance

Should I use creatine supplements?

Given the vast amount of research demonstrating numerous creatine benefits, I am a firm believer that most people should take a creatine supplement.

This becomes even more important for those who train regularly, intend to compete in any athletic endeavour, or follow a vegetarian diet. Moreover, given the effects of creatine on brain health and function, it should also be considered by older individuals looking to maintain quality of life.

So yes, I guess you should supplement with creatine.

Is Creatine Safe?

If you have any worries about creatine, I want to ensure you that it is extremely safe.

Some side effects during the ‘loading phase’ have been reported (including stomach pain and cramping).  However; they tend to subside after a day or two. Moreover, they often come from taking too much creatine at once, rather than separating your doses evenly throughout the day.

I should note that creatine also causes water retention within the muscle tissue when you first start supplementation. Therefore; don’t worry if you start to get a little heavier after a day or two, because it is just water (and it will be gone in no time).

Take Home Message

Creatine truly is one of the most effective supplements in the world. It has the ability to improve sport performance, increase muscle growth, and enhance brain function.

References

Branch, J. David. “Effect of creatine supplementation on body composition and performance: a meta-analysis.” International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism 13.2 (2003): 198-226.

Olsen, Steen, et al. “Creatine supplementation augments the increase in satellite cell and myonuclei number in human skeletal muscle induced by strength training.” The Journal of physiology 573.2 (2006): 525-534.

Chwalbiñska-Moneta, Jolanta. “Effect of creatine supplementation on aerobic performance and anaerobic capacity in elite rowers in the course of endurance training.” International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism 13.2 (2003): 173-183.

McMorris, Terry, et al. “Creatine supplementation and cognitive performance in elderly individuals.” Aging, Neuropsychology, and Cognition 14.5 (2007): 517-528.

Avgerinos, Konstantinos I., et al. “Effects of creatine supplementation on cognitive function of healthy individuals: A systematic review of randomized controlled trials.” Experimental gerontology 108 (2018): 166-173.

Kondo, Douglas G., et al. “Open-label adjunctive creatine for female adolescents with SSRI-resistant major depressive disorder: a 31-phosphorus magnetic resonance spectroscopy study.” Journal of affective disorders 135.1-3 (2011): 354-361.

Buford, Thomas W., et al. “International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: creatine supplementation and exercise.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 4.1 (2007): 6.

Blancquaert, Laura, et al. “Changing to a vegetarian diet reduces the body creatine pool in omnivorous women, but appears not to affect carnitine and carnosine homeostasis: a randomised trial.” British Journal of Nutrition 119.7 (2018): 759-770.

Rogerson, David. “Vegan diets: practical advice for athletes and exercisers.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 14.1 (2017): 36.

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