What is Creatine?
Creatine or Creatine Monohydrate is the most widely used performance enhancing supplement, and has been studied athletically for more than 40 years, and in general for over a century.
Creatine is not a steroid. Creatine is an amino acid found naturally in the human body, mostly in the skeletal muscle. It is produced from the amino acids glycine and arginine. Approximately 5% of the body’s creatine is stored in the muscles, mainly in the form of phosphocreatine, and about half of your body’s creatine stores come from the food you eat — especially from red meat, pork, and seafood. The rest is made in your liver, kidneys, and pancreas, and our bodies make about 1 gram of creatine per day.
What it Does and Does Not
Creatine’s main role is to create ATP (adenosine triphosphate), also known as the “energy currency” of cells. Creatine pulls water into the muscle cells, generating ATP for your muscles to work harder. The extra energy helps you lift heavier creating more muscle fibers over time. It increases strength, muscular endurance, and high intensity performance. In short, Creatine provides raw material for energy creation in your muscle cells and helps to maintain the strength achievable.
Creatine does not cause muscle bulking, but does cause increased strength and recovery. It can also increase creatine stores in the muscle, providing more available energy, allowing to exercise longer, more easily, and effectively. Some individuals may notice a sudden “weight gain” (up to 3-5 lbs) when initially supplementing creatine. The good news is that this is not fat. Read that again – THIS IS NOT FAT! Creatine does not cause weight gain, which is a common myth. However those individuals who see an increase in “weight” are experiencing a small amount of water retention. As noted, creatine pulls water into the cells and sometimes our bodies want to hang onto that water. This stabilizes as you continue to take it.
It is the most studied ergogenic supplement. In fact, there have been thousands of studies on creatine in recent years. In fact, is the most studied supplement on the market. It’s been proven to improve brain performance and heart health, increases bone density, potentially lowers blood sugar and fight diabetes (by increasing glute 4 the insulin -regulated glucose transporter), and reduces fatigue, as well as improves mitochondrial healthy (being mitochondrial unhealthy can lead to many negative effects, including faster aging, a higher risk of cancer, and muscle weakness, and heart defects). It can also improve cognitive performance, testosterone production, and has antioxidant properties.
So who can benefit from supplementing creatine? In short…everyone**. Vegans and vegetarians, especially, can reap many benefits from creatine, primarily because they are not ingesting creatine from meat sources, therefore their bodies are devoid of it. Studies have shown that while vegans and vegetarians have the same level of creatine stored in the brain, they have less stored in muscles and are likely in a creatine deficit on the norm.
Research has also shown that older adults (70 years) have seen an increase in strength even without exercise. As noted, creatine can improve bone density, as well as prevent sarcopenia, the natural loss of muscle mass and strength from aging. Retirement homes have started including creatine with geriatric patients and clients to help improve their overall health.
There are various conditions associated with Creatine deficiency, such as depression, Parkinson’s disease, Muscular atrophy, Fibromyalgia, and Osteoarthritis. Also anyone with cognitive issues such as dementia and Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s Diseases can certainly benefit from daily dosages of creatine, as it has been proven to increase brain performance.
There is a misconception that front loading (taking a relative amount in a short period of time) creatine is the best method to enhance creatine supplementing; however this is not necessary. Although high amounts do allow for faster saturation and storage in muscle cells, lower amounts, in regularity, achieve the same benefits as when front loaded, and achievable in just a few weeks (it can take up to 4 weeks to completely saturate your muscles). Creatine is also better tolerated in the small amounts, rather than when loading.
How much to take? On average, 3-5 grams per day is all you need. That being said, those men and women with bigger bodies, and specifically, larger muscle mass, can often take up to 10 grams. This is completely safe. The idea behind supplementing with creatine is to build up the amount of creatine in your muscles, until you can’t increase it anymore. If you “overload” with creatine, your body will simply excrete it in urine. If you are a carnivore who eats a lot of red meat, you can get by with as little as 2 grams per day.
As for when to take creatine, and with what, you can take it whenever you like and with whatever you want (who am I to judge?). It doesn’t matter if you take it, as long as you’re taking it regularly. Being consistent with your supplementing is key to saturating your muscles.
As for cycling creatine, this is not necessary. In fact, the only reason this comes about is because people continue to confuse creatine with steroids. Therefore, you do not need to stop taking creatine. It is safe for long-term use. It does not lead to kidney damage or failure either. In the few cases this occurs, there has been an underlying cause, such as extreme dehydration, in conjunction with supplementing.
A small percentage of people may experience gastric distress as a side effect of supplementing creatine. This means an upset tummy, cramping, or even diarrhea. In these cases, it is recommended to not take creatine on an empty stomach – take it with meals. Also, splitting the dosage into smaller amounts at different times of the day.
Another small percentage will not see improvements with the use of creatine. If you have been regularly supplementing for a month and have not seen any benefits from it, it is recommended to discontinue supplementation.
**It is always recommended to consult with a physician prior to commencing any supplementation program.
There you have it, folks. This has been an introductory guide to creatine.
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