Creatine is one of the most popular supplements used to bring about improvements in athletic performance.
The substance has been rigorously tested and the results have consistently indicated that it is a safe and effective supplement.
In this article, we will discuss what creatine actually is and the potential benefits of supplementation.
What Is Creatine?
Creatine is an organic compound that occurs naturally in the muscle cells of the body. It plays a key role in energy regeneration and replenishment.
Adenosine triphosphate or ATP is the energy-carrying molecule that provides the power required for many bodily processes.
Creatine acts on ATP by recycling and regenerating it to continuously supply the body with energy (1).
Furthermore, creatine is stored within the muscles in the form of phosphocreatine to be used for high-intensity work.
By increasing phosphocreatine stores and regenerating ATP, the muscles are capable of producing more powerful contractions.
This makes creatine a popular supplement for athletes and those who participate in strength sports like powerlifting and weightlifting.
The compound also appears to alter a number of cellular processes that contribute towards enhancing muscle size, strength, and recovery (2).
What Is Creatine Used For?
The most common reason for taking creatine is to improve athletic performance.
As the article will go on to highlight, research has found creatine to significantly improve muscle performance and development.
As a consequence, creatine supplements are widely used across a number of sports. It is particularly useful for those sports that involve high-intensity work.
As well as improving muscle performance, creatine has been associated with many other changes.
This includes enhancing muscle growth, boosting recovery, raising hormone levels, and improving brain health and function.
Is Creatine Safe?
There are some individuals who believe creatine to be hazardous to health, however, research does not support this.
A long-term study investigating the safety of creatine supplementation found no negative effects on health (3).
Two common concerns in regards to creatine are the impact on renal function and hydration levels.
Providing that correct dosages are taken, studies suggest that creatine does not adversely impact renal function in healthy individuals.
With that being said, those who have a history of renal issues may find that creatine causes renal dysfunction (4). These individuals must consult a doctor prior to taking creatine.
Taking creatine appears to impact the quantity of water stored by the body and drives water into body cells. It is theorized that this process may contribute to dehydration.
Once again though, research doesn’t support this. In fact, the findings from one study actually indicate that creatine may decrease the risk of cramps and dehydration (5).
Types Of Creatine
There are a variety of creatine types including:
- Creatine Monohydrate
- Creatine Hydrochloride
- Creatine Kinate
- Creatine Ethyl Ester
- Creatine Nitrate
- Creatine Magnesium Chelate
- Creatine Malate
- Creatine Anhydrous
Creatine monohydrate is the most commonly used type of creatine and is undoubtedly the most thoroughly researched.
While studies on other types have indicated positive effects, they do not appear to be superior to creatine monohydrate (6).
Not only does creatine monohydrate have a weight of studies to back up its effectiveness, it is also cheap to purchase.
Therefore, based on the current research, creatine monohydrate is recommended over any other type.
Who Should Use Creatine?
Those who are looking to improve their health and fitness may find value in creatine supplementation. However, creatine is particularly useful for certain individuals.
Those who compete in strength sports such as weightlifting, powerlifting, and bodybuilding should consider taking creatine.
Creatine can cause a substantial increase in power which may allow for heavier lifts and improve powerlifting and weightlifting performance.
Considering that creatine has been shown to facilitate muscular growth, bodybuilders will also benefit from taking it.
For those who compete in sports that involve jumping, sprinting, and explosive movements, creatine is recommended.
Finally, for those looking to improve their general health and fitness, creatine supplementation may also be valuable.
Benefits of Creatine
Creatine supplementation has been associated with a number of benefits that we will discuss in this section.
1. Improves Strength Performance
What the Science Says
As highlighted, increasing the amount of phosphocreatine stored within the muscle can improve high-intensity exercise performance.
A review study assessed the performance of a creatine supplemented group and a non-supplemented group.
The supplemented group experienced a greater increase in strength and weightlifting performance than the non-supplemented group (7).
These improvements are primarily attributed to creatine’s ability to substantially increase the production of ATP.
It is thought that it takes approximately eight to ten seconds for ATP to become depleted during high-intensity work.
By supplementing creatine, it takes a couple of seconds longer to reach depletion due to the greater levels of ATP. This allows us to maintain performance for a greater period.
2. Facilitates Muscle Growth
What the Science Says
In addition to strength, creatine may assist in the muscle-building process.
As mentioned, creatine allows the body to generate more energy and, therefore, perform at a higher intensity.
When it comes to muscle growth, training volume is one of the most influential factors (8). The greater volume of work performed, the greater the potential for muscle growth.
Creatine may allow us to lift heavier loads and at a greater volume thus substantially increasing the rate of muscle growth.
A study conducted on weightlifters indicated that creatine facilitated two to three times more growth than training alone (9).
Furthermore, a meta-analysis reviewed the effects of a range of supplements on muscle growth and strength.
The study concluded by recommending creatine for boosting strength and increasing lean muscle mass (10).
3. Improves High-Intensity Performance
What the Science Says
Approximately 95% of creatine in the body is stored in the muscles to be used for causing explosive movements.
It is believed that by saturating the muscles in creatine, a greater amount of power can be produced by the muscles.
Many authors of scientific studies advocate the use of creatine for improving high-intensity performance.
Interestingly, despite hundreds of studies being conducted on creatine on high-intensity work, no negative effects have ever been reported (11).
One specific study on sprinting performance indicated that creatine significantly improved 40-meter sprint times (12).
This is not an isolated result either. There are several other studies that support the use of creatine for improving sprinting ability.
Another study on soccer players found that creatine substantially improved both five and fifteen-meter sprint performance (13).
4. Enhances Brain Health and Function
What the Science Says
Although much of the focus is on the impact creatine has on the muscles, it may also impact the brain.
In the same way that the muscles, the brain stores phosphocreatine and also uses ATP to function.
Therefore, it has been suggested that creatine supplementation may impact brain health and function.
Creatine supplementation has been linked with improving a number of neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, and Parkinson’s (14).
Furthermore, research on humans has suggested that creatine may reduce the risk of neurological disease (15).
While the research is promising, many of these studies have been conducted on animals rather than humans.
Therefore, it is difficult to determine whether or not creatine has the same impact on the human brain.
In addition to these benefits, studies have suggested a number of other potential benefits.
These include reducing blood sugar levels, enhancing the quality of life and muscle function in the elderly, and treating fatty liver disease.
However, more research is needed to confirm these findings.
Usage and Dosage
When starting creatine, most individuals begin with a loading phase. This is done to quickly increase the amount of creatine stored within the muscles.
When creatine loading, the recommendation is to consume a total of 20 grams per day in four separate five-gram doses (16). The loading phase should last for five to seven days.
Once the loading period has concluded, it is recommended to consume three to five grams per day. This will preserve high amounts of creatine stored within the muscle.
It is possible to take creatine without loading, however, this may increase the time taken for creatine stores to be optimized.
Before starting creatine, speak to a doctor to ensure it is safe to do so. Additionally, when selecting a creatine supplement, choose a high-quality product.
Do not exceed the recommended dosage as this may increase the risk of experiencing side effects.
Is creatine good for anxiety?
Considering that creatine boosts energy production, creatine supplementation may impact the brain as well as the muscles.
As highlighted, creatine is often used to combat the symptoms of cognitive diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Therefore, creatine may enhance brain health and reduce anxiety and other cognitive issues. However, there is a significant lack of research on the matter and more is required.
Is creatine a steroid?
No – creatine is a naturally occurring substance found within the body. It is produced by the liver, kidneys, and pancreas and is made up of amino acids.
Meanwhile, steroids are man-made compounds that are designed to boost levels of testosterone. They are in no way similar to creatine.
Can creatine increase testosterone levels?
A small number of studies have suggested that creatine may increase testosterone levels. While these results are statistically significant, the increases appear to be very small.
However, a number of other studies have found no correlation between creatine supplementation and testosterone production.
Additional research is needed to determine the relationship between the two and the extent of any potential increase.
Does creatine affect sleep?
Research on the topic suggests that creatine supplementation does not negatively impact sleep.
In fact, studies indicate that creatine may actually reduce sleep need and the impact and sleep deprivation. This may make it an effective treatment for those with sleep disorders (17).
Is creatine necessary for muscle growth?
Two major factors that influence muscle growth are strength training and nutrition.
Strength training causes mechanical tension, metabolic stress, and muscle damage. These three mechanisms are the key to causing substantial muscle growth.
In addition to resistance training, nutrition will also impact muscle growth. For effective muscle growth, a calorie surplus must be established to allow for optimal recovery.
While supplements like creatine can facilitate a greater rate of muscle growth, they are not absolutely essential. It is possible to build significant muscle size without the use of creatine.
The vast amount of research that has been conducted on creatine indicates that it is an effective performance enhancer.
Taking creatine supplementally has been found to increase the amount of creatine stored within the muscles. This has a positive impact on muscle power and strength.
Furthermore, studies have also concluded that creatine can facilitate an increase in muscle size and may positively impact brain health.
There are a number of creatine types, however, creatine monohydrate appears to be the most effective.
Although some have concerns about the impact on renal function and hydration levels, studies have found creatine to be safe.
That said, exceeding the recommended dosage may cause issues. Furthermore, creatine may not be suitable for those who have a history of renal problems.
Despite its great safety profile and efficiency, it is recommended to consult a doctor before taking creatine.
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