Creatine has quickly risen as one of the most popular supplements in the fitness industry and for a good reason. Creatine has been shown time again to improve performance both in and out of the gym and it may even have certain cognitive boosting benefits. But have you wondered how creatine actually works and how you can potentially increase its effectiveness?
Whether it’s walking, talking or lifting every action in the body requires energy. This energy comes in the form of ATP also known as adenosine triphosphate. In order to use ATP as energy the cell splits ATP into ADP (adenosine diphosphate) + a phosphate group, the breaking of this bond supplies energy to be used in various cellular processes like muscle contraction. The issue with ATP is that our cells have a very tiny capacity as to how much ATP they can store and during intense exercise our cells burn through their ATP stores in as little as 1-2 seconds. This is where creatine comes in – it runs our phosphocreatine system which is where our cells turn to once they’ve burned through their ATP stores.
Phosphocreatine is able to donate a phosphate group onto ADP to reform ATP which can be utilized again as fuel or energy. Our creatine phosphate reserves are estimated to last for about 10 seconds before our cells must turn to burning glucose to create additional ATP through either fermentation (without using oxygen) or respiration (with oxygen). The goal of creatine supplementation is to increase our creatine reserves in our cell. This is why many athletes and fitness enthusiasts buy creatine supplements. However, not all creatine supplements are of the desired quality. This is why it will help greatly if you take a look at BarBend top creatine supplement guide before buying any product.
The more creatine that our cells can store, the more energy our cells have readily available before needing to turn to glucose as fuel. Creatine has a second unique function in the cell in which it acts as a natural buffer. During exercise when we’re burning a lot of energy in the cell there is an accumulation of H+ ions that results in the cell becoming more acidic. This is likely what causes the “burn” sensation when nearing failure in an exercise. When the cell becomes too acidic it will not be able to contract any longer.
In the process of breaking down phosphocreatine to recycle ADP into ATP, two H+ ions are absorbed, helping to lower the acidity within the cell and thereby acting as an intracellular buffer (a buffer is a compound that helps the body maintain its pH or acidity level). One study estimated that the phosphocreatine system makes up as much as 30% of the cell’s buffering capacity. By increasing the amount of creatine our cells store, this results in our cells being able to perform more work by increasing the amount of time it takes for H+ to accumulate and hinder the cell’s ability.
Lastly, creatine’s been shown to function as an osmolyte. An osmolyte is a compound that helps to regulate the amount of fluid in a cell. This is likely responsible for creatine effects of increasing cellular water retention and the notorious increase in water weight that follows. This also may play a role in creatine’s ability to allow the cell to continue to function for longer when under stress.
The Benefits Of Creatine
Due to these effects inside the cell creatine has been shown to have a large number of benefits. Creatine’s most established benefits include:
● Increased Muscle Creatine Content –
● Increased Power Output
● Improved Anaerobic Running Capacity
● Decreased Fatigue
● Increased Water Weight
A number of other studies on creatine have found a few other interesting findings like:
● Increased Testosterone Levels
● Increased DHT Levels
● Increased IGF-1 Levels
● Increase In Glycogen Stores
● Improved Cognitive Function.
But there’s much less research to back these effects, so some of them are still up to debate.
How To Get Creatine?
While we can naturally produce creatine on our own from the amino acids glycine, methionine, and arginine, the goal of creatine is to saturate our cells’ creatine stores. Meaning we want to fill our cells up with as much creatine as they can hold, so we can get all of the benefits that we discussed above. Naturally we only produce about 1 gram/day of creatine, but this is not enough to maximize our cells’ creatine stores so we also rely on food on food.
Just like creatine is found in our muscle cells it’s also found in the muscle cells of animals, so creatine can be found in relatively large amounts in muscle meats like steak, pork chops, chicken breasts, fish etc. Additionally, organ meats like liver and heart have a relatively high concentration of creatine. The issue with getting creatine from food is that it’s nearly impossible to consume enough creatine to maximize your muscle’s creatine stores. To consume 5 grams of creatine you’d need to consume about 3.3 lbs of steak.
For these reasons, creatine supplementation can be both a cheaper and more convenient option. Additionally, although 5 grams of creatine is the general recommended dose it may not be enough for larger individuals. The more muscle mass you have the more creatine you will need to maximize your creatine stores. General creatine dosing guidelines are between .01 – .04 grams per pound of bodyweight daily, but exact dosing protocols have not yet been established in the research. If your goal is to maximize your results with creatine I would recommend taking the maximum recommended dose of .04 grams per pound of bodyweight. So if you weigh 200lbs you would take 8 grams daily of creatine.
Do You Need To Load Creatine?
When people begin taking creatine many people will use a loading phase in order to saturate their muscles creatine stores as fast as possible. This is done through taking a large dose of creatine for the first few days when beginning creatine supplementation of up to 20-25 grams daily. The general dosing guideline for a loading phase is to consume .3 grams per pound of body weight for the first 5 days when you take creatine.
It’s important to note that you don’t have to do a loading phase to get all the benefits from creatine, the loading phase is just designed to get the most benefits out of creatine as fast as possible by saturating your muscles as fast as possible. If you don’t do a loading phase you can still derive all the benefits from creatine; it will just take a longer period of time for your muscles creatine stores to be saturated and thereby receive the maximum amount of benefits. Without utilizing the loading phase it’s estimated to take between 3-4 weeks to maximize your creatine stores.
Forms Of Creatine
Today there are many different types of creatine available including:
● Creatine Monohydrate
● Creatine HCl
● Creatine Magnesium Chelate
● Anhydrous Creatine
● Buffered Creatine Monohydrate
● Creatine Ethyl Ester
● Creatine Malate
● Creatine Citrate
Despite the many different types of creatine, none have really shown to be more effective than creatine monohydrate in the research. Creatine monohydrate was the first form of creatine that became highly available and to this today is still the most common and cheapest form of creatine.
Many companies sell other forms of creatine claiming that they have a higher rate of absorption or are more effective, but these claims lack evidence when compared to creatine monohydrate. Additionally, creatine monohydrate is estimated to have an absorption rate close to 100%, so even if other forms were absorbed better the difference would be extremely marginal.
The main benefit of the other various forms of creatine is what’s included with the creatine. For example:
● Buffered creatine monohydrate contains creatine mixed with bicarbonate. In a fashion very similar to creatine, bicarbonate has been shown to improve performance by preventing the cell and bloodstream from becoming too acidic.
● Creatine magnesium chelate also contains magnesium which is known to increase recovery, lower stress and even increase testosterone if there is a magnesium deficiency.
● Lastly, creatine consumed with electrolytes like sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium may further increase the absorption of creatine and improve workout performance. You can read more about electrolytes here.
Generally it’s much cheaper to just use creatine monohydrate and consume these supplements separately if you so desire, as all the creatine will end up being identical once inside the cell.
When To Take Creatine
When you take creatine does not matter as long as you’re consistently taking it. Anecdotally, some people prefer to take creatine in the morning due to its cognitive boosting effects, while others prefer to take creatine pre-workout. But at the end of the day, the goal of taking creatine is to ‘top off’ your cells’ creatine stores, so long as you’re consistently taking creatine, it doesn’t matter when you take it.
Creatine is not only one of the most highly researched supplements in the world, with over 500+ studies to back its effectiveness, but it’s also one of the cheapest supplements on the market. If you’re looking to boost your performance and get better results from your time spent in the gym, creatine supplementation is almost a no-brainer.