What you need to know about creatine

December 7th, 2015 by

Occasionally we get asked if there are any supplements, which we recommend to clients. To be honest, there’s not many, but there are a few such as beta-alanine, citrulline and creatine. I’ve written about the first two, but I haven’t gone over the latter. So in an effort to provide you more info on this ergogenic aid, here’s the 411 on creatine.

Creatine is basically a combination of three amino acids: methionine, glycine and arginine. The chemical process to create creatine is a little bit more complicated than that, but suffice to say, it’s made from these three amino acids.

Your body produces creatine in the liver and kidneys, but it can also be obtained from the food you eat (e.g., red meat). However, levels of creatine in food are not that high and can even be reduced when cooked. Therefore, if you’re looking to increase your body’s stores then you’re better off taking a supplement to do so.

Most people think of creatine as a supplement to increase strength, power output, and muscle mass, which it does, but essentially it helps with cellular energy production. Let me explain:

Your body has three different energy systems (phosphagen, glycolysis and oxidative), which it uses to make and replenish adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is an energy source the body uses to perform tasks, such as muscle contractions. In order for a muscle to contract, the body must separate one of the phosphate molecules from ATP through hydrolysis. The reaction produces energy, which the body uses to fuel the contraction, as well as a phosphate molecule and adenosine diphosphate (ADP). That being said, the body has a limited supply of ATP, so it must continuously replenish stores, and that’s where creatine comes in.

When creatine enters the muscle cell it combines with a phosphate molecule to become creatine phosphate (CP). In order for the body to rejuvenate ATP supplies, it requires CP, which donates it’s phosphate molecule to ADP to form ATP. This is basically the aforementioned phosphagen energy system at play. So it’s essentially one big cycle of separating and re-synthesizing ATP to produce energy.

Supplementing with creatine (monohydrate) has been shown to increase CP levels in the muscles. Therefore, by increasing the CP levels, you can help accelerate the re-synthesis of ATP from ADP. Also, as mentioned, it’s been shown to help increase strength, power output, and muscle mass.

So how much should you take? Well, research shows that a loading phase of 5 days at 20g a day (5g X 4 servings) followed by a maintenance phase of 5g a day increases creatine levels in the muscle. However, there’s also research that shows taking 3g a day for 28 days is just as effective for increasing creatine stores when compared to the previous dosing guideline. So I’d stick with the latter and take it after a workout (with carbs).

Also, in an effort help reduce the confusion about what is the best form of creatine to take (monohydrate, buffered, hydrochloride, etc.), keep in mind that most of the research is conducted on creatine monohydrate and, to my knowledge, there is no third-party research to show that any other form is superior to it.

Finally, just so you know, creatine attracts water. This is one of the reasons why muscle cells increase in size with elevated creatine levels. Therefore, if you’re going to supplement with creatine then be sure to consume plenty of water throughout the day. Also, keep in mind that creatine can cause gastrointestinal distress if you’re not well hydrated and nobody wants that. So drink up!