Taking Creatine: Debunking Common Misconceptions
Creatine is one of the most popular supplements on the market today. It is a natural amino acid derivative that is contained in meat or fish and that is also produced in our bodies.
However, we don’t produce enough for our needs as high-performing athletes. The most common form of Creatine is Creatine Monohydrate and research has shown that taking Creatine is safe for adult and healthy individuals.
There have arisen quite some misconceptions about Creatine in the past which seem to persist stubbornly in many people’s minds.
In this article, we will debunk some of these common misconceptions about creatine and take a look at how to take creatine for maximum benefits. We will also explore the positive side effects of taking this supplement and how it can improve your overall health.
9 Creatine Monohydrate benefits
- enhances athletic performance
- helps to push through training plateaus
- supports recovery after workouts
- gives your muscles a “toned” look
- very well-researched and safe to use
- may help fight neurological and brain diseases
- reduces fatigue and tiredness
- counteracts sarcopenia and supports bone health
- very affordable and effective
What exactly is Creatine?
A natural substance
Creatine is an amino acid derivative that is created in our bodies under the use of the amino acids glycine and arginine. Both these amino acids are provided through foods like meat, eggs, dairy products, or also seeds like sesame.
An individual leading an average-active life needs about 1-3 grams of creatine per day which is usually provided through high-quality nutrition.
For example, we find 3-4 grams of Creatine per kg in raw meat or fish.
These amounts though can be taken with a grain of salt as Creatine tends to degrade at temperatures above 60 degrees Celcius.
This means you will lose roughly 5% of the Creatine that is contained in your raw food as you start to apply heat through your cooking process.
So half of the daily needed uptake of Creatine is provided through an omnivorous diet. The rest is synthesized in the kidney and the liver.
Where to find Creatine in our bodies
Creatine storage (about 95%) in our bodies takes place in skeletal muscle and the rest is distributed over the brain, blood, and other tissues.
Creatine vs Creatinine
Do not confuse Creatine with Creatinine. The latter is a waste product of our metabolism. Creatinine is transported to our kidneys through our blood and flushed out.
High creatinine levels can be a sign of kidney impairment.
However, a heavy physical strain that occurs during high-intensity strength training can also increase your creatinine levels.
What does Creatine do?
Creatine has effects on three different levels:
- energy level
- muscle cell level
- brain level
What Creatine does in our muscular system on an energy level
When our muscles have to provide a lot of power very fast, this happens with the use of our anaerobic energy system.
In order to produce energy rapidly, our muscles use ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate) which is an energy-carrying molecule responsible for muscle contraction.
When our muscles contract, ATP gives away one of its phosphates. This process changes our Adenosine Tri (three) Phosphate to Adenosine Di (Two) Phosphate or ADP, plus one free Phosphate which has been split off.
The energy contained in this free Phosphate molecule is now used to produce power in our muscle cells.
During extreme exercise, our ATP stores will only last for about 30 seconds, before they need to be restored in some way.
This is where Creatine comes into play.
A high-energy Creatine phosphate is transferred to the – now in increased numbers available – Adenosine Diphosphate, converting it back to become an Adenosine Triphosphate.
Now the power in form of ATP is again available to our muscles.
Increased muscle creatine levels also hold an increased amount of creatine phosphate ready and thus lengthen the time span of power output with the use of ATP.
The result is that during very high-intensity exercise you will be able to perform longer at a very high level. By doing so you will exert more strain on your muscles for a longer time which will in turn support Muscle Protein Synthesis and thus muscle growth.
What Creatine does in our muscular system on a muscle cell level
Creatine has osmotic properties. This means it attracts and stores water. So taking creatine does result in additional water which is stored in your muscle cells.
And right here lies another important fact: IT IS STORED IN YOUR CELLS!
I am pointing this out because another common misconception about creatine tells the community that creatine will result in water retention under your skin which lets you look “mushy” and undefined. This is not correct!
The fact that water is stored in your muscle cells even has a very beneficial effect!
The increased cell pressure is one of the triggers that kick off muscle protein synthesis!
So what really happens: During your “loading phase” (we will talk about that later) when you start to use creatine, the osmotic properties will result in water retention in your muscle cells.
That is why you will also experience an increase in overall body weight.
But don´t worry!
The water in your muscle cells results in increased cell pressure and starts muscle protein synthesis. As a result, the stored water finally leads to an increase in muscle mass which leads to more performance.
So the watery part of the creatine story also works in our favor!
What Creatine does in our brains
Creatine is also present in our brains where it acts as a precursor to two very important neurotransmitters, Methionine and Cysteine.
Methionine is responsible for the creation of S-Adenosylmethionine (SAM) which plays an important role in epigenetics. This means that SAM is responsible for the methylation of our DNA.
Cysteine is a basic building block of the very important antioxidant Glutathione.
Glutathione is responsible for many things in our bodies, among them detoxification, mitochondrial support, and reducing inflammation.
Creatine also plays an important role in brain energy metabolism by supporting the synthesis of ATP.
As our brains also use ATP as a source of energy – just like our muscles do – creatine is a very important component in the provisioning process of that energy.
As a result, studies have shown that creatine may improve short-term memory and intelligence/reasoning.
Additionally, recent studies also target the topic of the relationship between creatine and age.
As creatine levels diminish with increasing age, these studies researched if creatine could help to fight typical age-related diseases like Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, and loss of long-term memory.
There is no final conclusion yet, but the initial findings look very promising.
Different kinds of Creatine
We can find several different types of creatine supplements on the market. There is creatine as a powder, in the form of pills, or ready-to-drink liquid solutions.
Some types are said to be more soluble than others. Some creatine supplements are meant to be easier on the body when it comes to digestion and stomach problems and some are designed for better absorbtion in the body.
One topic that comes up over and over again in the discussion about creatine supplementation is the intolerance of creatine and resulting stomach upset and/or bloating.
However, this seems to be just another “urban myth” about creatine supplementation.
Only some individual cases are known where creatine uptake resulted in some stomach upset during the creatine loading phase. There are no studies that prove a very common side effect in this regard whatsoever.
Available types of creatine – the most common ones
- creatine monohydrate
- creatine ethyl ester
- creatine hydrochloride
- buffered creatine
- liquid creatine
- creatine magnesium chelate
Of all the different available types, creatine monohydrate is the most common one. You might get confused by the number of variations and to make it simple: stick to creatine monohydrate and you are golden!
Keep in mind that the sports nutrition industry has to come up once in a while with another new product and name to attract new customers and keep their present customers interested!
How is Creatine manufactured synthetically?
The main ingredients of any creatine supplement are sarcosine and cyanamide.
Sarcosine is an amino acid derivative that is usually found in meat and other body tissues and is very similar to salt. As we already know, Creatine is produced in our bodies and the same processes take place in animal metabolisms.
So – simply said – sarcosine is derived from meat that is not used for food production.
Cyanamide is a citrated Calcium and is also widely used in pharmaceutical applications and also in agricultural products.
The two ingredients are mixed together, heated and pressurized.
As a result, crystals form which are then milled and cleaned.
Some producers might add a few more amino acids and/or chemicals to make their products more unique.
Why should I take Creatine?
The use of creatine as a sports supplement is very popular in the field of bodybuilding, powerlifting, and all sports where a high performance over a rather short period of time is needed.
That said, creatine supplementation has been shown to have unwanted results for endurance athletes like long-distance runners for example.
Studies showed that the increase in body weight after supplementing with creatine reduced their overall performance.
However, also endurance athletes can benefit from taking creatine in smaller amounts during their recovery phases.
Creatine can also help to improve cognitive abilities, elongate brain health, increase energy production, support detoxification, reduce inflammation and protect against age-related diseases.
Additionally, creatine promotes protein synthesis which leads to muscle growth.
How much Creatine should I take?
For individuals who just start out with creatine supplementation because they want to support their training efforts to gain muscle, it seems to be the best way to start with a one-week muscle creatine loading phase.
After this creatine-loading phase, you want to reduce the daily dose of creatine powder.
According to the loading protocol, during the loading phase, the creatine intake is about 20 grams of creatine per day.
Thereafter a daily dose of 5 grams is sufficient.
If you wonder how much 5 grams of creatine looks like: in most products, there is a tiny scoop included. One such scoop holds about 5 grams of creatine powder.
If you still ask yourself if you could increase your muscle creatine content by just eating more meat: in order to add 5 grams of creatine to your creatine stores, you would have to eat 1 kg or 2,2 pounds of meat every day.
How to take Creatine
A very common way to consume creatine that has arisen in the past is to dissolve the creatine powder in a sugary substance like grape juice or orange juice or mix it into your shake together with protein powder.
The idea behind this is that the sugar in your serving releases insulin in your body which in turn improves the absorption of creatine into your metabolism.
But this “theory” has been proven to hold no extra benefits over simple creatine servings with pure water.
Also, you can not take too much creatine! The excess amount will be flushed from your system anyway.
When should I take Creatine?
This one is simple: it doesn´t matter! You can take your creatine first thing in the morning, during the day, or shortly before going to bed.
The goal of supplementing with creatine is to absolutely fill the creatine stores in your muscles and keep them filled by taking creatine constantly.
In that regard, it doesn´t matter when you take creatine.
Is Creatine considered doping?
No! The World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) doesn´t have creatine listed as an illegal performance-enhancing substance. It is not considered a substance used for doping.
Does Creatine really cause hair loss?
Another huge misconception – or should we call it a huge urban myth?
There was one study quite some time ago that made a connection between creatine intake and the increased production of dihydrotestosterone (DHT).
DHT can – among other substances – play a role in hair loss.
So people drew the conclusion that creatine is directly responsible for hair loss.
However, no study could harden this assumption and there is no proof that creatine really causes hair loss.
One rather loses hair because of genetic predisposition than creatine.
Is it healthy to take Creatine?
Creatine is among the most researched sports nutrition out there. It is 100% natural, it has no to very few side effects, and you can not really overdose as a healthy individual.
The beneficial effects of creatine are well-researched, documented, and accepted as a fact all over the world.
All in all, one could say that creatine is safe to take.
Can females take Creatine?
Creatine has the same effect and the same function in the female body as it does in the male body.
Ladies who work out hard and want to build muscle strength and increase muscle mass will benefit from adding creatine to their nutrition plan.
Who should avoid taking Creatine?
With all the benefits that come with creatine for most of us, there are also individuals who should be careful or who should even consult a qualified healthcare professional before consuming creatine.