What is Creatine ?
Creatine is naturally synthesized primarily in two areas of our body, the first process starts in kidneys and ends up in the liver, the brain can synthesize its own creatine as well but to a much smaller extent.
Creatine is three amino acids that we have in our body or we eat when we consume food products, they are Arginine, Glycine and Methionine.
Creatine is always sacrificed whenever we engage in any activities of daily living and more sacrificed when we engage in high intensity activities such as intense cardiovascular exercise or weight lifting or sports, to maintain our energy currency of the cell called adenosine triphosphate or most people know this as ATP. We can break down carbohydrates, fat and protein to satisfy those requirements but the most rapid way to maintain those during intense exercise such as 100 meter sprint or during multiple repetitions of a leg press is phosphocreatine and that’s simply creatine being phosphorylated with another bond called a phosphate group and once it’s it’s phosphorylated it’s trapped inside our muscle and it simply maintains our ATP stores to allow us to exercise at a higher intensity and for a longer period of time and that was where the basis of creatine consumption as a supplement came.
You can get creatine naturally mainly from red meat and sea food, but today I’ll be talking about supplementation.
The average person produces in our kidneys and liver between one to three grams of creatine a day and we typically excrete a byproduct of creatine called creatinine. As an average person, do you need to take creatine supplementation to have healthy muscles ? No, but if you can increase the amount in the body you get benefits. If you would want to increase it through your diet, we’re talking eating at least one to two servings of red meat and sea food a day. (compare the price of that to the price of creatine monohydrate).
A lowest dose which has shown to have beneficial effects is about three grams a day in healthy population.
Three to five grams is viable, effective and safe dosage that children(very few studies done on children so far), adults and older adults can take from a muscle perspective.
3 ways of taking creatine from muscle perspective:
1) Loading dose:
Originally designed for athletes who needed a quick fix. Our muscles have a maximal storage capacity for creatine and a loading dose refers to taking 20 g (up to 30g) of creatine a day for a period of 5 to 7 days. (After those 5 to 7 days you continue with 3 to 5 grams). Conducted in a study in 1992 by R. Harris it showed that multiple five gram dosages up to about 20 or 30 grams a day maximize the amount of creatine that are not only in the blood but getting into the muscle. If you want to get the most positive reinforcement as fast as possible creatine loading is by far the most effective way to do so. The downfall is that creatine likes to take water from your plasma into your cells and people reported gaining weight and feeling bloated. Recent studies have also shown that if you’re an adult 50 years and above, doing loading phase is important for increasing strenght(again followed by low dosage if you’re looking to improve muscle strenght).
2) Relative dose:
You do 0.1 gram of creatine per kilogram. The theory behind this is that the larger you are the more of creatine transporters (or doorways) that allow creatine into the cell you have and you can take relative dose to your size.
3) Low dosage 3 to 5 grams daily
Simple, effective, boring and can be done by anyone. Taking 3 grams of creatine a day will saturate in your muscles in about 30 days.
Responder vs. Non-responder to Creatine:
From muscle perspective your diet dictates how you’ll respond to creatine supplementation, if you’re on carnivore diet (eating only meat) or omnivore(eating meat and plants) diet high in read meat and seafood you might respond hardly at all. It is very rare but it might happen that a person says “I’ve tried creatine but I didn’t notice anything”. If this person is a young individual (if an older person age-related issues may interfere), you ask them about their diet. Some young people are disciplined enough and fortunate enough for that matter that they get enough creatine just from their habitual diet (eating steak a day, seafood, chicken). But someone that is a vegan or on a plant based diet seem to respond to creatine supplementation always really well.
Noticing you’re a good responder to creatine supplementation:
You’re improving exercise capacity, feel less soreness next day, you’re feeling stronger.
When should you take creatine ?
As of writing this article in 2023, current studies have shown that timing of creatine ingestion does NOT matter.
Can you put it in your yogurt, mix it with protein powder drink or coffee ?
You can mix it with pretty much anything apart from coffee or anything that is highly caffeinated. Caffeine releases a molecule called calcium, it releases it really quickly from a part of our cell but at this exact same time creatine would try to take it back up. The theory is if you combine the two they sort of oppose each other and some really good cellular data out of Europe have showed this. As timing of creatine ingestion is irrelevant try to separate coffee and creatine ingestion at least by an hour. (hopefully more research on large sample sizes will come in the future as there was research done only on small sample sizes). Also take into consideration that creatine will degrade to creatinine if you will not drink it within approx. 1 hour of mixing it unless you put it into fridge.
Do you need to cycle creatine ?
Funny fact ! Study on this topic has never been done ! We will have to wait for this answer a little bit longer…
One thing to note here, if you’re thinking about cycling creatine intake you should know that elevated creatine will last in your muscles for about 30 days. But as said before, no study if it will help you or not has ever been done so far.
Is creatine safe ?
First let me clarify that anyone with pre-existing abnormalities or health issues should talk to their doctor first before taking any supplementation product (when you take creatine through supplementation it will go through the kidney and liver just like everything else a little bit more). That being said under recommended dosages creatine supplementation does not cause any renal or liver abnormalities. In regards to children taking creatine there were only a few studies that got ethical approval with children or individuals of 18. There’s not a lot of research out there in regards to children taking creatine and when there’s not a lot of research caution is recommended.
Can women take creatine ?
Yes they can, I don’t even know where this nonsense originated that women should not take creatine.
Creatine monohydrate powder: boring, cheap but great !
I’m not going to talk and mention here other types of creatine, because the only one you need to know about is creatine monohydrate ! Monohydrate is identical to the creatine that our liver is producing. Monohydrate means one water molecule is attached to creatine and when it comes into the GI tract or the hydrochloric acid of your stomach it disassociates, monohydrate is identical to what our body’s producing. As of writing this article there’s never been a single study ever published showing that another form of creatine is superior to monohydrate for having muscle or performance benefits. Creatine monohydrate has also a great safety profile, it is boring and cheap and it works.
Be careful about creatine in solution:
Creatine in store-bought solution could degrade to creatinine really quickly. There is no reason to buy creatine in solution and at the same time I’d really like to see a proof which would show that in their product it hasn’t started to degrade to creatinine. It is okay to mix creatine powder with juice or milk and water and drink it within an hour. If you’ll mix it and leave in a fridge it will be okay but once you’ll leave it in higher tempreratures it will degrade to creatinine quicker. Conclusion here, don’t be lazy, mix your powder and drink it, that’s it.
Creatine and bone beneficial effects:
In a healthy individual taking creatine monohydrate without exercise has no bone benefits. You need to have resistance training and take about 8 grams a day. Study comparing beneficial effects on bones while taking creatine that would compare resistance training and taking high, low and 8 grams a day has not been done yet so we do not know. The lowest dose that seem to be effective at the moment is 8 grams in general. Once again the resistance training has to be there !
Other benefits of creatine (more studies need to be done):
It decreases protein breakdown and inflammation. Since it increases the energy status of the cell it can also help increase a storing capacity of carbohydrate called glycogen which we use at high intensities and if it decreases inflammation and increases recovery it’s been shown to have really good anti-inflammatory effects for long duration exercise such as Triathlon or Marathon running. There need to be a lot of research done in the future as creatine is showing to have a positive effect on recovery after concussion and others, but I’m not gonna go in a detail here as there is little evidence at the moment, I will follow creatine research and update this article when something important will pop up.
This article is based on creatine research of Dr. Darren Candow, Ph.D., CSEP-CEP. He is a Professor and Director of the Aging Muscle and Bone Health Laboratory in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Health Studies at the University of Regina, Canada.
Disclaimer: Author talks about his experience only, always consult with a licensed physician. This web site is provided for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute providing medical advice or professional services. The information provided should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, and those seeking personal medical advice should consult with a licensed physician.