What is creatine?
Obviously, we'll start with the basics. The science answer is that creatine is an amino acid, made up of arginine, glycine and methionine and produced naturally in the kidney, liver and pancreas but is also obtained through the diet via red meat and - the whole purpose of this article - supplements.
The majority (90-95%) of creatine is found in the muscles, which is why people assume if they want to build muscle, they should take it. But what they may not know is that creatine (creatine phosphate, more specifically), is used in fast, explosive movements that work in anaerobic capacity along with ATP. Meaning creatine comes in to help most commonly with high intensity movements like box jumps, sprints, and one rep maxes, that work muscles in the absence of oxygen. So in layman's terms, creatine is a source of energy provided by your muscles to do high intensity work for a short period of time.
Creatine works with ATP, adenosine triphosphate, which is an energy-rich molecule and is your main energy source for these kind of movements. So when your body uses up all its ATP in an explosive movement, it looks for the next highest source of energy, which is creatine phosphate. You can recognize both molecules can produce a lot of energy because they both contain phosphate bonds - breaking these bonds releases a huge amount of energy, which is what gives us power, but also why the stores are depleted so quickly (because there's not a lot of them).
Should you be supplementing with it?
From what we've discussed above, it makes sense that if you're doing high intensity training such as sprints or heavy lifting, having more creatine in your muscles means it can lend a hand to ATP to give you the power for your workout. This then means that you'll be depleting these stores faster than the average person, so then YES, it makes sense that you supplement to replenish your natural levels and to aid in increasing performance with strength and power.
You can see how it doesn't make sense to supplement with creatine if you're sticking with more lower intensity endurance workouts (like long distance running). This is because these different types of workouts use different energy systems - thus you really only need to be supplementing with creatine if you're doing the former.
So for those of you who are supplementing with creatine (and hopefully for the right reason, as per the explanation above), here are some other things you should know:
What are the benefits?
1. Improve strength and power
You can gather from the explanations above that if your body has more readily available creatine, it makes sense that when you go to lift that heavy weight or sprint those 100 metres, your muscles will be able to work that much harder, faster, and slightly longer to get the job done. So it makes sense that if you supplement with creatine correctly you'll be able to improve strength and power in your workouts.
Important note: supplementing with creatine alone will not give you these results. Supplementing with creatine will not give you any benefits without putting it to work in an actual workout. So if you were looking to get big by just taking one more scoop full of one more supplement, it won't work for ya - sorry bud. Additionally, supplementing with MORE creatine does not give you MORE results. So stick to the recommended dosage.
2. Improved muscle protein synthesis
Taking creatine can also result in what is called a cell volumizing effect, which means the cells in your muscles can draw in more water. This is why creatine is also associated with gaining water weight within the first weeks of supplementing. But over time, this form of swelling can also increase protein synthesis and glycogen storage. This means that initial weight gain will balance out as you achieve more strength and your muscles adapt.
2. Benefits beyond the gym
Creatine is also used by brain cells for thought and memory processes, so it can also be used for cognitive function. Even beyond that, creatine may be beneficial in reducing risk of neurological diseases such as ALS, Parkinson's and Huntington's disease, though more research and human trials is still needed on this subject.
How to take creatine
You may have noticed there's a few different ways you can supplement with creatine. The best way to be would supplement with creatine monohydrate, because it's in it's most simplest form, which it needs to be in order to pass through cell membranes (aka get into your body and muscles and not just peed out).
Other forms can be found as creatine ethyl ester but studies have found that these are not as effective at increasing the amount of creatine found in your muscles and thus don't benefit your body in terms of power, strength or size.
It is recommended to take 3 - 5 mg of creatine monohydrate a day with a cup of fruit juice. Fruit juice is recommended so that natural sugars can spike insulin levels to increase the absorption of creatine into the blood stream, then by the muscles. Then again if you're cutting and your goals dictate you can't be slugging fruit juices, this may not be a viable option. Others have suggested taking creatine with protein for the same results. Alternatively you could take it in pill form.
That's a wrap on HTGF: Supplements
This blog post wraps up our 4-part blog on 'How To Get Fit: Supplement' series. We hope you've enjoyed it! We know supplements can seem overwhelming, incomprehensible and expensive. We had the same questions as you when we first started our fitness journey, which is why we decided to write this blog. We wanted to provide you with enough information on the 4 most common supplements we hear about so that you can make an informed decision based on your own body, goals and lifestyle.
Here are a few of our take home messages:
Feel free to leave your comments below, let us know of a subject you'd like us to blog about and/or email us if you have any questions!