Creatine 101: Creatine Supplements Guide

Creatine

If you’re looking to transform your physique, or simply improve your athletic performance, you’ve probably considered using supplements. Many bodybuilders, fitness enthusiasts, and athletes in general, use a supplement known as creatine.

In today’s guide, we’re going to be looking at pretty-much everything you need to know about creatine and creatine supplementation. So, sit back, grab a protein bar and let’s learn more about the wonder that is creatine.

First off, what the heck is creatine?

It’s all about to get very scientific and technical right now, so strap yourselves in and let’s get all science-y.

Now, we human beings are basically enormous clusters of microscopic cells. These cells need energy to function, just like our smart phones need battery power to work. The most basic natural form of cellular energy utilized by our cells, is something called Adenosine Triphosphate, or ATP for short.

ATP is to our cells, what gasoline is to our cars. In order for a cell to utilize ATP however, it must first break the ATP down into a number of much smaller molecules. This in turn results in by-products which the body then recycles and converts back into ATP for the cells to use it. Imagine taking old and dirty gasoline, and filtering it and processing it to remove all of the impurities from it, and then putting it back into your car again and that’s a very similar process.

When the ATP is broken down, one by-product in particular, is especially interesting, and that is one known as ADP, or Adenosine Diphosphate. The more ATP that your cells can store, the more energy they will have, which means the more work your muscles can do, and the harder they will work. The harder your muscles can work, the more effective your workouts will become.

The problem is that, like cars use gasoline as they travel, the cells in your muscles use ATP as you use your muscles. Regular ATP levels become depleted very quickly during physical exertion. Once it’s used up, your muscles quickly become tired and fatigued. Creatine is very beneficial because it helps to boost the process of ATP regeneration, so your body generates more ATP and subsequently, more energy as a result. But how?

Well, creatine basically works by very selflessly becoming a donor. Creatine donates one molecule of a substance which the body needs to convert ADP into ATP. Without this donation, ADP cannot be converted into ATP, so creatine now has quickly managed to prove its worth.

The only problem with creatine in the body is that once it’s been used up naturally, that’s it. The body then needs to get its energy from other sources, so it utilizes fatty acids and glucose to produce ATP, which are not as effective.

By supplementing with creatine however, you are increasing the amount of creatine found within the body, which means that you can generate more ATP and your muscles can enjoy more energy.

From an athletic standpoint, this is beneficial as it means that you can exercise for longer durations before you fatigue, you can generate more power, you can lift more weight, you can perform more reps, and you can work harder as you train. Now, the reason why creatine is the second-most popular supplement in the world becomes crystal clear.

Creatine, despite having near mythical status in the bodybuilding world, is not some wacky and bizarre new supplement created in a secret underground lab. It is also NOT a steroid, and anybody who tries to tell you it is, should immediately be ignored from that point onwards.

Creatine is a natural compound that functions as a type of amino acid, that is found within our own bodies. That’s right, we naturally synthesize creatine ourselves. It is also found in red meat and fish, in case you were wondering. In our bodies, it is naturally synthesized by the pancreas, the kidneys, and the liver. Its primary function is to provide a form of energy to your muscles, or rather, to the cells found in your muscles. This natural compound is made up of the amino acids: Glycine, L-arginine, and methionine.

In the world of supplementation, creatine is the second most-popular supplement in the world of health and fitness, second only to whey protein. Most bodybuilders, strength athletes, and fitness fanatics in general, swear by creatine supplements.

There are many different forms of creatine supplement currently on the market, but the most popular is, and always has been, creatine monohydrate. We’ll be looking at the different types of creatine supps currently on the market later on, but for now, we’ll focus on creatine monohydrate. Creatine monohydrate is basically creatine with one individual molecule of water attached directly to it.

Now, you’re probably wondering why, if we produce creatine ourselves, and if we can get it from meat and fish, why would we need to buy creatine supplements? Well, we need to buy and use them because the amounts we produce and consume from whole foods, are not enough to provide any substantial health and fitness benefits.

How does creatine work?

It’s all about to get very scientific and technical right now, so strap yourselves in and let’s get all science-y.

Now, we human beings are basically enormous clusters of microscopic cells. These cells need energy to function, just like our smart phones need battery power to work. The most basic natural form of cellular energy utilized by our cells, is something called Adenosine Triphosphate, or ATP for short.

ATP is to our cells, what gasoline is to our cars. In order for a cell to utilize ATP however, it must first break the ATP down into a number of much smaller molecules. This in turn results in by-products which the body then recycles and converts back into ATP for the cells to use it. Imagine taking old and dirty gasoline, and filtering it and processing it to remove all of the impurities from it, and then putting it back into your car again and that’s a very similar process.

When the ATP is broken down, one by-product in particular, is especially interesting, and that is one known as ADP, or Adenosine Diphosphate. The more ATP that your cells can store, the more energy they will have, which means the more work your muscles can do, and the harder they will work. The harder your muscles can work, the more effective your workouts will become.

The problem is that, like cars use gasoline as they travel, the cells in your muscles use ATP as you use your muscles. Regular ATP levels become depleted very quickly during physical exertion. Once it’s used up, your muscles quickly become tired and fatigued. Creatine is very beneficial because it helps to boost the process of ATP regeneration, so your body generates more ATP and subsequently, more energy as a result. But how?

Well, creatine basically works by very selflessly becoming a donor. Creatine donates one molecule of a substance which the body needs to convert ADP into ATP. Without this donation, ADP cannot be converted into ATP, so creatine now has quickly managed to prove its worth.

The only problem with creatine in the body is that once it’s been used up naturally, that’s it. The body then needs to get its energy from other sources, so it utilizes fatty acids and glucose to produce ATP, which are not as effective.

By supplementing with creatine however, you are increasing the amount of creatine found within the body, which means that you can generate more ATP and your muscles can enjoy more energy.

From an athletic standpoint, this is beneficial as it means that you can exercise for longer durations before you fatigue, you can generate more power, you can lift more weight, you can perform more reps, and you can work harder as you train. Now, the reason why creatine is the second-most popular supplement in the world becomes crystal clear.

Benefits of creatine supplementation

Right, we’ve now taken a look at what creatine supplements are, and at how they work, so now it’s time for us to look at why they’re so useful.

If you’re looking to pack on heaps of muscle mass and build a physique that a Mr Olympia winner himself would be envious of, creatine is your friend. However, if you’re simply looking to run a little faster, bust out a couple more reps in the gym, or recover a wee bit quicker after training, again, creatine is ideal.

There are far too many benefits associated with creatine supplements for us to list each one. We could, but it would mean that we’d be here all day and you’d be reading all day, rather than chasing the gains in the gym. To help make life easier for us all, we’ve narrowed down the list of benefits associated with using creatine supplements, so take a look and see what you think.

– Increased muscle mass

One of the main reasons why creatine supplements are so popular amongst bodybuilders is the fact that they have been found to significantly help boost muscle mass. Now, creatine does not work on the muscles in the same way that protein does. Protein supplements promote increases in muscle mass by helping the body to synthesize new muscle tissue via protein synthesis. Creatine supplements work in a very different way.

You see, as we looked at above, creatine helps to increase the amounts of ATP that is available for the cells in your muscles. The more ATP your body can generate, the more ATP the cells in your muscles can absorb. If you were paying attention before, you’ll remember how ATP is a key source of energy for the cells.

The more ATP there is, the more energy your cells have. From a bodybuilding perspective, this is very important. The more energy your muscles have, the more weight you can lift, the more reps you can perform, and the harder your muscles can work. The harder you work in the gym, the more productive your workouts become, and the more muscle mass you can build.

Creatine also increases the levels of water content found within your muscle cells. Not only does this increase the size and appearance of your muscles (more on that next) but an increased amount of water in the cells has also been found to promote a positive nitrogen balance, which is needed for protein synthesis.

Creatine also provides anti-catabolic benefits, which basically means that creatine helps to prevent the breakdown and wastage of muscle tissue in the body. Put simply, if you’re looking to hop on the next train to Gainsville and get big and jacked, creatine is a supplement you should include as part of your next stack.

– Increased cell volumes

When you lift weights, after a while you’ve probably noticed how your muscles become tighter and they look and feel bigger and harder. This is known as a muscle pump, and it is basically where blood has been forced into your muscles, causing them to swell and expand. Creatine, however, creates muscle pumps in a slightly different way.

Creatine works by increasing the amount of water concentrations found within the cells of your muscles. This causes the cells to swell and expand, which in turn makes the muscles look bigger, fuller, and harder, even in a relaxed state. Now, when you combine this with a muscle pump from working out, the benefits of lifting weights to get a pump instantly become noticeable thanks to creatine.

If you thought you had awesome muscle pumps before, just you wait until you experience a muscle pump while supplementing with creatine. Be warned, your tee shirt sleeves will be tighter than ever, and you’ll struggle to tear yourself away from the mirror when you see how pumped and jacked you look.

– Increased strength and power

It isn’t just people looking to build muscle and bulk up that can benefit from creatine supplementation. Experts have also found that creatine supplements can help people to considerably increase the amount of strength and power that they generate during training, thanks to creatine supplements.

One study conducted back in 2003 for example, examined 22 of the finest quality creatine studies that they could find, to try to find out whether or not the supplement could really help people to lift heavier weights. They monitored a number of people following a 10-week strength training program and monitored their 1, 3, and 10 rep maxes. They found that the individuals that supplemented with creatine during these 10 weeks, were able to lift around 20% more weight across each of the three different rep ranges. The individuals on the placebo supplement only increased the amount of weight they could lift across all three ranges by 12%.

So, to cut a long story short, creatine improved their performance by 8% in just 10 weeks. In terms of which exercises benefitted the most, it was the bench press that came out on top, with people’s 1RM (1 Rep Max) increasing from anything from 3% to 45% depending on the individual. The results found that creatine supplementation was more effective at increasing muscle strength and lifting performance than pure resistance training alone. This is yet another reason why many strongmen and powerlifters swear by creatine.

– Creatine speeds up muscular recovery

After training, how efficiently we recover will determine how much muscle we build. During exercise, we aren’t building muscle tissue at all. In actual fact, what we are actually doing is destroying muscle tissue. With each rep that we perform, we’re creating microscopic rips and tears in our muscle tissues.

When we rest and recover, as long as we recover adequately and have access to the right nutrients, this is when we build muscle. To ensure that your muscles are able to adequately repair themselves however, you need the right nutrients. Creatine has been found to help speed up the post-workout recovery process, thereby helping individuals to build muscle recover after a tough workout much quicker.

During periods of intense physical training and exertion, creatine was found to help prevent muscle protein breakdown and reduce muscle glycogen breakdowns, which in turn means that the muscles repair and recover much faster. This is beneficial because it means that you experience fewer DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) so you’re in less pain and discomfort, and it means that your muscle cells have more of what is needed to initiate post-workout recovery.

– Enhanced muscular endurance

Not only does creatine help you to lift more weight and generate more power during exercise, it has also been found to enhance muscular endurance too. We’ve already looked at how creatine helped increase people’s 1RM on bench press, and how it helped to increase the amount of power generated by as much as 8%, but it turns out that creatine also helps to promote endurance too.

You see, when individuals supplementing with creatine performed endurance-based exercise for a prolonged period of time, their levels of fatigue were much lower than the levels of fatigue of individuals performing the same exercise, without the creatine supplements.

Scientists from the University of Oklahoma discovered that creatine supplementation can very significantly reduce the levels of perceived effort during exercise. Perceived effort is basically a fancy term for describing how hard exercise feels as you perform it.

So, to cut a long story short, creatine can help exercise to feel easier, which, when combined with the fact that it enables your muscles to work much harder than usual, means that you can work harder and for longer durations before you begin to feel tired and fatigued.

– Improved health and well-being

Not only does creatine help you to become a better athlete and to build muscle easier, it can also help you to become a healthier individual in general. You see, creatine was recently found to possess a number of antioxidant properties. This means that it basically functions like an antioxidant.

Antioxidants help to protect our cells against damage caused by free-radicals, which can attack our cells and expose them to oxidative stress. Once the cells are exposed to oxygen, this oxidative stress and damage can cause them to become damaged, destroyed, or to mutate and potentially turn cancerous. Put simply, free-radicals are bad news which is why it’s important to get them out of our bodies as soon as possible. Creatine’s antioxidant properties make it a wonderful weapon in the fight against free-radicals and toxins.

Creatine has also been found to promote cognitive health and function too, which means that it is great for the brain. Creatine can potentially help to prevent degenerative brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Dementia. Creatine supplementation also improves cognitive health and function in general, which means that it boosts brain power and memory, and can improve a person’s problem-solving capabilities.

How to use creatine?

Now we’re going to take a look at how to use creatine supplements. In order to reap the rewards associated with creatine supplementation, you need to ensure that you are using it in conjunction with regular exercise, and a healthy diet. If your diet sucks and you aren’t eating right, or if you are barely exercising and are just doing the bare minimum, you may as well save your money.

In terms of how to use creatine on a daily basis, all that is required is 5g of creatine per day, which is roughly one teaspoon. Some people say that you should consume 5g before working out, while others say that you should consume it after working out. Some people choose to sip on creatine during a workout. So, which is right? In truth, as of yet, experts are convinced that there is no right or wrong time to consume creatine. Some people have found that they benefitted more when they consumed 5g before working out, whereas others claim they benefitted more when they take creatine after working out.

Studies have found that consuming creatine with a protein source and carbohydrate source, does tend to increase muscular absorption rates in some people. So, if you consume a post-workout shake with waxy maize starch for example, you may find that you benefit by taking your creatine after you train.

The best advice we can give you in this instance, is to basically listen to your body, try creatine at different times of the day, and see when it happens to work best for you.

Hold on, what about creatine loading?

Ah, we were hoping you wouldn’t pick up on that. If you do a little research online, or read the instructions on the tub of most creatine supplements, you’ll see that a lot of companies recommend performing what is known as ‘creatine loading’.

Now, to cut a long story short, creatine loading is basically a process whereby you quadruple the amount of creatine you should normally be taking, for the first 5 days of using the product. So, instead of consuming 5g of creatine like recommended, you will consume 20g of creatine, spaced out into 5g servings throughout the day.

The thinking behind this process is that you are “saturating” your muscles with creatine and are helping to build up a reserve before you cut down to just 5g per day. On average, the human body contains roughly 120g of creatine. 95% of all creatine in the body is found within skeletal muscle. Your muscles can hold an additional 30 – 40g of creatine, on top of the 120g already stored in the body. The thinking behind loading the creatine is that you help to build up a larger creatine reserve in your muscles, so that you are never in danger of running out, no matter how hard you work.

Is creatine loading necessary?

We don’t think so, and neither do most experts. There is no conclusive evidence out there to suggest that creatine loading is beneficial or required. Some people believe that it was simply a concept created by the supplement companies to get you to use your tub of creatine quicker, so you run out quicker and have to spend money on replacing it with a new tub. You could try loading it for a few days and see how you feel, though you will feel slightly bloated and you will need to pee more, so just bear that in mind.

Different types of creatine supplements

So far, when talking about creatine supplements, we’ve spoken primarily about creatine monohydrate. Creatine monohydrate is indeed the most popular creatine supplement on the market, and the second most-popular supplement currently available for purchase, but there are many different types of creatine supplement out there to choose from. These include, but are not limited to:

Creatine monohydrate

Just to ensure that there is no confusion, we’ll start by the king of the creatines. Yep, we’re talking about creatine monohydrate. This supplement is a staple ingredient found in many a bodybuilder’s supplement stack. In fact, many bodybuilders and athletes swear by it. It has undergone extensive research over the years and the findings have primarily been very positive.

Creatine monohydrate is creatine in its most purest form. It is made up of 88% pure creatine which has been bound to 12% water. In the early days, creatine particles were large and clumpy, and were tough to digest and absorb. Nowadays however, creatine monohydrate particles have been micronized, making them smaller and much easier to digest and absorb.

Creatine ethyl ester

Creatine ethyl ester, or CEE, as it is sometimes known, is arguably the second most popular form of creatine supplement currently on the market. CEE is considered to be a superior form of creatine, due largely to the fact that it is thought to be much easier to be absorbed by the body. It’s a superior form of creatine, but as it is relatively new, not enough is yet known about it to justify the hefty price tag associated with it.

CEE, is basically creatine, which has had an ester molecule bound to it. This ester means that it is much easier for the creatine to pass through the outer membranes of cells. Because it can penetrate cell membranes much easier, it is easier for the cells to absorb. This means that cells in your muscles can absorb this creatine at a much faster rate. The quicker it gets into the cells, and the easier it gets into the cells, the quicker it can get to work.

Buffered creatine

Buffered creatine is another type of creatine supplement that appears to be growing in popularity as of late. Typically, it is combined with Magnesium, or sometimes with baking soda, in order to raise its PH value. A PH below 7 is acidic, whereas a PH above 7 is considered alkaline. When a substance is acidic, it finds it easier to react with other substances in order to cause chemical alterations.

The logic behind buffering this creatine and increasing its PH is so that you can protect it from powerful acids in the stomach which are used to break down foods for digestion. By protecting the creatine from stomach acids, more of it remains stable and intact, which means that more of it can be absorbed into your bloodstream. Does the PH of creatine really need to be altered? Well, creatine is naturally resistant to stomach acid anyways, so most people consider the buffering process a complete waste of time.

Creatine phosphate

Creatine phosphate was very popular in the health and fitness world once upon a time, lately however, it seems to have slipped off of the map slightly. Basically, creatine phosphate is a creatine molecule which has been bound onto a phosphate molecule. The reason for this is that, naturally, once inside the cells, creatine molecules are actually bonded onto phosphate molecules. Experts thought therefore, that by pre-bonding the creatine to the phosphate, that they would basically be amplifying the results and making the creatine more effective. When compared with creatine monohydrate however, pre-bonded creatine phosphate still came up short.

Creatine malate

Creatine malate is quite a new form of creatine currently on the market today, and it is one which many experts are quite excited about. Creatine malate is creatine which has been chemically bonded with malic acid. Malic acid helps assist the muscles with natural productions of aerobic energy. The thinking here, is that by combining creatine with malic acid, your muscles will receive a super-concentrated boost of energy, helping them to work harder and faster than ever before. Experts however, are still unsure about the overall effectiveness of creatine malate, so for now, our advice is to stick to a good quality creatine monohydrate.

Common creatine myths and misconceptions

Before we leave you to head to the gym and start chasing those gains, we’re going to finish by looking at a few common myths and misconceptions associated with creatine supplementation. Before you head out to pick up your new creatine supplement, make sure you understand the truth behind these awesome products.

Creatine is a steroid – This is 100% NOT TRUE! We don’t know where this myth originated from, but please ignore anybody that tries to tell you that creatine is a steroid. Creatine is NOT a steroid, it is found naturally in our bodies. It assists with muscle growth via improvements to athletic performance, but it is most certainly not a steroid.

Creatine needs to be cycled – This was a myth that was likely started by supplement companies to try to make creatine sound more powerful than it is. Who know, maybe this is why some people started to wrongly believe that creatine was a steroid? Either way, creatine does not need to be cycled. There are plenty of people that quite happily use creatine all year long and experience no adverse side effects whatsoever. If you wish to cycle creatine, perhaps to save money or because you’re bloated slightly, then by all means do so, but there really is no need to.

Creatine makes you fat – No it does not. Creatine increases cell volumes so it does make the cells swell and expand, which can make you look and feel a little bloated and bigger, but creatine will not make you fat. It promotes increases in lean muscle tissue so ultimately it will make you look leaner.

Creatine is dangerous – If used as instructed, creatine is completely safe and is no more dangerous than any other health supplement. Creatine, in safe doses, does not damage the liver or kidneys, and it is not dangerous at all.

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