To me, creatine sounds like a chemical that I’d never want to ingest. To be honest, that alone prevented me from using it for quite a while. However, Creatine is the safest, most popular, and most studied sports supplements available. Keep on reading to learn how it works, how to use it, and what it does for you.
What is Creatine and How Does it Work?
Creatine is an organic compound with the formula CNCH₂CO₂H. Creatine is found in animals where it helps in the production of energy by recycling adenosine triphosphate (ATP), what your body uses for energy, primarily in muscle and brain tissue. About 95% of your body’s storage of creatine is in your muscles in the form of phosphocreatine.
During high intensity exercise, the stores of phosphocreatine are used to help your muscles produce more energy. This is the main reason that creatine enhances performance for weightlifters. (Source).
By increasing the energy that your muscles can produce, it allows weightlifters to increase the volume or intensity of their workouts. This would lead our workouts to produce better results, whatever our goal of our workouts happen to be. See below for some additional benefits, pulled from healthline.com
- Improved cell signaling: Can increase satellite cell signaling, which aids muscle repair and new muscle growth (Source).
- Raised anabolic hormones: Studies note a rise in hormones, such as IGF-1, after taking creatine (Source, Source, Source).
- Increased cell hydration: Lifts water content within your muscle cells, which causes a cell volumization effect that may play a role in muscle growth (Source, Source). As an added benefit, additional water in your muscle cells can help you muscles look more “full”.
- Reduced protein breakdown: May increase total muscle mass by reducing muscle breakdown (Source).
- Lower myostatin levels: Elevated levels of the protein myostatin can slow or totally inhibit new muscle growth. Supplementing with creatine can reduce these levels, increasing growth potential (Source). If you haven’t heard of myostatin or follistatin before, they’re two important proteins that are involved in muscle growth. Google them for more info!
It’s Incredibly Safe
Even considering all of these research-backed benefits, people are still quite afraid that it can’t be safe long term. Claims against creatine include weight gain, cramping, digestive issues, and liver or kidney problems. The good news, is these are all false.
The two credible claims are weight gain, and liver or kidney problems. These claims are not without evidence, however are easily explained.
In terms of weight gain, you do see more pounds on the scale after one week of high-dose loading of creatine (20 grams/day). Loading, as it’s commonly called, can increase your weight by around 2–6 pounds. However, this is not fat OR muscle weight gain, but instead due to increased water in your muscles (Source, Source)
For concerns around liver or kidney health, these are also easily explained. Creatinine is a byproduct of Creatine, and supplementing with creatine can slightly raise levels of creatinine in your blood. Creatinine is commonly measured to diagnose kidney and liver problems. This can cause a false positive to appear on these tests, leading people to believe they cause kidney or liver problems. However, elevated Creatinine is not a result of liver or kidney issues, but can be a symptom. If I coughed, you wouldn’t immediately tell me I was sick. Maybe a bug flew into my mouth. To date, no study of creatine use in healthy individuals has provided evidence of harm to the liver or kidneys. (Source, Source, Source, Source, Source, Source)
For those concerned about long term health, long term creatine monohydrate (one of the forms of creatine) supplementation does not significantly affect clinical markers of health in athletes. (source)
Despite popular concerns, the International Society of Sports Nutrition regards creatine as extremely safe.
Creatine has been used for more than a century, and over 500 studies support its safety and effectiveness. It is the most studied sports supplement available. In fact, it is one of the world’s most tested supplements in general, and has an outstanding safety profile (Source).
How to Use Creatine
Now that we’ve discussed how it works and why it’s safe, let’s talk about how to actually use Creatine.
The average stores within your body are about 120 mmol/kg. However, your diet and natural creatine levels do not maximize your muscles stores. Creatine supplements can elevate these stores to around 140–150 mmol/kg (source) If we look at the table below, you can see that to really maintain full creatine stores, you’d have to eat 1 kg of beef per day. That’s 2.2 lbs. Getting enough creatine from food is just not realistic.
The quickest method of increasing muscle creatine stores appears to be to consume ~0.13 grams/lb/day (around 15-20g) of creatine monohydrate for at least 3 days followed by 3–5 g/d thereafter to maintain elevated stores. Ingesting smaller amounts of creatine monohydrate (e.g., 2–3 g/d) will increase muscle creatine stores over a 3–4 week period, however, the performance effects of this method of supplementation are less supported. (source)
According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), larger athletes who train intensely “may need to consume between 5 and 10 g of creatine a day” to maintain their stores. Because this is such a safe supplement, and fairly cheap, I’d recommend staying within the 5-10g range.
With Creatine monohydrate is the most effective ergogenic nutritional supplement currently available to athletes in terms of increasing high-intensity exercise capacity and lean body mass during training. Source