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What is Creatine?
Creatine is an amino acid located in the body’s muscles and brain. It can be obtained through eating seafood and red meat and/or synthetic supplementation. The body’s liver, pancreas and kidneys are responsible for making creating in the body.
There are several factors that affect the body’s creatine stores. These include: red meat intake, exercise, amount of muscle mass, testosterone and IGF levels. With supplementation, you can increase phosphocreatine stores. This form of stored energy helps the body produce more ATP, a high energy molecule. With higher levels of ATP, your body performs better and for longer periods of time.
Combined with weight training, creatine slows the loss of bone mass as you age and could ease the effects of osteoarthritis, where joints become stiff and painful. That said, creatine, inevitably, has different effects on individuals.
The effects of creatine should be evident in a week in most using the supplement— with your training volume and strength increasing. Studies in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that muscle fibers grow faster after creatine supplementation and resistance-based exercise.
Whether creatine improves performance in all sports depends largely on what aspect of performance you’re trying to improve. But if a lack of muscle mass is a limiting factor, creatine certainly has the potential to help you perform better. In many sports, though, there is an “optimum” muscle size, beyond which adding additional mass may be counterproductive. Naturally, bigger muscles don’t always translate to superior performance.
Away from the squat rack, creatine is also beneficial during short, repeated bouts of high-intensity exercise, like CrossFit and circuit training.
“Creatine serves as a fuel source for short-duration, high-burst activities,” says Jose Antonio, an associate professor of exercise and sports science at Nova Southeastern University. In other words, if you sprint, lift or do HIIT, the compound can help you rise to another level.
How does Creatine work?
Creatine’s primary role is to increase phosphocreatine stores in the muscle. It enables more total work or volume in a single training session. Creatine also increases cell signaling which helps with muscle growth and repair. Higher levels of creatine increase cell hydration within the muscle which aids in muscle growth as well. Protein breakdown is inhibited with higher creatine levels. Creatine lowers myostatin levels. Elevated myostatin can slow or inhibit muscle growth, so creatine helps reverse this.
There are numerous benefits of creatine use, especially in high intensity workouts. Supplementing with creatine improves strength, power and intensity of exercise performance. Normally ATP becomes depleted after 8-10 seconds of high intensity activity. But with supplementing, you produce more ATP which allows for more optimal performance for a few seconds longer.
Creatine has not been evaluated by the FDA for safety, effectiveness, or purity. All potential risks and/or advantages of this medication may not be known. Additionally, there are no regulated manufacturing standards in place for these compounds. There have been instances where herbal/health supplements have been sold which were contaminated with toxic metals or other drugs. Herbal/health supplements should be purchased from a reliable source to minimize the risk of contamination.
Drink plenty of fluid while taking creatine. Although it has not been proven, dehydration, heat-related illnesses, muscle cramps, reduced blood volume, and electrolyte imbalances are expected to be more likely to occur while taking creatine.
Follow all directions on the product label and package. Tell each of your healthcare providers about all your medical conditions, allergies, and all medicines you use.
It’s not all about an increase in muscle mass, though. Creatine also has some other benefits you might not be aware of. As anyone who’s ever pulled an all-nighter in the office knows, sleep deprivation has a negative effect on mental performance and mood. What you might not be aware of is that this is partially due to a drop in creatine levels in the brain.
Impact of Creatine on the Brain
Creatine supplementation can help improve neurological conditions such as:
Brain or Spinal Cord Injury
Motor Neuron disease
Memory and Brain function in elderly
In a 6 month study in children with traumatic brain injury showed a 70% reduction in fatigue and 50% reduction in dizziness.
Vegetarians have lower creatine levels due to their lack of meat intake. One study of vegetarians who supplemented with creatine showed a 50% improvement in a memory t4est and 20% improvement in intelligence test scores.
How to take Creatine
Creatine Monohydrate is the most common form of creatine supplementation. Many start with a load of 20gm per day divided into four 5 gm doses throughout the day for 5-7 days followed by 3-5gm daily intake. If you choose not to use a loading dose, you can just take 3-5gm per day but it will take about 3-4 weeks to maximize stores.
Since Creatine pulls water into the muscles, it is advised to drink lots of water. Creatine is one of the cheapest, most effective and safest supplements on the market.
“Dosing with creatine can help increase our muscles store of the metabolite, which is linked with repeated bouts of high intensity performance such as sprinting and lifting weights. When we resynthesize at a high rate, it means potentially we can exercise more readily (1) and may even have a higher intensity session with shorter rest periods required, which hypothetically would aid with hypertrophy (2). However, you still have to lift the weights and bigger muscles do not always equal increased strength.”
Get emergency medical help if you have any of these signs of an allergic reaction to creatine: hives; difficult breathing; swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat.
Stop using creatine and call your healthcare provider at once if you have:
- pounding heartbeats or fluttering in your chest;
- trouble breathing;
- swelling, rapid weight gain;
- dehydration symptoms–feeling very thirsty or hot, being unable to urinate, heavy sweating, or hot and dry skin; or
- signs of an electrolyte imbalance–dry mouth, increased thirst, drowsiness, restless feeling, confusion, nausea, vomiting, increased urination, muscle pain or weakness, fast heart rate, feeling light-headed, fainting, or seizure (convulsions).
- Common creatine side effects may include:
- nausea, stomach pain;
- muscle cramps; or
- weight gain
Creatine supplementation can lead to 2-4lbs of weight gain in a week – your muscles retain water in order to heighten protein synthesis (the building of muscles). This, however, is nothing to worry about, especially for everyday athletes. Creatine can increase water retention, which in some sports may lead to a negative effect on performance.
There are also a few reports of kidney problems linked with the use of creatine. Again, these are mainly isolated case studies where someone with a pre-existing medical condition developed further health problems while using creatine. If you’re healthy and not taking a host of other supplements or medicines, you should be fine.
At the end of the day, creatine is one of the cheapest, most effective and safest supplements you can take.
It supports quality of life in older adults, brain health and exercise performance. Vegetarians — who may not obtain enough creatine from their diet — and older adults may find supplementing particularly useful.