Creatine Explained

Creatine Explained

We all have creatine within our muscles. An amino acid derivative, its job is to aid muscular energy output, functioning as the main variable for our ability to use our muscles for maximum contractile effort.

Creatine utilization can be explained as part of one of our fundamental three energy systems, which each use the body's universal energy currency molecule known as ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate).

The aerobic system (requiring oxygen to generate ATP) fuels longer endurance exercise, and the oxidative system (not requiring oxygen for ATP generation) fuels shorter duration and higher intensity exercise (think 400-800m run). The Phosphagen system relies on the muscular stores of ATP and phosphocreatine to fuel maximal efforts.[1]

For ATP to be used as energy, the body spits one of the three phosphate molecules from the end of the molecule, which generates energy. Once the split, ATP is known as ADP (Adenosine Diphosphate with only two phosphates). The body can resynthesize ADP back into ATP to be utilized for energy production again, and this is where creatine comes in.

The body has a finite phosphocreatine store within the muscle to draw from and recycle ADP back into ATP.[2] Taking creatine allows you to safely increase these stores. Then, within a structured training program, this leads to an improved work capacity through more reps & sets in the weight room. 

Creatine Chemical Formula

What the science says about creatine.

Creatine supplementation hit mainstream success in the early '90s, with companies MuscleTech and EAS developing the first consumer products. Since then, creatine supplementation has become somewhat of a standard protocol among athletes.

It is hard to come by in academia; the science is crystal clear that creatine works. 

Studies began around the mid-'90s with researchers finding when athletes supplemented with creatine, physical performance was augmented at max-effort workloads because of elevated creatine stores within the muscle.[3] [4] Subsequent research elicited the same results, with a significant variety of doses tested to find the optimal amount. It is estimated without supplementation, muscular creatine stores are around 60-80% saturated [5].

Multiple literature reviews and meta-analysis' (whereby researchers survey the available literature and form conclusions about a topic from it) helped to solidify creatine's ergogenic effects with increases in power and performance across maximal athletic efforts.[6] [7]

One of the secondary conclusions researchers came to regards the safety of the supplement. 

No study, to date, has found creatine to be harmful, with only a couple of studies linking its consumption to an increase in cancer risk and/or kidney damage. The validity of the findings of this research was disproven with subsequent reviews confirming this and forming the now global consensus that creatine is safe for use as an ergogenic aid, with insufficient evidence beyond anecdotal reports to suggest otherwise.[8]

Creatine Scoop

Which type of creatine do I choose? How much should I take?

The most common form of creatine is creatine monohydrate.

While there are dozens of different forms of creatine, such as creatine hydrochloride (used for its high water solubility), creatine malate (creatine combined with malic acid which can have positive effects on stamina), or even multi-component creatine which combines a variety of creatine types for effects such as increased absorption and serving utilization, creatine monohydrate – consisting essentially of pure creatine and water - is the most studied and popular form.

'Creatine loading' refers to the process of saturating the muscle with creatine to its maximum capacity over the course of several days. Traditionally, studies approached the loading phase through a large dose of creatine for a short time period (commonly 20 days at a dose of 5g [9] [10]), after which once the muscles are saturated, you can maintain a normal 'maintenance dose'. 

Creatine loading has consistently shown to improve the speed at which you can reap the supplement's benefit, but it is not essential. Loading simply enables you to fast-track the saturation process, and you will achieve the same results taking a 'maintenance' dosage'; it will just take a little longer.

But what is classed as a standard maintenance dose?

Research has consistently shown peak beneficial effects from 2 to 5 grams, with there being deemed no additional benefit over 5g [11] [12], with many brands providing 5 grams per serving as an upper limit to ensure the maximal effect is provided.

Due to it's systemic nature (meaning the accumulation in the body dictates its efficacy), when you take creatine should not matter. Unlike the acute effects of pre-workout, creatine is stored in the body and utilized as and when needed. This is also why there is no need to cycle the product. You can take it year-round without a break.

Creatine Bloat?

There has been some debate whether taking creatine is optimal when trying to lose weight because many associate the supplement with increased water retention or 'bloat'.

While this may seem problematic, the truth is in the detail. Creatine increases the volume of fluid in the cell, intracellular, helping the muscles appear full and dense.[13] [14] 

Bloating is when there is extracellular fluid. Poorly manufactured creatine products in the late '90s and early 2000s were mixed with salt and other fillers to cut production costs so companies could maximize profit. This is where the public consensus regarding creatine and bloating originated.

Practical Recommendations

Creatine is a safe and effective ergogenic aid, enabling improved performance in the weight room or athletic field.

We recommend creatine monohydrate at a daily maintenance dose of 5 grams, taken any time during the day and mixed into your desired beverage. Most creatine products, such as our best selling MTS Nutrition Creapure Creatine, also offer instructions for a loading protocol if you wish to saturate your muscles a little faster.

Sports supplementation can be a confusing and bewildering minefield at times, but if there is one product that has stood the test of time, rigorous training, and a universally glowing academic consensus, creatine is it.

Linden Garcia Pepworth is a Sports Nutritionist (BSc Sports Nutrition) and YMCA Accredited Instructor. He is currently working on a review comparing the anabolic differences between plant and animal proteins.

[1] Boulay, M. R., Lortie, G., Simoneau, J. A., Hamel, P., Leblanc, C., & Bouchard, C. (1985). Specificity of aerobic and anaerobic work capacities and powers. International journal of sports medicine6(06), 325-328.
[2] Meyer, R. A., Sweeney, H. L., & Kushmerick, M. J. (1984). A simple analysis of the" phosphocreatine shuttle". American Journal of Physiology-Cell Physiology246(5), C365-C377.
[3] Greenhaff, P. L., Casey, A., Short, A. H., Harris, R., Soderlund, K., & Hultman, E. (1993). Influence of oral creatine supplementation of muscle torque during repeated bouts of maximal voluntary exercise in man. Clinical Science84(5), 565-571.
[4] Harris, R. C., Söderlund, K., & Hultman, E. (1992). Elevation of creatine in resting and exercised muscle of normal subjects by creatine supplementation. Clinical science83(3), 367-374.
[5] Kreider, R. B., Kalman, D. S., Antonio, J., Ziegenfuss, T. N., Wildman, R., Collins, R., ... & Lopez, H. L. (2017). International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition14(1), 1-18.
[6] Williams, M. H., & Branch, J. D. (1998). Creatine supplementation and exercise performance: an update. Journal of the American College of Nutrition17(3), 216-234.
[7] Williams, M. H., & Branch, J. D. (1998). Creatine supplementation and exercise performance: an update. Journal of the American College of Nutrition17(3), 216-234.
[8] Kreider, R. B., Kalman, D. S., Antonio, J., Ziegenfuss, T. N., Wildman, R., Collins, R., ... & Lopez, H. L. (2017). International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition14(1), 1-18.
[9] Hultman, E., Soderlund, K., Timmons, J. A., Cederblad, G., & Greenhaff, P. L. (1996). Muscle creatine loading in men. Journal of applied physiology81(1), 232-237.
[10] LOON, L. J. V., Oosterlaar, A. M., Hartgens, F., Hesselink, M. K., Snow, R. J., & Wagenmakers, A. J. (2003). Effects of creatine loading and prolonged creatine supplementation on body composition, fuel selection, sprint and endurance performance in humans. Clinical science104(2), 153-162.
[11] Hultman, E., Soderlund, K., Timmons, J. A., Cederblad, G., & Greenhaff, P. L. (1996). Muscle creatine loading in men. Journal of applied physiology81(1), 232-237.
[12] Kraemer, W. J., & Volek, J. S. (1999). Creatine supplementation: its role in human performance. Clinics in sports medicine18(3), 651-666.
[13] Francaux, M., & Poortmans, J. R. (1999). Effects of training and creatine supplement on muscle strength and body mass. European journal of applied physiology and occupational physiology80(2), 165-168.
[14] Powers, M. E., Arnold, B. L., Weltman, A. L., Perrin, D. H., Mistry, D., Kahler, D. M., ... & Volek, J. (2003). Creatine supplementation increases total body water without altering fluid distribution. Journal of athletic training38(1), 44.
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