Prometheuz Health – Creatine 101
Creatine is a naturally occurring substance, which means you have creatine in your body regardless of whether or not you have ever taken creatine supplements Our bodies make creatine in our liver and kidneys and what it inherently does is to help our cells increase ATP. ATP is practically the energy currency of all of our cells, whether it’s a muscle cell or even a cell in your brain, our cells use ATP to carry out key functions. When we supplement additional creatine we increase the amount of ATP available in our cells and more energy equals getting more stuff done!
When your creatine stores are high and you hit the gym you will be able to get more work done as the energy availability makes you stronger and you will be able to put in more reps. Creatine also has an effect on your brain as more ATP in your brain equals better clarity in thinking and thus creatine increases you mental and physical potential.
To gain understanding of the chemical process of how creatine works in our bodies let’s break down the different energy systems that keep your body going every day. Basically your body has three energy systems that work in conjunction with each other. The first and most ATP demanding system is called your ATP-PC energy system that produces ATP very rapidly from your stored creatine but it is limited in its ATP production.
In other words think of your body as a car and this energy system as a V8 engine. It provides you with the most ‘power’ because it produces ATP more quickly than any other energy system and due to this it fuels all your high intensity activities. Its downfall however is that it burns out very quickly. This is where the beauty of creatine supplementation comes in!
When you supplement additional creatine to your body you are able to keep that V8 engine running full speed for slightly longer and as such you can keep those high intensity activities going for longer. Once your ATP-PC system is depleted your body switches over to your anaerobic energy system (no oxygen required) that relies less on creatine and more on blood glucose, muscle and liver glycogen for slightly longer duration activities.
Lastly once you’ve run out of fuel given by the Anaerobic system your body will switch over to your Aerobic system (requires oxygen) that relies on blood glucose, muscle and liver glycogen, adipose and intramuscular fat as its main fuel source for less intense longer duration activities.
Understanding these complex energy systems we see why creatine is one of your most popular supplements in the gym. Most people in a gym are working on high intensity short reps for example 3 sets of 8 reps on the bench press and as such creatine allows you to do this more effectively as it fuels exactly those short high intensity activities.
What are some of the research proven benefits of creatine?
The reason you see a lot of strength athletes and body builders using creatine is due to its proven effect on increasing ATP. More ATP increases strength and power output so in other words if you’re a person that can normally bench 200 pounds for 5 reps taking creatine over time you may be able to get 2 additional reps. Those 2 reps translate to more tension on the chest and more muscle damage, meaning over time better gains.
New research has shown that creatine also directly stimulates muscle building. Creatine does this by acting on myostatin. Myostatin is a gene humans have in their body that down regulates muscle building to prevent building excessive muscle in areas such as your heart and to help control or maintain calorie balance. When we strength train myostatin levels decrease for a while aiding us in building muscle. Creatine supplementation also increases this effect as it helps further lower this myostatin levels so you will build more muscle. So not only does creatine aid in increasing power for athletes such as power lifters but it also directly aids in building muscle for athletes such as body builders due to its interaction with the myostatin pathway.
A lot of people don’t realise the effect creatine has on endurance athletes. When you are running for long durations such as a marathon you are not really using any of your ATP- PC energy system but creatine supplementation does still have benefits as research have shown that that prolonged creatine usage leads to decreased muscle damage that ensue following a workout. This means runners that supplement with creatine tend to recover much faster. Faster recovery means increase in running and thus increases in your fitness levels.
One of the most overlooked benefits of creatine usage is the effects of creatine on the human brain. Creatine has been proven to aid in brain clarity and mental focus and helps keep your brain cells healthy. Interestingly recent clinical studies have been using creatine in children as young as one year of age who have traumatic brain injury. Creatine is useful as increasing ATP in the brain helps the brain to heal and recover from traumatic brain injuries. This has massive implications in sport where a recent light has been shed on the serious issues of concussions in contact sport.
What are the common side effects of creatine?
The most common side effect of creatine is stomach cramps usually due to dehydration. Creatine draws water into the body and if you do not have enough water in your body you can experience stomach cramps. Luckily this is easy to remedy as you must ensure your fluid intake is adequate.
A big misconception is that creatine can negatively affect your kidneys. This misconception comes from the fact that our kidney breaks down creatine into a by product called creatinine. Creatinine is one of the components tested in blood work to evaluate kidney function and as such elevated levels of creatinine might sound alarming to certain doctors as they might perceive this as kidneys not filtering properly, when in fact it simply just makes sense that elevated creatine will lead to elevated creatinine in your blood as higher volumes of creatine is available for breakdown than normal.
What type of creatine should I be taking?
The most researched form of creatine currently is Creatine Monohydrate. All the positive benefits we associate with creatine (increase in strength, power and size) come from research done on creatine monohydrate. Most manufacturers of newer forms of creatine claim improved percentages of creatine available for muscles. But with creatine monohydrate as much as 99.1% of creatine is delivered to your muscles, and as such there is not room for much improvement.
How do I take creatine?
Creatine is commonly taken by two methods. Method one is what is called ‘Creatine Loading’. This means starting off supplementation with a ‘loading phase’ to try and fully saturate the muscle stores. Then following from this is a ‘maintenance phase’ where lower doses are taken to keep levels where they are desired. An example of this would be 20-25grams per day split into 5 doses for the first week followed by daily maintenance of 3-5grams per day.
Method 2 is called “Low-Dose Daily Supplementation”. His method is simply taking 3-5grams of creatine per day without any loading cycle. In about 3 weeks, this method will get you to the same levels as the loading protocol.
Do I need to cycle my creatine?
Most people will talk about cycling creatine similar to that of anabolic steroids where you supplement for a couple months and take some time off. This approach has been proven to be another myth. You will get benefits from creatine by taking it long term for sustainability and no risk. You can arguably take 3-5 grams of creatine for the rest of your life and be absolutely fine!
To summarize, creatine is one of the safest and effective supplements that you could be taking and confers a lot of benefits to strength, muscle building and brain health. I recommend 3-5 grams per day long term to ensure you are getting the best results from your creatine.