Creatine is a naturally occurring source of energy for our muscles. It is not a steroid and it does not directly affect a users’ testosterone levels. Around 95% of the creatine in our body is stored in skeletal muscle but small amounts are also found in the heart, brain and other tissues. The average omnivore loses about 1-3g of creatine each day, and this is replenished through the dietary intake of creatine-rich foods such as meat, dairy, and fish since we produce creatine from the amino acids arginine, glycine, and methionine.

Hundreds of peer reviewed research studies have shown that creatine supplementation is well tolerated as a dietary supplement. In February, 2021, the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition debunked many of the side-effects attributed to creatine over the years, such as dehydration and kidney damage, so now might be a great time to give the supplement a fresh look.

How does creatine supplementation improve performance?

According to Shannon O’Grady, Ph.D, ATP (adenosine triphosphate) is the energy currency of the body and that creatine helps us make ATP quickly.

Creatine is stored in our muscles as phosphocreatine (Ph-creatine) resulting in a kind of energy storage molecule. When we need to do work, or work out, phosphocreatine donates its phosphate to ADP (adenosine diphosphate) to make ATP quickly and this is why creatine assists with strength and power.

Additionally, “creatine is a natural intramuscular buffer,” says O’Grady, who is also COO at Gnarly Nutrition. “This means that it slows the rise in the acidity of our muscles, that occurs when we tap into anaerobic glycolysis. This rise in acidity is associated with muscular fatigue and eventual failure and in this way creatine supplementation also helps with endurance.”

Creatine and explosive power

Creatine is ideal for activities that require repeated bursts of explosive, maximum power so those that enjoy high intensity exercise may benefit from its supplementation. The average omnivore’s baseline creatine levels might produce ATP for five to 10 seconds while an individual who has supplemented and saturated their creatine stores might see the length of ATP production increase to around eight to 12 seconds.

“This might not sound like a lot, but research has shown that this increase in ATP production results in a 10 to 20% increase in multiple measures of high intensity exercise,” says O’Grady. “I’m 43 and weigh 130 pounds. Creatine supplementation, in tandem with strength training, helped me increase my back squat from 200 to 225 pounds in four weeks.”

The optimal dosage

Protein powder and BCAAs powder in a scooper being poured into a protein shaker bottle

The goal with creatine supplementation has always been to fully saturate your muscular stores of creatine. “Loading” is the accelerated way to do this. Loading requires you take high doses of creatine (0.3g creatine per kilo of body mass each day) for five to seven days and then drop down to a maintenance dose of 3 to 5g per day. “With this protocol you would start to see results in one to two weeks,” says O’Grady. “You do not need to load, to benefit from creatine, but it does take longer to fully realize these benefits if you don’t. If you start your creatine supplementation with that amount each day, it will take four-plus weeks to see the same benefit realized in one to two weeks with the loading phase. The decision to load or not load really comes down to how fast you want to see results. Incidentally, I did not load when I supplemented and increased my squat by 25 pounds”

But is creatine vegan friendly?

Creatine products can be vegan friendly because many are synthesized from raw materials that are not derived from animals. “Vegans can actually benefit more from creatine supplementation than individuals who consume animal matter, because their baseline levels will tend to be lower due to the absence of creatine containing foods in their diet,” says O’Grady.

Is all creatine the same?

Creatine monohydrate is the most commonly used form of creatine. There is some evidence to suggest that Creatine Ethyl Ester is better absorbed by the body but the jury is still out, as one study has suggested that CEE did not produce higher creatine storage than the monohydrate. Creapure creatine monohydrate is now the most widely studied form of creatine on the market, and it is tested for banned substances regularly. By using only products of the Cologne List such as Creapure, athletes reduce the risk of unintentionally doping. Creapure is vegan, kosher and halal certified and it’s production is IFS Food certified, a quality standard recognized by the Global Food Safety Initiative.

Does creatine increase water retention?

Creatine is stored with water, similar to glycogen, so an increase in the body’s creatine stores will likely result in an increase in water retention. However, a paper published by the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition notes that this may be short term, and that with longer use, creatine does not alter total body water.

Creatine and aging

10'000 Hours / Getty

“Muscle loss is a natural part of aging with some studies suggesting that after the age of 30, we lose between 3 and 5% of muscle mass per decade,” says O’Grady. “A decrease in muscle mass impacts mobility and strength, but research has also shown a direct correlation between the loss of muscle mass and osteoporosis.

Age-related muscle loss is partly attributed to the shifting of what is referred to as the ‘anabolic threshold for protein’ or the amount of protein required in the diet to maximize muscle protein synthesis. Increasing protein intake and strength training are two ways to combat this, but creatine supplementation factors in nicely as it doubles down on the positive impact that strength training can have on muscle mass. More muscle equals stronger bones and better mobility.”

Since muscle degradation plays a part in many ailments, creatine may have a role to play in the treatment of conditions such as spinal injuries and arthritic disease. And, no matter our age of level of health, creatine is great for post-exercise recovery as it reduces inflammatory compounds and reduces delayed onset muscle soreness. So, having stood the test of time itself, now might be the time to consider loading up on creatine.

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