What is Creatine?
Creatine is a natural substance discovered in 1832, which is used by the body to make adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is then used to provide energy for the muscles and brain.Unfortunately, it doesn’t work for everyone – up to 30% of users find no benefit. So far as I know, there’s no way to find out whether it will be helpful for you without trying it for yourself.
It’s also not a magic pill, you need to do the work for it to have any effect, and you need a healthy diet as well so as to get all your other nutrients. Junk food ain’t going to cut it.
Everybody has creatine in their body, mostly stored in the skeletal muscles. Some of this is created by the body, the rest is obtained from food. The foods with the highest levels of creatine are muscle meat and fish. Unsurprisingly, studies have found that vegetarians generally have much lower creatine levels.
Who is Creatine for?
Creatine is used by both professional and amateur athletes to help build muscle. A study shows that short term use can increase maximum power and performance by 5-15%. It is not on the list of IOC or NCAA banned substances.But it’s not just great for building muscle. An Italian study found significant improvements in other types of athletic performance, from sprinting to jumping.It also reduces muscle and cell damage and inflammation after exercise and enhances bone regeneration. Another benefit of using creatine is that it buffers lactic acid build up, so you can do a bit more before you have to stop.
Creatine improves brain power
A double blind study by two Australian universities in 2006 found a significant increase in brain power in volunteers given 5g creatine a day for 6 weeks.
How does creatine work?
Creatine seems to work best for high intensity workouts or intense mental activity. It won’t do much for yoga enthusiasts or anyone else who follows a slower type of exercise regime.
How to use creatine
Creatine does cause some water retention in the first week or two of use, but in the longer term it will start to stimulate protein synthesis. It’s important to take plenty of water with your creatine supplement, as otherwise you may find that you end up dehydrated.
For the same reason, though it may seem counterintuitive, you should take creatine immediately after your workout, not before, to avoid bloating or muscle cramps.
In the past, “loading” (by taking 20g a day) was advised for five days, but many experts now say there’s no evidence this is beneficial and recommend a dose of 3-5g a day.
If you’re vegetarian, you should go for the higher dose, but if you’re a meat-eater who already eats a lot of meat and fish (which contain creatine), the lower dose should be all you need. The body can’t store a lot at a time, so any excess will just be wasted.
Research suggests that creatine taken along with carbohydrates improves uptake. This will also help to avoid bloating. Add a protein source like a protein bar for best results.If you’re taking it in powder form, it’s very important to make sure that it’s properly dissolved before taking it. Mix it with fruit juice (without artificial sweeteners) to provide the carbs that help it work. Mix well: if you can still see powder floating around or you can feel it on your tongue, it needs to be mixed for longer.
Creatine is hydroscopic, so if it’s not properly dissolved, it will suck water from the parts of your body that need it.
Alpha lipoic acid (ALA) is also helpful in addition to creatine, because it enhances muscle phosphocreatine.
Creatine side effects
Although there are some myths associating creatine with kidney disease, cancer and other problems, there have been many studies to check this out, and none of them found any evidence of this. Several studies have concluded that 5-20g creatine is safe for daily use. However, as with all supplements, it’s best to consult your doctor before starting to take creatine.
Which type of creatine is the best?
There are many types of creatine available, however the one on which almost all research has been carried out is creatine monohydrate, so this is the type I recommend.
Creatine as a treatment
Research published in 2009 concluded that creatine and CoQ-10 taken together may be useful in the treatment of Parkinson’s Disease and Huntingdon’s disease.
A 2007 study found an 8.5% increase in muscle strength in muscular dystrophy patients who took a creatine supplement.
Three South Korean university studies found that creatine combined with antidepressant medication doubled the speed of recovery from depression.
Creatine is not suitable for anyone under the age of 18, or for pregnant women or women who are breastfeeding. It should not be used by anyone who has kidney disease, liver disease or diabetes or in combination with diuretics, ibuprofen and other NSAIDs, caffeine, ephedra, paracetamol (acetaminophen), cimetidine (Tagamet), probenicid, insulin or other medication which affects blood sugar levels.
Where to get creatine
I have a range of creatine supplements in my online store, but they do tend to sell out fast, so if you see something you want is in stock, it’s best to order while it’s available.