Creatine 101: Usage, Benefits, Side Effects and Safety of This Supplement

Creatine 101

Creatine is one of the most recommended supplements for bodybuilders, especially for young fitness enthusiasts.

It is the most useful, safe and effective supplement that you should consume to get the benefits from it. There are several studies done on creatine that back this fact. (1)(2)

However, there are several misconceptions and misleading information out there, which prevent people from using it at full potential and get the benefits. We are here to clear things out for you!!!

Short brief about creatine-

Creatine is an organic acid that gives energy to the cells present in the body, exclusively the muscle cells.

It is naturally found in animal based protein such as red meat or fish. The human body too produces creatine that is stored in the muscles. Additionally, you can consume supplements to increase the creatine content in the body.

In general, creatine supplements are used by bodybuilders to increase muscle mass and by athletes to improve performance. It also helps to treat problems that are caused due to the inability of the body to synthesize creatine.

There are several studies that suggest it can prevent skin aging, prevent disease-induced muscle atrophy, improve exercise performance, etc.

We shall further discuss more about creatine, what it is, how it functions, what benefits it has towards muscle building, etc.

What is Creatine?

Creatine is a tri-peptide amino acid that is found in human body. Basically, it comprises of three important amino acids, L-Arginine, Glycine and L-Methionine. Creatine is often referred as non-essential nutrient, as it is produced in the body itself. (3)

Our body stores 95% of its creatine, in skeletal muscles and the remaining 5% of it is stored in brain, liver, kidney and pancreas. Moreover, one per cent of total blood present in the human body is formed of creatine.

On a daily basis around 1-2.5% of the creatine present in the body is used by the liver, kidney and the pancreas. This is then transported through the blood, to provide energy to different parts of the body, exclusively to the skeletal muscles and brain.

Creatine in supplements is available in different forms. It includes-

  • Creatine Monohydrate
  • Creatine Citrate
  • Creatine ethyl Ester
  • Creatine hydrochloride
  • Buffered Creatine
  • Liquid Creatine
  • Creatine Magnesium Chelate

Creatine Monohydrate is the most common and effective form of creatine supplement. It is also the most researched version of creatine. (4)

Read- 7 Best Forms of Creatine Reviewed 

How much Creatine do you need?

The daily requirement of an average person is around 1-3gms of creatine per day. (4)

A human body produces about 1gms of creatine per day in itself, which is synthesized in the liver, kidney and pancreas. The other half of the daily creatine requirement is obtained from diet, i.e. 1-2gms of creatine. The diet should consist of red meat and fish. For an instance, 1 kg of raw beef contains around 5gms of creatine.

Creatine supplies the body with energy, increases the strength and increases lean muscle mass, etc. Creatine concentration can be increased in an individual by taking the creatine supplements.

Athletes use the supplements to increase the energy production and athletic performance. This allows them to improve their training. Individuals doing intense training might need to increase their creatine intake by 5-10gms per day. (5)

Moreover, people that are finding it difficult to synthesize creatine in their body shall need to increase their intake by 10-30gms per day. This shall prevent major health problems caused due to creatine deficit.

Note: Creatine is naturally found in animal based products. Thus, if you focus on having a balanced diet containing animal-based protein sources, you can make a lot of creatine. Remember, if you are not into bodybuilding or doing high intensity workouts and focusing on having a vegetarian diet, your body is already making enough creatine that it needs.

Keep in mind, creatine in the body is formed by synthesizing the essential amino acids that you get from different protein sources. So, add sources like beef, chicken and fish to your diet.Vegetarians that do weight lifting are likely to have low levels of creatine, hence, benefit from creatine supplements. (6)

Why Creatine Supplements become essential?

A basic fact concludes, the more creatine stores you have in your body, the more time you have before you experience fatigue.

ATP or Adenosine Tri-phosphate is the basic unit of energy used by our cells. Being the primary source of energy, it helps in different metabolic processes and functions. Studies suggest that ATP stored in the body can only last for 8-10 seconds, when you work out at your maximum intensity.(7) It shall then need you to produce new ATP in order to continue working out, with the same intensity.

Increasing the creatine content by taking creatine supplements, allows your body to increase the phosphocreatine stores. This helps your body to produce more ATP during intense workout sessions.

Note: Phosphocreatine is an organic compound comprising of creatine and phosphoric acid, which gets stored in the muscle tissue. It helps in the formation of new ATP. (8)

Studies show, apart from increasing energy production, creatine supplements also enhance the growth of muscle fibers, which increases the muscle mass. This helps you to gain strength and power to do more intense workout and lift heavier weights.

According to another study, among different supplements for muscle building, creatine supplements were the most effective for increasing muscle mass.

Additional benefits of Creatine towards Bodybuilding

Creatine is a very effective muscle building supplement. Professional bodybuilders recommend adding creatine to the pre- or post-workout diet, to get the following benefits-

1. It helps to increase Muscle Function

Apart from increasing the ATP production, it helps to improve the muscle cell functions as well. It increases the water retention capability of the muscle cells, otherwise known as swelling.

Creatine also helps in increasing the production of an essential muscle building hormone, IGF-1.(9) Increased creatine consumption enhances several physiological processes, which lead to the formation of new proteins and increase muscle mass.

Additionally, creatine intake reduces the muscle protein breakdown and increases muscle protein synthesis, especially during workout. This helps you to keep your muscles intact and gain more muscles in the process.

Creatine consumption increases the ability to do exercises or reps; you are able to lift heavier weights in every training session.

2. It increases strength and power

The basic function of creatine is to provide more energy to the body by increasing the ATP storage. Hence, it increases the ability of the body to perform high intensity exercises, which helps to become stronger.

As mentioned earlier, creatine increases the phosphocreatine levels, which further increases the ATP production (increased ATP, enhances the performance of training). Hence, creatine becomes the most effective supplement that helps to increase strength and power. (10)

Studies show that creatine supplementation has overall increase in muscle power, endurance and it even increased the sprinting power of an athlete. (11)

An extensive research shows that creatine improves the effects of resistance training (allows to pick heavier weights) and enhances the results from HIIT training. It also improves the duration and performance of the aerobic routines and increases strength and power. (12)

3. It helps to gain more muscles

Creatine is one of the few well-research supplements that contribute directly towards muscle building, assisted with proper training. (13)

The study included several muscle building supplements, but creatine was found to be the most effective of them all.

According to research, creatine intake, increases muscle mass, especially when added with proper workout or training. (14) It showed, the weight lifting strength increased with creatine consumption and it also reduced Myostatin content in the muscles. Myostatin is a protein that prevents muscle cell growth. (15)

Women too, can benefit by consuming creatine supplements, it helps them to build muscles and increase performance during resistance training. (16)

How to use Creatine supplements?

There is a simple process that you need to follow to get the benefits from the supplements. This method is called the “loading protocol”; it increases the creatine content in the muscles rapidly. (17)

To load up with creatine, start by consuming around 20gms creatine (on avg. 5gms per serving,4 times a day) for around 1 week. After that, continue with 3-5gms creatine per day to maintain the muscle creatine stores. Research shows an increase of 10-40% muscle creatine and the phosphocreatine storage, following this strategy. (18)

However, the benefits that one could get from the loading protocol depend on its current creatine storing capacity. Individuals that have low levels of muscle creatine storage are more likely to see significant benefits with creatine supplementation. Likewise, those that have high levels of muscle creatine are less likely to get benefitted from the supplements.

Certain amount of creatine can be obtained from food such as red meat. Individuals that have low levels of creatine (vegetarians or who eat very small amount of meat) can benefit the most from the supplements. (19)

There are different forms of creatine supplements, as mentioned before in the article. However, Creatine Monohydrate becomes the most effective among all of them.

Creatine monohydrate has the most number of studies performed, that prove its effectiveness. There is more research needed for other available creatine supplements, to consider them as effective. (20)

It is also preferred among other versions, as because it is the cheapest and the most effective creatine supplement available in the market.

Safety and Side-effects of Creatine consumption

Following a recommended dose of creatine is considered to be safe. Although, there are no researches that prove high doses might affect your liver, kidney or heart, it is advised to be consumed in a moderate quantity.

Some people might experience these sides-effects-

  • Stomach ache.
  • Nausea.
  • Muscle cramps and
  • Diarrhoea.

Similar to other supplements, the safety of creatine for pregnant or breast feeding women has not been confirmed. Hence, it is advised to not to be used.

Creatine supplements can be consumed for long term by healthy individuals. But, it is not recommended for people dealing with kidney problems or similar conditions.

Creatine supplements over a long-term, can lead to weight gain. Of course this is not fats, but due to water retention. It can be problematic for athletes that aim to have a particular weight and might hamper the performance.

Creatine supplements are safe, legal and ethical and can be used by both professional athletes and bodybuilders too. Even the NCAA  and the IOC or the International Olympic Committee, hasn’t banned it for the athletes.

Can you take the Creatine Supplements?

Keep in mind, similar to other supplements; studies suggest that there are a minor section of people that might not benefit from consuming creatine.

Creatine is very effective for vegetarians or those who hardly depend on any animal based foods for protein.

Remember, creatine is the best exercise and muscle building supplement. However, following a nutritious/balanced diet and good exercise routine is recommended, to see significant benefits from it.

If you do resistance training or heavy weight lifting exercise and want to add more muscles, you can start consuming the creatine supplements to improve your performance and see quick results.

Creatine supplements also help in treating various medical conditions. However, it is better to do some research before considering it. Similar to any supplement, creatine should also be consumed in moderate quantity and is not recommended for long term usage. It is also advised to discuss it with the physician, if you have any doubts regarding it.

We at MuscleMaxim recommend you to stick to natural resources for nutrients, whenever possible. Creatine supplements should be second on your list.

Creatine is safest, cheapest and the most effective bodybuilding supplement out there. It is ideal for individuals looking to increase their strength and power, for short duration and high intensity training. It helps to increase the lean muscle mass in the body during training. Athletes, beginners and professional bodybuilders, all can benefit from it.

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