Thanks to the hectic schedules many of us are juggling these days, plenty of people are turning to supplements to support their bodies’ natural processes or improve their health and fitness. If you’re trying to increase your energy stores to fuel high-intensity exercise sessions, you might have come across creatine supplements in your research.
On the other hand, you could be wary about taking creatine if you aren’t sure what it does, how to consume it or whether it is right for your goals. Perhaps there are some myths you’d like to see debunked before you get started.
In this guide, we’ll cover all of your frequently asked questions around creatine and creatine supplements; their benefits, and how they can help you to stop stopping.
What is creatine and what does it do?
Creatine is a compound produced naturally in the liver. Let’s take a closer look at how that works.
A typical adult holds approximately two grams of creatine per kilogram of lean body mass and naturally produces around two grams a day to replenish these stores, which is supported by creatine found in food sources.
This essential compound is stored mainly in the skeletal muscles due to its ability to aid cell function during periods of physical stress. It does this by replenishing the levels of phosphates in the body’s ATP-PC system.
If you think of ATP (adenosine triphosphate) as the body’s energy currency; energy is released once a single phosphate breaks from ATP, making it ADP (adenosine diphosphate). Once this happens, however, energy cannot be produced and this is where another phosphate is needed to attach on to the ADP and to make it ATP.
For this process, creatine is vital; taking the phosphate and causing an enzyme reaction to resynthesize ADP into ATP.
Why do people take creatine supplements?
In short, because they can help you to work out harder, for longer! Here’s the science behind it.
The ATP system on its own can provide energy for high-intensity exercise, such as sprinting and weightlifting, for up to three seconds. From then, creatine is needed by the body to resynthesize the ADP into ATP. This system is active for around seven seconds, so any exercise activity that lasts for three to 10 seconds, or less than three seconds but for multiple sets, will benefit from creatine.
Kick muscle fatigue into touch and enjoy a quickly available energy source to get you through your workout with greater power and intensity.
When is the best time to take creatine and what is the recommended dose?
Due to how creatine benefits the body, it should be consumed immediately after high-intensity exercise.
Some choose to take theirs within 30 minutes post workout, while others will start consuming it during their workout after their first working interval, as this is when muscles will need ATP as energy. This means that the muscles are fully recharged with ATP the next time exercise occurs.
For the maintenance phase, or your starting amount if you choose not to load would be 0.03g of creatine per kilogram of body mass. So for an 83kg person, their daily dose would be around 2.5g.
Is creatine loading necessary?
Some people like to kick-start the results of creatine with a loading period, which can have very slight, short-term benefits. As such, this isn’t required in the long run but those who do load haven’t shown adverse effects.
A loading phase would last around seven days and you should consume 0.3g of creatine per kilogram of body mass. So again, if your body mass is 83kg, you would take around 25g of creatine per day for that week.
It’s worth noting that some athletes who have a higher amount of muscle, those who have used creatine for a longer amount of time, or those who want to make sure stores are completely saturated will often take slightly more than 0.03g per kilogram of body weight, because the supplement is very low-priced and causes little to no negative effects.
How long is it safe to take creatine for and should you consume it in cycles?
Though there are a few misconceptions surrounding creatine safety when taken continually – and many people do consume the supplements in cycles – there’s no existing research to suggest this is necessary.
What foods are high in creatine?
As the body produces some naturally, creatine is not an essential part of your diet. If you’re looking to boost your creatine intake however, this compound is naturally found in foods such as meat, eggs and fish, with Herring providing the most (approximately six to ten grams in a standard adult serving), but it isn’t present in any plant foods.
Whether you’re a vegetarian or you’re struggling to fit creatine-rich foods into your diet in a timely way, creatine powders or capsules might be the solution you’re looking for.
Does creatine help to build muscle?
As part of a carefully planned exercise regime, yes!
One of the most well-known side effects of creatine is that it can cause the body to store more water. As muscle is around 70% water, creatine can definitely have an effect on the size and shape of body muscle.
More importantly, creatine has been shown to increase muscular power and repeated power output (Morris, 2013), as well as reduce fatigue and improve high-intensity exercise, which can elicit a more substantial growth in muscle tissue.
What are the other benefits of creatine?
There is also anecdotal evidence that creatine may decrease signs of depression and cause a slight stimulatory effect on alertness. However, these claims haven’t been thoroughly tested and could be examples of a placebo effect.
One study (Sakellaris et al, 2008) concluded that a six-month creatine cycle (400mg per kilogram of body weight per day) given to children and adolescents who suffered from traumatic brain injury reduced incidents of dizziness by half, while the frequency of fatigue and headache symptoms was reduced from around 90% to near 10%.
This suggests that creatine has the ability to aid cell function – for results other than increased exercise performance – and could benefit people who suffer from these kinds of symptoms.
Creatine myths debunked
Many studies have been done on the negative side effects of creatine and most of them find little to no evidence of such issues even at a loading dose.
There are a couple of cases when you might like to avoid creatine; perhaps if you want to stay under a strict weight category for competitions, or your physician has recommended that you take a diuretic for medical reasons. In the latter case, make sure to run it by your doctor before you get started, as creatine could interfere with the effects.
Can creatine cause cramps or dehydration?
Creatine draws more water into the muscles and as such, you must make sure that you stay hydrated while using it. If not, you could experience slight feelings of dehydration and potentially, you could experience muscle cramps, though this is only normally seen at higher doses.
Can creatine damage your kidneys?
There is no scientific evidence to suggest this, though there are some studies which have refuted it. In fact, research from Gualano (2010) claimed that creatine fails to cause kidney issues even at higher doses.
Should women take creatine?
The truth is that the effects of creatine are the same for men and for women. Both genders can expect to see an improvement in high-intensity activities with peak power, strength and muscle mass increases.
Women who are prone to retaining water may see this side effect as a negative, in which case they can either lower the dosage or cycle off creatine when they see necessary.
Should you take creatine in conjunction with other supplements?
Assuming you are taking creatine to perform high-intensity exercise, then complementary supplements could work alongside your daily dose and speed up your results.
Protein supplements: where do they fit in?
It is essential that an adequate supply of protein is given to the muscles throughout the day, to ensure that muscle protein synthesis is occurring.
If there isn’t sufficient protein in the body, the body won’t be able to rebuild from muscle damage caused by the high-intensity exercise, inhibiting muscle hypertrophy. Three excellent forms of protein supplementation include essential amino acids (EAA’s), whey and casein.
If you’re curious about the incredible benefits of protein, make sure to read our ultimate guide for a digestible rundown on how this macronutrient works.
Do you have any more questions?
Figuring out how best to fuel and support your body can be a never-ending journey of discovery. Sometimes answers can bring to light new questions that you didn’t realise you had!
If that sounds like you, feel free to contact our experts for more information. Go get your goals!