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Creatine: A Guide on What to Know

Just about anyone who is serious about intense training has heard of creatine. This is a staple in workout supplements. Creatine, it is believed, stimulates muscle growth and development. So many people swear by creatine that it has become something of a fixture in gyms around the country and the world. 

How much do you really know about creatine? Like most things, the talk and buzz can end up being less than accurate. If you are hearing about creatine and considering including it in your supplements, it would be worth the effort to find out the facts about creatine. 

Since creatine is already in quite a few training supplements, you may already be taking it. Creatine is contained in pre-workout supplements and several other training aids. If you are an active athlete engaged in high-intensity training and competition, you may have already seen the positive results creatine can give to those who use it. 

This guide will give you what you need to know about creatine. What is creatine? How does creatine work? And the basic facts about using creatine in your exercise supplements. 

What is Creatine? 

Creatine is made from arginine, glycine, and methionine. It is an amino acid derivative. It is produced naturally by the kidneys, liver, and pancreas. We can also get creatine from food sources like red meat. As a naturally occurring chemical in the body, it is largely stored in skeletal muscle tissue. Once it is stored in the biological cells it is transformed into phosphocreatine and saved for later use. Some of the creatine produce by our bodies and ingested through diet circulates as free creatine. 

Creatine has become ubiquitous among athletes because supplementing with creatine contributes the muscle development. In fact, clinical studies have shown that taking creatine supplements produces measurable increases in both muscle mass and strength. These same studies showed that athletes taking creatine supplements outperformed a control group by as much as 43 percent. Creatine, it turns out, does improve strength and overall performance. 

Creatine Benefits

Creatine Benefits

Creatine is one of the most studied exercise supplements around. The benefits of creatine are not just anecdotal; they are scientifically verified. And there is a considerable list of benefits to recommend creatine as a workout supplement. 

  1. Cells produce more energy. Creatine increases the amount of phosphocreatine in your cells. Stored cellular phosphocreatine stimulates the energy process at the cellular level. It helps produce the chemical ATP which is the chemical broken down during exercise to produce energy. ATP is the basic power source in our cells. Creatine builds and stimulates energy at the most basic level. 
  2. Creatine helps build muscle mass. Creatine opens the cellular pathways that produce new muscle growth. It also assists in the formation of complex proteins that become muscle tissue. 
  3. Improves high-intensity performance during training. Creatine has been scientifically shown to improve endurance and stamina. The effects of creatine that increase endurance are tied to an increase in strength, resistance to fatigue, increased muscle mass, faster recovery, and even improved brain performance
  4. Speeds muscle growth. Creatine has been shown to accelerates muscle growth. Athletes know this, but there is scientific evidence to back it up. Studies have documented increased muscle growth from creatine supplements, seeing significant increases in as few as 5 days. 
  5. Creatine may lower blood sugar levels and fight diabetes. Studies have shown that taking creatine supplements lowers your blood sugar levels when combined with high-intensity exercise. Creatine, it seems, can fight short-term blood sugar spikes and this lowers blood sugar over the long term. 
  6. It helps brain function. As creatine enhances the production of the energy-producing molecule ATP at the cellular level, it provides the same boost to your brain as it does for muscle tissue. Creatine has been shown to improve brain function. It can help combat Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. Creatine could also protect against stroke and epilepsy.

How does Creatine work?

The biochemical processes that make creatine function are complex. Put simply, energy is produced in our bodies with two molecules: ATP (adenosine triphosphate) and ADP (adenosine diphosphate). The ratio of these molecules to each other determines how much energy we can expend. Creatine is already present in skeletal muscle cells and fuels the reactions with ATP and ADP. The primary cause of muscle fatigue is the overall exhaustion of ATP and ADP in our muscles. Creatine supplements increase the production of ATP and ADP and thus produce more energy, accelerate blood flow to muscles, and facilitate the production of muscle tissue through protein synthesis. 

In short, creatine makes it possible for our bodies to generate more energy and enhances the biological functions that require energy like exercise and muscle protein synthesis. 

When to Take Creatine

There is some debate about the best time to take creatine for maximum effect. Some people take them before exercise and some after. 

It is generally recommended that you take creatine before working out and relatively close to your workout. If you take creatine hours before training it will be metabolized, and you will not get the full benefit from the supplement. 

You can also split your dose and take half before working out and half after. Creatine will continue to work in your muscles well after a workout. Since the work of creatine takes place at the cellular level, it continues to impact your physiology even after you have gone through a workout. 

Creatine Side Effects

Creatine Side Effects

Creatine is one of the most extensively researched supplements available. Researchers have tracked the use of creatine over the course of years. The findings show that there are no significant side effects to creatine use. It is completely safe. 

Some people have expressed concern that creatine may impact liver and kidney function. Creatine simply does not have an adverse effect on the liver and kidneys. However, people with liver and/or kidney disease should consult a physician before taking creatine supplements. It can have a negative impact on pre-existing liver and kidney problems.

There have also been anecdotal reports of dehydration and cramping with creatine use. Research has shown that creatine can, in fact, prevent dehydration and cramping.

Is Creatine Safe?

As we see above, there are no adverse side effects of taking creatine supplements. Because creatine has been studied so thoroughly and for so long, no mysteries are waiting to be uncovered about taking creatine supplements. They are completely safe. 

As with any nutritional supplement, it is always a good idea to talk to your doctor if you have any concerns about pre-existing conditions and creatine. The only known potential issues are for people who have pre-existing kidney and liver problems. 

Should I Take Creatine?

Creatine is a naturally occurring chemical in our bodies. It is found in a variety of common foods like chicken, pork, and fish. If you are the type of person who maintains a healthy diet that consists of meat proteins and your workout goals are primarily basic fitness, you probably do not need to take a creatine supplement. A healthy diet combined with an exercise program that maintains cardiovascular health is all you need. Creatine will not provide any real benefit in this case.  

Creatine works well for those who engage in high-intensity physical training. If you are involved in heavy lifting and intense weight training creatine may be necessary to both support the training and continue to build muscle and strength of further training. 

People who train for competitive sports that involve high bursts of exertion like sprinters can also benefit from creatine supplements. The intense outflow of energy associated with these sports demands supplemental nutrition including creatine. 

Vegetarians and vegans may also benefit from creatine supplements. These diets obviously exclude the natural sources of creatine, and a supplement will provide what your body needs. 

Does Creatine Expire? 

If stored properly in a cool dry place, creatine can last for years. As with any product, check the label for a precise expiration date. 

Common Misconceptions About Creatine Supplements

Creatine has been around for a long time, and ideas come into circulation that is simply not true. There are some misconceptions about creatine that we can dispel right away

  • Creatine is bad for your liver and kidneys. This is resoundingly false. All evidence shows that creatine is completely safe for the liver and kidneys. 
  • It causes cramping and dehydration. This too is false. In fact, creatine works to combat dehydration and cramps. 
  • Creatine causes weight gain. Not true. When you first start taking creatine, it may cause some water retention. But with continued use, your body acclimates to the supplement and water retention abates. 
  • Creatine can cause muscle breakdown associated with an injury. There is no evidence to support this. This myth got started from a premature news report. The evidence shows that this is a misconception. 

How Do You Know The Supplement Is Working?

Creatine does not produce a “buzz” like a pre-workout supplement that contains caffeine. You will not feel a surge of energy or an increase in motivation. 

However, you know creatine is working when you start to see and feel results. Within a week you will be able to lift more and push through a few more reps than usual. You know creatine is working primarily by its overall effect in your workouts and training. 

Creatine Recommended Dosage

Creatine Recommended Dosage

Taking creatine generally involves a two-phased dosage. It is common to load up on creatine at first with a daily dose of 20 grams for 5-7 days. This builds up the creatine levels in your system and fortifies your muscles with phosphocreatine. 

After this first week of loading, go down to 5-10 grams per day. Take creatine close to your workout. Remember, you can split the dose before and after. This may take some experimenting to see what works best for you. 

You can assist the absorption of creatine by taking it with a high protein-based meal.

Creatine FAQS

What is creatine?

Creatine is a naturally occurring amino acid that assists in the production of energy in the body.

What does creatine do?

Creatine speeds the biochemical reactions that make energy at the cellular level. Combined with high-intensity exercise this builds muscle and strength.

What are the benefits of creatine?

Creatine can build muscle, increase strength, increase energy levels, and may even help with brain function.

Is creatine safe?

Yes. Creatine is one of the most carefully studied nutrition supplements in existence. It has no known side effects.

How much creatine should I take?

Load up on creatine with 20 grams a day for one week. Then take 5-10 grams just prior to workouts.

Best Creatine Supplement Product

Since creatine is so widely known and so commonly used as a training supplement, there are hundreds of creatine supplements available. 

One of the best is NF Sports Micronized Creatine. This is backed by clinical research to help boost the production of ATP and elevate energy for building muscle and increasing strength. It also supports lean muscle mass for short duration performance. 

Wrapping things up

If you are doing serious weight training and working out to build muscle, creatine may be the supplement you need. Creatine sparks energy levels in skeletal muscle tissue and this contributes to longer and harder workouts—the kind of workouts that produce visible results in a relatively short time. 

One of the great things about creatine is that is has been so thoroughly studied that the science of creatine is now firmly established. There are no adverse side effects of taking creatine supplements. The benefits to muscle growth, energy levels, and even brain function are well documented. Creatine is one of the safest supplements around and one of the most beneficial. 

Creatine is recommended for athletes engaged in intense workouts and training. If you are working out to maintain all-around fitness, creatine may not provide much benefit for you. But if you need to push through some serious burn to develop muscle and strength, creatine is one of the best workout supplements you can take.

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