What is creatine?
Creatine is a popular sports supplement that rose to popularity in the 1990s. It performance-enhancing effects were first brought into the public eye following the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, where several podium athletes had used creatine before the Olympics.
Shortly after, in 1993, it was brought to the market by EAS, in the form of Phosphagen. Nowadays, it can be found, often incorporated in other supplements like protein powders and pre-workout supplements, but also as a standalone supplement.
Creatine is a compound that essentially recycles adenosine diphosphate (ADP) to adenosine triphosphate (ATP) by donating its phosphate group. It is found primarily in red meats in small amounts, and stored in the human body in skeletal muscle tissue. A typical adult would hold about 80 – 130 grams of creatine at any one time. The human body is capable of making its own creatine from glycine and arginine in the liver.
Forms of creatine
There are many forms of creatine. Creatine as a standalone compound is a white, odorless crystal. A brief introduction to them can be found below:
|Chemical name||Marketed forms||Comments|
|Creatine Monohydrate||Creapure||Most common version. This creatine is patented and is the purest, with 99.8% purity. It is produced by AlzChem. The monohydrate group is used to increase solubility of the compound in water. While not perfectly soluble, it does a decent job of at least staying in suspension.
However, because of its solubility issues, it has been reported to cause diarrhea and stomach issues as insoluble creatine sits in the stomach, attacting water.
While creatine is often criticized for its lack of stability in solution, Creapure declares that its creatine is stable for several hours even in acidic drinks.
|Creatine Hydrochloride||Con-cret||One of the more recent breakthroughs. The most noticeable difference is that it has the highest solubility out of all the creatines. That means that much less water would be needed to consume creatine, which reduces the instances of GI discomfort/distress
Also claims to be much more bioavailable, meaning that it is more easily absorbed by muscle cells. Some people swear by this. Personally, even if creatine HCL is more bioavailable, I would still use Creapure since it is that much cheaper, so much so that I could simply use more Creapure to make up for the bioavailability issue
|Creatine Ethyl Ester||It is said that creatine ethyl ester (CEE) has a much better absorption rate and longer half life, thereby providing muscle cells more time for uptake. Once again, nothing has been proven to the effect that CEE is definitely better than Creapure.
*Be warned – it is known to taste like battery acid.
|Tri Creatine Malate||A compound made from creatine monohydrate and malic acid, with three creatine molecules attached to one malic acid.
While it does not have any greater benefit over Creapure, the breakdown of TCM releases malic acid, which is known to be involved in the Kreb’s energy cycle as an intermediate and assists in the production of ATP
|Buffered creatine||Kre-Alkalyn||Kre-Alkalyn claims that it is more efficacious than Creapure because 1) it does not cause bloating 2) it does not require a loading phase 3) it results in high creatine uptake into muscle cells
Interestingly, a study in September 2012 in The Journal of International Society of Sports Nutrition found that there was no difference in terms of efficacy, safety and effectiveness.
|Creatine Citrate||A white tasteless compound, it is known to have the best solubility of all creatines. However, it is not nearly as affordable as its predecessor, creatine monohydrate.|
Which creatine is for me?
In deciding what creatine works best, consideration must be had to the priorities and concerns of the user. There are essentially two factors: cost and effectiveness.
In terms of cost, there is no beating creatine monohydrate. Creapure is often recommended as a first choice, and for good reasons. It is much cheaper in comparison to other forms of creatine on a serving-to-serving comparison (and not gram-to-gram; there is a difference), and palatable to beginners. It is also readily available there are no concerns relating to adulterated products.
Creapure, especially, when compared to non-patented commoditized creatine monohydrate, is known to be more fine, and mix much better in solution. Produced by AlzChem, it is manufactured to GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices) regulations. Every lot of Creapure is also tested for purity before it is released for sale. If it matters to you, Creapure is also kosher and halal.
Furthermore, Creapure is essentially tasteless and it makes consistent usage a breeze. While some have chosen to add it to their pre or post workout shakes, what I recommend is simply putting it in your mouth and chasing it with water. The recommended dose is 3 – 5 grams a day, which is about a teaspoon or less.
Of course, that is not to say that the other forms of creatine are completely useless. The issue is simply a matter of cost. Creatine is a simply supplement and there is no necessity to reinvent the wheel. The improvements made in terms of solubility and absorption do not make up for the increased cost, in my opinion.
What does creatine do?
Creapure is a product that can enhance the muscle-building effects of weight training. During weight training, energy is expended. In particular, ATP is the first port of call, even before muscle glycogen, during intense lifting. In the body, an enzyme called creatine kinase breaks down creatine, isolating the phosphate molecule, which then binds to ADP, thus reforming ATP. In that sense, creatine helps to speed up the process of “recycling”.
Why is this important? While your body is capable of regenerating ATP on its own, this process might not be efficient enough to catch up with the expenditure of ATP. This is especially so, as rest periods for bodybuilding typically range from 60 seconds to 180 seconds.
Therefore, the more creatine in the body, the more ATP that will be available during intense lifting. This allows you to train harder, train longer, which leads to better results in terms of muscle, strength, performance.
The benefits of creatine are the most pronounced when working in the lower rep ranges. The reason for this is that at the lower rep ranges, the proportion of energy used in the form of ATP is much higher. In other words, at higher rep ranges, the body turns towards glycogen as an energy substrate more than it would to ATP. Regardless, these benefits are too good to be ignored. Studies show that power and performance in multiple sets of weight training is improved by 5% to 15%. However, it is also known that no ergogenic effect may be noticed in some non-responders.
Another coveted effect of Creapure is that it serves as a muscle volumizer. Creatine, when stored inside muscle cells, cause water to be “pulled” into the cell so as to maintain the osmolarity of the cellular environment. This results in an expansion of the cell. On a whole, it can be said that this results in greater muscle size. However, anecdotally, the expansion is often not very significant and some of it is lost when you stop using creatine.
Lastly, creatine has been shown in some studies that it increases the activity of satellite cells which leads to permanent muscle hypertrophy. Satellite cells are essentially precursors to skeletal muscle cells. All else being equal, more muscle cells is better than larger muscle cells simply because cellular proliferation is a much slower process than sarcoplasmic hypertrophy.
How do I use creatine?
Creapure is really one of the simplest supplements to use. The question mainly, is whether a person should do what is known as a “loading phase”. The purpose of a loading phase is to fully saturate the muscle’s stores of glycogen. The drawback, however, is that it causes 1) GI distress and 2) bloating. Is it necessary? In my opinion, not really. But for beginners who wish to witness the immediate effects, loading is probably the most efficient way.
The timing of consumption follows this simple principle: that creatine should be, as far as possible, paired with carbohydrates and protein. The reason is that creatine has been found to be absorbed the best with the assistance of insulin. Following a meal, blood glucose rises which causes the pancreas to release insulin. Insulin then enables skeletal muscle cells to take up nutrients like glucose, amino acids, and creatine.
The best timing for consuming simple sugars is immediately after a workout. A simple shake consisting of 40g dextrose, 20g creatine monohydrate, and 10g essential amino acids is all that is required. This is also the best timing for carbohydrates to restore muscle glycogen, and boost recovery.
Indeed, that is the reason why certain supplements like Cell-Tech rely on the use of dextrose in combination with creatine. However, the problem with such an approach is that the consumption of simple sugars on a regular basis could lead to insulin resistance – a state where the uptake of nutrients is blunted.
Aside from consumption following the post-workout window, how do you maximize the absorption of creatine? Carbohydrates are not the only macronutrient that result in the release of insulin. Protein and branch chained amino acids, are known to trigger the release of insulin. Therefore, for post-workout purposes, whey protein, combined with branch chained amino acids and creatine, will suffice.
R-alpha lipoic acid, also known as R-ALA, is potentially helpful in increasing the uptake of creatine. R-ALA acts as an insulin mimicker, and also sensitizes muscle cells to insulin. However, R-ALA is expensive. For that reason, the consumption of creatine in the long term would be a more cost effective solution. Besides, what’s the rush for?
Outside of the post-workout window, Creapure can be consumed basically whenever you like. The truth is that long-term consumption will lead to eventual saturation, and therefore there is really no need to obsess over timing. I personally take it when I wake up, on an empty stomach everyday. However, this is known to cause GI distress – so you may wish to take it with food.
You can find the creatine, r-ALA supplement stack here
What are the side effects of using creatine?
Creatine is known for causing GI distress. That much can be said – but the actual percentage of people who face such problems are reportedly only 5% or so. Anecdotally, people tend to experience such problems when they 1) take too much creatine at once or 2) on an empty stomach.
Another common complaint is that creatine use results in muscle cramping. However, this seems to be counterintuitive, as the effect of creatine is to pull water into muscle cells, and therefore prevent dehydration. So far there has not been any proven studies relating to creatine as a cause for muscle cramps.
Creatine is also known to cause weight gain of up to 2lbs in a week. But wait a moment – isn’t this the whole point of creatine? For starters, we are interested in gaining muscle, and not weight per se. Gaining weight quickly tends to be a result of the loading phase, as it is more likely that “spill-over” will occur. The creatine then results in an increase in water retention under the skin, which creates the appearance of fat gain. Fortunately, water retention is lost quickly within the week
A greater cause for concern, however, is that creatine has been blamed for causing kidney problems. This is due to elevated creatinine levels, a marker to diagnose kidney problems. Creatinine can be detected in urine tests. However, short of coincidence, there has been no proven causal connection.