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What is Creatine? The Ultimate Guide & Everything You Need to Know!

You’ve reached a point in your life where you understand the importance of diet and exercise. You’ve probably seen hundreds of articles on what’s best for your body and on taking supplements. It might feel like an impossible task to wade through the quagmire of information and determine which supplement will work for you.

Supplements are taken by athletes to improve performance. They are also taken to increase muscle mass and keep a body healthy. The best advice when considering a supplement to take is to stick with more natural substances that are well researched, like creatine. What exactly is creatine? Let’s find out!

Creatine – The Super Cell Energizer

Technically speaking, creatine is a nitrogenous organic acid. In layman’s terms, it is a naturally occurring acid, found in red meat and fish. It is also produced by the human body. Creatine is often taken by athletes in supplement form to improve performance and increase muscle mass. In addition, it can be taken for those who have difficulty naturally metabolizing creatine.

According to Medical News Today, this cell energizing supplement is made up of three amino acids: glycine, L-methionine, and arginine. Ninety-five percent of the creatine in our bodies is stored in the skeletal muscle, one percent in our blood, and five percent in the brain.

The cool fact about creatine is that the body designates a small portion of creatine each day to the liver, pancreas, and kidneys. The rest is circulated through our blood and distributed to the parts of the body that require a high amount of energy, like your muscles and your brain.

While creatine is popular with athletes, there is evidence to suggest it might also be beneficial in preventing skin aging and in the treatment of muscle diseases. Those who suffer from multiple sclerosis (MS) have used creatine to increase their ability to exercise and enhance their cognitive ability.

Why Might Creatine Benefit You?

If you are looking to improve your overall health, and your athletic performance, you might want to take a closer look at creatine. Remember, this acid is produced naturally by the body to increase the phosphocreatine in your muscles. Adding more can produce more ATP, which is an important energy source for lifting and high-intensity workouts.

Healthline outlines a few more ways that creatine increases lean muscle, helping you get more pumped.

• Increase your training: creatine may allow you to boost your workload during a single session. This is an important component in enabling long-term muscle growth.
• Strengthen cell signaling: just in case you are not familiar with this term, this is the process that assists with muscle repair and grows new muscles. In other words, it’s how you get ripped.
• Raises levels of anabolic hormones: creatine may be responsible for raising hormone levels such as IGF-1 which is responsible for stimulating somatic growth. It is also a mediator of GH-independent anabolic responses in various cells and tissues.
• Hydrates cells: we all know the importance of hydration; this also applies to our cells. Creatine can increase the water content in your muscle cells. This, in turn, might result in increased cell volume which plays a role in muscle growth.
• Less protein breakdown: you probably work hard to get enough protein in your diet. Creatine may help with that by increasing your total muscle mass which may reduce muscle breakdown.
• Reduce myostatin: this unwanted protein is responsible for slowing and inhibiting new muscle growth. Creatine supplements can reduce these levels thus increasing your growth potential.

In a nutshell, creatine provides your muscles with more energy. It may lead to positive changes in cell function that in turn, will increase your muscle grown. In addition, creatine may give you more brainpower. It can increase the phosphocreatine stores in the brain. This may have positive effects on your brain health and help prevent neurological disease.

Creatine Facts and Studies

Examine.com is a website that provides information, benefits, effects, and important facts regarding supplements. Their summary of creatine confirms it is a molecule produced from amino acids. It does in fact store high-energy phosphates that are transferred to ADP, regenerated as ATP, the main energy carrier in the human body. This specific energy production is crucial in intense physical and mental activities.

It is also confirmed that the main benefits of creatine are improved strength and power during resistance training. The best news is that Examine.com believes creatine is well-researched, has notable effects, and when used along with resistance exercise, may increase lean body mass.

Creatine has been tested in other areas as well. In anaerobic running studies, there are some mixed results. The overall consensus is that it may generate a small improvement in running performance. In the cognitive department, it also displayed benefits. There were positive results in reducing mental fatigue and working memory.
Medical News Today gives a list of fast facts about creatine.

• Creatine is used by athletes for assisting high-intensity training
• Body mass be shown to increase with the use of creatine
• Creatine is being used in studies regarding depression and Parkinson’s disease
• Shown to build muscle, creatine may be used to treat muscular dystrophy
• Some evidence suggests creatine can boost memory
• Moderate doses of creatine can be safe

As with any new supplement you are considering taking, you want to know it has been researched with an unbiased truth. Creatine is one of the most well-researched supplements. It has proven to be effective with regular exercise by producing more energy during intense workouts.

For the full list of references on the creatine studies check out Examine.com’s scientific research section. The Human Effect Matrix is a compilation of human studies that report on the effects of creatine on your body and the strength of those effects. Here are some of the results based on multiple studies.

(Report Order) Outcome, Magnitude of Effect, Consistency of Results

• Muscle Creatine Content – strong – very high. Creatine has shown to increase muscular creatine levels. There is some variability in the increase and some nonresponders.

• Power Output -strong – very high. Shows a 12 to 20% improvement in strength and up to a 26% increase in power in a training regimen where creatine monohydrate is used.

• Total Body Hydration – notable – very high. Increase shown in water weight in the skeletal muscle tissue after taking the creatine supplement.

• Anaerobic Running Capacity – minor – high. Did show some indication of an increased anaerobic cardiovascular capacity.

• Lean Mass – minor – very high. Lean mass building properties were indicated, but it was difficult to assess because of water weight gains.

• Fatigue Resistance – minor – moderate. Some evidence of fatigue reduction was noted.

• Muscle Endurance – minor – high. Creatine was given a “somewhat effective” rating.

• Memory – (N/S) – very high – studies do not reflect the effects of sleep deprivation.

Creatine Safety, Side Effects. and Precautions

Taken at the recommended dosage, creatine has been labeled as “likely safe”. Those who chose to take creatine in high doses are given a “possibly safe” recommendation. The possible complications are associated with the kidneys, liver, and heart. No negative effects on these organs have been proven.

Fourteen studies were conducted on the safety of the creatine supplement in 2003 as reported by Medical News Today. The conclusion was that there appear to be no serious health risks when creatine is taken at the suggested dosage. The literature reported that creatine may enhance exercise performance in those individuals looking to maximize single effort or repetitive exercises.

In 2007, it was reported by the International Study of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) that the use of creatine is effective, ethical, and safe. It was their recommendation that athletes consider using creatine supplements to increase their fat and protein intake.

ISSN added an update to their creatine findings in 2017. They concluded that using creatine is acceptable when following the recommended dosage. It should be used short-term for competitive athletes who maintain a proper diet.

The FDA has not given its approval as of yet on the safety and efficacy of creatine even though most of the reported dangers of creatine are unfounded. Since there are so many performance-enhancing drugs with bad reputations on the market, creatine has sometimes been equated with these products.

Creatine supplements do increase the level of creatine in the body which can be a marker of poor kidney function. This increase, however, is not due to any type of kidney damage. It is simply an indication that more creatine is present in the body’s system. Other than the symptoms of gastrointestinal issues if creatine is used in excess, it is unlikely to be unsafe for human consumption in the proper doses.

Side Effects
An article written in 2019 by Healthline specifically addresses the safety and side effects associated with creatine. Author Rudy Mawer, MSc, CISSN, believes creatine is the top performance supplement available on the market.

Mawer dismisses the idea that creatine is bad for your health. He believes that the claims which indicate creatine may cause cramping, weight gain, liver, kidney, and digestive issues, are unfounded. His article presents an evidence-based review on the safety and side effects of creatine.

Some of the purported side effects of creatine include:

• Kidney damage
• Liver damage
• Kidney stones
• Weight gain
• Bloating
• Dehydration
• Muscle cramps
• Digestive problems
• Compartment syndrome
• Rhabdomyolysis

Claims that creatine is an anabolic steroid are untrue. The ISSN gives it approval on creatine and has recommended it as being a safe sports supplement. Leading researchers have spent several decades researching creatine and say it is one of the safest supplements currently on the market.

There have been creatine users who have reported that when taken without enough water, creatine can cause stomach cramping. When too much creatine is taken, it can cause diarrhea or nausea. These symptoms can be reduced by spreading the doses out throughout the day and taking it with plenty of water and with meals.

The side effect of dehydration when using creatine may be related to the fact that creatine alters your body’s stored water when it forces water into cell muscles. The shift in cellular water is so minor that no research can substantiate the claims regarding dehydration.

A three-year study was conducted on college students using creatine. Those taking it had fewer instances of muscle cramps, muscle injuries, and dehydration. They also missed fewer workout sessions because of illness and injury than when not taking creatine.

When creatine was studied during exercise in hot weather, a condition known to increase cramping and dehydration, after a 35-minute cycle in 99-degree F. heat, creatine showed no indications of adverse effects as compared to the placebo. Based on current evidence, there is no indication creatine causes dehydration or cramping.

Research has also been conducted regarding the side effect of body weight gain. After a week of taking high doses of creatine, subjects reported a two to six-pound increase. It was not in body fat. The weight gain was attributed to increased water in the muscles.

Over a longer-term study, creatine did show a greater increase in weight over non-users. Again, the weight was not due to an increase in body fat. The increase was due to muscle growth. As positive muscle growth in athletes is considered a positive effect, and one of the reasons this product is used, the type of weight gain one experiences when taking creatine should not be considered a negative side effect.

It has been suggested that people with kidney disease should not use creatine. Caution is also recommended for people who suffer from diabetes or anyone who is currently taking blood sugar supplements.

Since the safety of creatine has not been confirmed with pregnant or lactating women, it is advised that women who are pregnant or breastfeeding avoid using this supplement.

Use caution when taking creatine if you are in a sport where weight gain will be an issue. While the weight gain experienced with taking creatine is mostly due to better hydrated muscle cells, and in increase in muscle mass, it may have an effect on athletes aiming for a particular weight. It may also have a negative impact for activities where center of gravity plays a role.

Creatine used at high does come with the following cautions recommended by the Mayo Clinic.

• Individuals with diabetes or hypoglycemia could experience lower blood glucose
• Those with hypertension could experience raised blood pressure
• Caution should be used if you have or experience: deep vein thrombosis, electrolyte imbalances or disorders, gastrointestinal disorders, irregular heartbeat, kidney stones, liver disease, migraines, low blood pressure, bipolar disorder
• Since creatine is a bioactive substance, it should be used with caution

While most people indulge in an occasional energy drink, it is highly recommended to take precaution. It is not safe to consume energy drinks when using creatine. Many energy drinks currently on the market use a combination of creatine, ephedra, and caffeine. A high combination of these elements could increase the risk of a stroke.
Since creatine affects the body’s water levels, taking creatine in combination with diuretics could cause hydration.

Precautions should be taken when combining creatine with any drug that affects the kidneys. An example of this is probenecid, a gout treatment. A drug such as this taken with creatine could cause kidney damage. As with any supplement, consult your doctor about taking creatine if you are on any prescription medication.

Creatine’s Most Popular Uses

Medical News Today reports that creatine is one of the leading supplements taken in the U.S. today. It is widely used among athletes who participate in football, ice hockey, baseball, wrestling, and lacrosse. Found in sports nutrition products and sport drinks, it is one of the most common athletic supplements.

Let’s take a look at some of the most common uses of creatine.

Athletic Performance
If you are an athlete looking to improve your athletic performance, you may want to consider a creatine supplement. Supplements can be very effective in improving high-intensity training. The basis for taking creatine is that it produces more energy for the body to use during training. This allows an athlete to train harder and achieve better results.

The Journal of Sports Science and Medicine published an article in 2003. They reported after a meta-analysis of creatine, athletes looking to improve performance during short durations of powerful activity, may see improvement. It may be especially effective for those training with repetitive bouts.

A review in 2012 arrived at the following conclusions regarding the use of creatine:

• may improve resistance training for strength and body mass
• boost the quality of high-intensity and intermittent speed training
• increases endurance in an aerobic activity that lasts for more than 150 seconds
• can improve strength, mass, power, and neurological function

Body Mass
Greater body mass and muscle content have been associated with an increase in creatine. Studies have suggested that creatine does not build muscle, is simply allows muscle tissue to hold more water.

The possibility does exist that muscle mass can be increased as a result of being able to work harder while exercising when taking creatine as a supplement.

Muscle Growth
The topic of creatine’s ability to speed up muscle growth is gaining momentum. It has been touted as the world’s most beneficial supplement for adding muscle mass. Reports have indicated that taking creatine for just 5 to 7 days may increase muscle size and lean body weight.

This increase has been attributed to the increase in water content in the muscles. However, the longer-term effects suggest creatine increases muscle fiber growth. It accomplishes this by signaling biological pathways and boosting an athletes overall performance, which leads to muscle growth.

Studies have shown the following results. Over a six-week training regimen, participants using creatine added 4.4 pounds more of muscle mass than the control group. In addition, a review of creatine demonstrated clear results for increased muscle mass during a regular training regimen as compared to those training with the same regimen not using creatine.

Injury and Damage Repair
Research on creatine has suggested that it may be useful in preventing muscle damage. It may also help the recovery process after an injury is sustained.

Creatine may also have antioxidant effects following resistance training and intense sessions. Some other benefits may include reduced muscle cramping as well as playing a role in brain injury rehab.

Deficiency Syndromes
Athletes who suffer from deficiency syndromes my find relief with creatine. Since creatine is a natural substance, it may have a role in a range of body functions. The amount will vary depending on the individual’s muscle mass and muscle fiber. Oral creatine supplements may relieve the following conditions, however, there is no proven documentation to substantiate these claims.

• Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
• Congestive heart failure (CHF)
• Parkinson’s Disease
• Multiple sclerosis (MS)
• Fibromyalgia
• Muscle atrophy
• Diabetes
• Depression
• Osteoarthritis

While there is no evidence to support creatine is an effective treatment for these conditions, oral creatine may relieve some of the symptoms. Supplements are now being taken to increase the level of creatine in the brain. The desired result is that seizures will be reduced, movement disorders will improve, and improvement in some of the issues associated with autism.

Creatine Bottom Line

Creatine is the most popular sports performance supplement currently available on the market. Despite all the research done on creatine and the benefits that have been reported, some people are still afraid that it’s bad for their health.

Some of the claims against creatine include dehydration, weight gain, cramping, and digestive issues. None of these symptoms have any researched-based evidence.

Extremely positive reviews of creatine have been provided by reputable sports associations and health organizations. The International Society of Sports Nutrition has given its endorsement of this product, deeming it one of the safest and most beneficial sports supplements on the market. The Mayo Clinic has also studied creatine and found it safe and beneficial.

Other associations such as the International Olympic Committee and the National Collegiate Athletic Association allow creatine to be used by their athletes. It is widely used among sports professionals ranging from ice hockey to lacrosse.

Creatine is one of the most heavily researched supplements on the market. Leading researchers have been conducting studies on creatine for decades. One such study looked at 52 health markers after the participants took creatine for 21 months. There were no adverse effects from any of the participants.

In addition to its uses for athletes in building and repairing muscles, creatine has been used to treat diseases, health issues, and brain disorders. These range from neuromuscular disorders, diabetes, Parkinson’s Disease, concussions, and muscle loss.

Creatine is naturally produced in your body and mainly stored in your muscles. It can be obtained in its natural form by eating meat and fish. Diet and natural levels may be increased, especially during high-intensity workouts, by taking creatine supplements.

With over 500 studies to support its safety and effectiveness, creatine supplements in the recommended dosage can be taken with confidence. The benefits will include better muscles and performance as well as promote overall health. It may even increase mental performance. Creatine is one of the safest, cheapest, and most effective supplements available. Give it a try!

About the Author Erick

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