Creatine is one of the most popular and widely researched supplements in the world. It’s no coincidence that we can find it at the top of most people’s ‘essential supplements list’. However, many are unaware of the creatine basics, such as what creatine is, different forms of creatine and how to use it. So, let’s take it from the top with this beginner’s guide to creatine.
WHAT IS CREATINE?
Creatine is a nitrogenous organic acid produced in the liver that helps supply energy to cells all over the body – particularly muscle cells. It’s made out of three amino acids: L-arginine, glycine, and L-methionine. As well as being produced naturally by the body, we can get creatine from our diet. Foods that contain creatine include meat and fish. However, multiple kilograms of meat/fish would have to be consumed to get a performance-enhancing effect.
There are many benefits of creatine. Due to creatine’s ability to supply energy where it’s needed, it’s mainly used by athletes to increase their ability to produce energy rapidly, improving athletic performance and allowing them to train harder. As such, creatine is very popular amongst athletes who compete in explosive sports and activities, like rugby and weight lifting.
WHAT’S THE SCIENCE?
Simply put, creatine is an energy source. Specifically, it’s a source of high-intensity energy. The body has three energy systems, one of which is called the ATP-CP (also referred to as ATP-PC) energy system. The CP stands for creatine phosphate (or phosphocreatine). ATP is the body’s immediate source of energy. It’s a go-to for sprinting, the first few repetitions on the bench press, throwing a punch, etc. As the body exercises and ATP levels reduce, we need creatine to help resynthesise ATP which, in turn, provides the body with more high-intensity energy. If creatine levels run out, the ATP-CP system cannot be re-synthesised and the body has no high-intensity energy.
We store creatine in the muscle, with the average 70 kg male storing circa 120 grams. However, muscles have the capacity to store 160g. The aim of creatine supplementation is to fill up the creatine ‘fuel tank’ which provides the body with more high-intensity energy. This increase in energy can lead to greater training adaptations. That’s because the body is able to perform more work and create a greater stimulus for growth. The amount of creatine in the muscle is a limiting factor for high-intensity exercise, so increasing these levels can develop real performance benefits.
WHY SHOULD I TAKE IT?
We have access to extensive research on creatine and its benefits for increasing strength, gaining muscle and for high-intensity training is unequivocal. In fact, The Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (Buford et al, 2007) said, in its position paper on creatine, that “creatine monohydrate is the most effective ergogenic nutritional supplement currently available to athletes in terms of increasing lean body mass during training.”
WHAT’S THE MOST POPULAR FORM OF CREATINE?
Without a doubt, the most popular form is creatine monohydrate – the top player of this beginner’s guide to creatine. Several different types of creatine exist, but they all effectively do the same thing, which is to resynthesise ATP levels. The main difference is how the creatine molecules bond, which impacts how we metabolise them and break down in the body. If you’re thinking about using creatine for the first time, creatine monohydrate is our recommendation.
WHEN SHOULD I TAKE IT?
To increase muscle creatine levels, you should take it consistently. There are typically two phases to creatine supplementation: loading and maintenance.
The creatine loading phase involves taking approximately 20g of creatine per day (4 servings x 5g) for 5-7 days. During the loading phase, you should take creatine in the morning, lunch and/or post-workout, depending on when you train. The primary objective of the loading phase is to increase muscle creatine levels quickly.
During the maintenance phase, where 3-5g per day is normally sufficient. The most optimal time to ingest creatine is post-workout, as this is the time when your body will be most receptive to fuel. Mixing creatine with a carb source like dextrose, and/or a carb/protein combination can also help with muscle creatine saturation, as the insulin spike created will transport nutrients to the muscles faster.