Supplements are an important part of fitness workouts and bodybuilding. They help to maximize the results of your hard work. Creatine is one of the most popular supplements used by athletes and bodybuilders, but why and how does it work?
Everything you need to know about creatine supplements will be discussed in this article including potential side effects to look out for, the best type of creatine to take, when you should take creatine, and how creatine works.
Creatine in a nutshell
Creatine is naturally produced by our bodies, and it is stored in our muscles. Creatine is a combination of three amino acids: methionine, arginine, and glycine. Put simply, the purpose of creatine is to help our muscles function by providing them with the energy they need to contract.
Creatine is especially necessary for quick and explosive muscle movements like sprinting or doing a HIIT exercise routine.
The energy our muscles use to contract is called ATP or adenosine triphosphate. ATP isn’t designed to be used for extended periods of time; it only provides 10 seconds of energy. This is where creatine comes in.
Creatine has a singular phosphate that it gives up to ADP (adenosine diphosphate) to create more ATP.
Now you may be wondering, ADP? What is that?
ADP is what ATP transforms into after it provides your muscles with its 10 second boost of energy. This energy is provided by ATP releasing a phosphate and becoming ADP. Without three phosphates, adenosine does not provide muscles with energy. Two phosphates is not enough.
So what is the solution?
The solution is simple: As mentioned before, creatine gives up its phosphate and gifts it to ADP. ADP then becomes ATP again, and your muscles now have another 10 seconds of energy.
This process is repeated continually and quickly so that your muscles can work continuously.
Could you imagine how long it would take us to do even the most simple tasks if we had to continuously rest after only 10 seconds of doing anything? Life would be a nightmare, a slow-moving nightmare.
But why use creatine supplements?
Though creatine is naturally produced in our body, its amount is limited. Our muscles can only store so much creatine. This is where creatine supplements enter the scene.
Creatine supplements increase the amount of stored creatine in your muscles. They do this because your body stores them as phosphocreatine. By allowing you to have more creatine readily available in your muscles, creatine supplements allow you to boost the amount of energy available for your muscles to use.
This boost in readily available energy increases your overall muscle performance and allows you to maximize your workouts.
1. Are creatine supplements safe to use?
Creatine is safe to use, but there are some things you should be aware of before taking it.
So far, research suggests that creatine is safe to consume regularly for up to five years. However, this only applies if appropriate doses are used.
Because creatine has the possibility to cause damage to the kidneys, people who already have a kidney disorder, or those at risk of getting one, should speak to a doctor before using creatine supplements.
2. What are the potential side effects of creatine?
The are many potential side effects of creatine, but most people only have to worry about them if they do not take appropriate amounts of creatine. The potential side effects of creatine are the following:
- Muscle cramping
- Stomach or intestinal pain
- Water retention
- Weight gain
- Heat intolerance
3. Who should not take creatine?
Aside from people with a kidney disorder or the potential of one, people with bipolar disorder (BD) or diabetes should also avoid taking creatine.
The reason people with bipolar disorder should avoid taking creatine is because there is concern that it may increase your mania.
If you are taking nephrotoxic drugs or you are consuming caffeine or ephedra supplements, you should also avoid taking creatine. The combination of creatine with any of these things can increase your risk of kidney damage or worse side effects such as a stroke.
Nephrotoxic drugs include medicines such as Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, etc.), naproxen sodium (Aleve), and cyclosporine (Neoral and Sandimmune).
4. What are the potential benefits of creatine?
Other potential benefits of taking creatine supplements are improved brain performance and concentration, bigger muscles, and greater fat loss.
5. How much creatine should I take?
When you first start taking creatine, you should take 10-20 grams of it daily for 7-14 days so that you can see your results from creatine faster. This is called creatine loading. You then want to only take 3-6 grams of creatine daily for maintenance.
Continuing to take 10-20 grams of creatine daily past the two week mark can be dangerous, so be sure to lower your creatine intake to within the recommended amounts for maintenance.
Another method you can use to creatine load is to take 20 grams of creatine daily for 5-7 days, and you should split your 20 grams of creatine into 4 servings of 5 grams each. After this, you should drop your creatine intake to only 2-10 grams of creatine daily.
6. Is creatine loading safe?
Creatine loading is safe so long as you follow recommended serving amounts and remember to drop down to a safe serving of creatine for daily maintenance.
7. Do I have to creatine load?
You do not have to creatine load, though it is recommended for best effects. If you do not creatine load, it will take longer to see any creatine benefits.
8. Can creatine be taken with acidic juices?
Creatine can be taken with juice. The acid is juices like orange juice, for example, will not affect your creatine results. If acid affected creatine, then it wouldn’t work at all because our stomachs are acidic.
9. When should I take creatine?
The best time to take creatine is after a workout. Insulin levels increase creatine uptake, so taking creatine after a workout with a carb or protein supplement such as a protein shake is an effective way to increase or maintain stores of creatine.
10. Do creatine supplements help women too?
Creatine supplements can benefit women as well. However, gains in body and fat free mass aren’t typically as fast as men.
11. Is creatine safe for teenagers or kids?
Creatine is thought to be safe for children since no research has shown otherwise. However, child athletes should only take creatine if the following are true:
- They are past puberty.
- They are eating a healthy and well-balanced diet.
- They and their parents understand the potential side-effects of taking creatine.
- Their parents approve of them taking creatine.
- Their creatine supplements can be supervised by a parent, teacher, or coach.
- They are using quality creatine.
- They know to only take the safely recommended doses.
12. Should I take creatine powder or capsules?
Either method of ingestion is fine, but if cost is your concern you should use creatine powder because it is more affordable in the long run.
13. Do I need to continuously take creatine regularly?
You don’t need to take creatine without stopping, but it is recommended that you continue to take it regularly so that you can avoid your creatine levels dropping back to your body’s baseline amount.
14. Do I need to cycle off creatine to avoid side effects?
You do not need to cycle off creatine to avoid side effects. Your body’s creatine production levels will not face long-term damage if you do not cycle of of creatine.
15. Will creatine cause me to retain more water?
Creatine will cause you to retain water. This feature of creatine intake has the double-edged effect of increasing your performance but also cause you to gain weight.
This can be problematic for fighters and athletes whose class depend on their weight. It is recommended that you stop taking creatine at least 6-weeks before your weigh-ins.
16. How much water should I drink if I take creatine?
The recommended amount of water you should drink with creatine is 4 ounces of water for every 3 grams of creatine.
17. Which creatine should I take?
The best creatine is creatine monohydrate. Not only is this creatine cheaper, it has also been shown to have better bioavailability according to Alan Aragon, a nutritional contributor to Men’s Health.
Something to consider
Creatine can have a positive effect on more than just your fitness performance. As mentioned above, research has shown that creatine can have a positive effect on the brain, and in 1999 a study showed that creatine could potentially help with Parkinson’s disease.
This study revealed that creatine can prevent large drops in dopamine levels in mice. This was an important find because large drops in dopamine levels cause brain cell death and many of the harsher symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
This article has explored creatine and its many benefits. We have broken down how it works, when you should take it, and how much of it you should take.
Creatine can not only increase your strength and fitness performance, it can also help you recover faster, build more muscle, increase your strength, and even improve your brain function.
Still, the potential side-effects of creatine cannot be forgotten, and if you belong to one of the risk groups mentioned above, you should not use creatine without consulting with your doctor or primary care provider beforehand.
Overall, creatine is a generally safe and affordable supplement that can be taken without fear of serious health problems so long as the recommended dosages are not exceeded.