Supplement Series: Creatine

Regardless of how long you’ve been on your fitness journey, you’ve probably heard about creatine. In all likelihood, you’ve met people who swear by it and people who have a go-to horror story to keep you from using it. Because of its popularity, we’ve chosen creatine as the first supplement to discuss in our December Supplement Series.

What is it?

Creatine is one of the most widely researched dietary supplements out there. It is a naturally synthesized substance that each of us create in our kidneys and liver. Common dietary sources of creatine are lean red meats and fish. Without getting into the science behind it (we’ll do that later), creatine helps our muscles produce energy more rapidly. So, as common sense would dictate, the more energy you have, the harder you can train and the more results you can see.

Creatine can be purchased in many forms, but the most commonly found form is creatine monohydrate, a fine powder. We prefer micronized creatine monohydrate because it is ground more finely (aka micronized), helping it dissolve easily in water, juice or protein shakes.

What are the benefits?

As I mentioned above, the biggest benefit of adding additional creatine to your diet is that it can help your cells produce energy more quickly. However, it’s no silver-bullet. You still have to put the work in at the gym and maintain a healthy diet to see results.

Creatine will not dramatically boost your output, but it can help you squeeze a few extra reps out on your last set. It is most impactful during high-intensity and explosive activities – most notably, weight training, sprinting and sports requiring explosive movement like football and baseball.

Individuals who don’t consume a moderate amount of meat and fish will probably see the most dramatic changes in energy levels during exercise because their diet isn’t filled in creatine-rich foods.

How does it work?

So far, we’ve breezed over the science, but here it is if you’re interested.

Creatine is synthesized in the liver and kidneys from three amino acids – arginine, glycine and methionine. Since our muscles don’t produce it on their own, they must pick it up via the bloodstream after these organs release it. Once creatine enters our muscles, it gets a phosphate group attached to it and is then known as phosphocreatine (PCr) or creatine phosphate. This high energy phosphate group is what gives creatine its beneficial effect.

Our muscles utilize a molecule called ATP (adenosine triphosphate) to provide the energy needed for contraction. During this process, a phosphate group is broken off, which provides the energy for muscle contraction, and the ATP becomes ADP (adenosine diphosphate). Phosphocreatine helps us produce more energy by donating its phosphate group to useless ADP molecules, turning them back into ATP for our muscles to utilize.

Creatine supplementation has been shown to help increase the phosphocreatine levels dramatically. Having more phosphocreatine in muscle cells means that more ATP can be rapidly produced during exercise, which can lead to strength, power, and speed gains as well as muscle growth.

Is it Safe?

Nothing is perfect, but creatine is as close as you can get when it comes to supplementation. It has been widely studied and found to be completely safe. However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t misconceptions floating around out there about its safety.

One of the biggest misconceptions about creatine is that it can cause muscle cramps. This has been proven false, time and time again.

Another common misconception is that creatine causes muscle tears. The original thinking here being that if it can help you squeeze a few more reps out, it allows you to push yourself past your breaking point. Again, this has been proven false. The stories about these situations stem from people utilizing poor form, overtraining and/or training with a pre-existing injury.

The final misconception we’ll hit on is that creatine supplementation leads to impaired liver and kidney function. Fortunately, both short-term and long-term studies have proven this to be false as well.

How to supplement with it?

Unless you’re an individual upwards of 300 lbs., 5g a day of creatine is more than enough. We like to mix it in with our pre and post-workout shakes, but you could always add it to a glass of water or juice just as easily.

However, the conversation doesn’t end at dosage. Consistency and frequency are as important as consuming the proper amount. Creatine is absorbed relatively quickly, but we’re consistently utilizing it within our muscles, so levels must be kept high in order to reap the benefits during workouts.

Hopefully, this post has helped you get a better understanding of why creatine is such a ubiquitous supplement. If you have any questions or comments, don’t hesitate to comment below or email me directly.

Nick Brennan

Founder & CEO

Unbeaten Fitness

Posted on December 11, 2014 .