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In a bid to outlast the competition and create new records, many athletes use a variety of performance enhancing drugs and supplements. Creatine is arguably the most popular of all the supplements currently available.
It is widely believed that creatine can increase muscle mass and help athletes achieve amazing feats of strength.
In addition to this, creatine is the most researched supplement so far in the field of sports and fitness. It is available to anyone that can afford to buy the supplements.
Creatine is naturally transformed to creatine phosphate or phosphocreatine in the human body. Creatine phosphate is the precursor for the development of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) which is the energy currency of the human body.
Despite the negative headlines about creatine; from making you angry or bloated or even increase your risk of cancer. Creatine actually has some immense health benefits. Here’s everything you need to know.
What is Creatine?
Creatine is a chemical compound that is found in vertebrates. Creatine is naturally made produced in the kidney and liver and mainly stored in the muscles.
It is found be useful to the brain as well.
In our diet, it is commonly found in red meat and sea foods. Creatine stored in muscle cells helps produce ATP, which is the primary source of energy in the body.
While our body produces it naturally, there are also creatine supplements designed for enhancing athletic performance and building lean body mass as well as for treating some chronic diseases or disorders.
As meat and fish only contain small amounts of this substance, extracting it for commercial use would not be a profitable business.
So as an alternative way to produce large quantities of creatine, it is synthesized from sarcosine and cyanamide, which in the end leaves us with creatine monohydrate.
The end result contains about 90% creatine and 10% water as creatine picks up and bonds to water molecules during the initial phase of the synthesizing process.
A brief background
Creatine was first discovered in 1832 by the French scientist Chevreul.
In the early 1990’s, we started to see reports indicating that supplementation with this substance would have psychical performance enhancing properties.
This gave birth to Creatine monohydrate, which started to show in the bodybuilding space in the early 1990’s.
This new supplement quickly gained a lot of attention, and later in to 90s’ variations started to show.
Sometime in the 1990’s, creatine became popular when Linford Christine and Sally Gunnell both attributed their impressive athletic performances to creatine use and the public became aware.
Subsequently, there have been various clinical studies on the benefits of creatine supplementation in different sports.
General Benefits of Creatine
There have been numerous researches to substantiate the benefits of creatine intake. While most of the researches gleam with hope in its support of enhancing athletic performance and building muscles.
There are other areas that need to be researched more in order to justify its claim as one of creatine’s benefits.
- Increase in Muscle Size
Creatine supplementation saturates cells and causes an increase in the water content of muscles, making them larger due to the excess water stored in the muscles.
- Improved Athletic Performance
Research has shown that oral creatine supplementation can make an athlete faster and stronger when performing high intensity activity.
- Enhances Muscle Recovery
It helps to repair worn-out muscles after a serious exercise regimen. Muscle fibers are broken down after working out and need to be repaired in order to grow.
- Improves Protein Synthesis
The Process in which cells build proteins so that the more protein synthesized into the muscle, the larger it will become.
- Improves Strength
Creatine improves strength as a result of an increase in the energy to muscle cells. With more ATP we are able to “do more work”. Doing more as in lifting heavier will, over time, result in getting stronger.
This is clearly something most will consider as a benefit, but it’s probably more the derived results that people really care for, specially;
- Cell volumization
It’s debatable whether this is a benefit or a disadvantage. Some will find cell Volumization an additional benefit of creatine supplementation while others refer to it as bloat and think of it as a disadvantage.
Basically, creatine causes cells to inflate with water, which in short means more volume – you look bigger. For most people, this is a bonus.
- High Intensity for Longer Period
Supplementing with creatine will allow you to keep going at high intensity for a longer period, than if you don’t supplement with creatine.
This is part of the equation for more strength and muscle mass, but exactly this point is probably more interesting for high intensity sport fanatics (High-intensity interval training (HIIT)).
It has been proven that creatine will improve your anaerobic capacity, so creatine is not only for the heavy lifters at the gym. And also support cognitive health for most users.
|We also reveal vital criteria to consider when buying creatine supplements…|
Creatine was discovered in the 1970s by scientists.
They noted that introducing the substance to the body could help increase the build-up of muscles. By the 1990s, several people especially athletes had started taking creatine as a supplement.
A rough estimate states that about forty percent of the athletes at high school, college and professional sporting levels use creatine to enhance performance.
Another statistic states that about eighty percent of athletes have used creatine at one point or the other.
Creatine supplements act as athletic aids used to increase intense athletic performance. Even though researchers have known of the use of creatine as an energy source by skeletal muscles since the 20th century, Creatine only gained widespread usage as a performance enhancer as at the 1990s.
How Does Creatine Work?
Creatine helps you lift heavier, increase your workout protocol and multiply your reps by boosting your energy levels.
It’s very simple. The higher your protocol, the more gains you make. If your goal is weight loss, body building or even just getting a toned physique, increasing your workout will help you achieve them easier.
Creatine is most effective for explosive and intense exercise but provides little benefit to endurance trainers.
Creatine works by pulling water into muscle cells. Usually the first two weeks of using creatine will see you gaining about 2 to 4kg in weight.
This is water weight caused by creatine’s ability to induce osmosis. If creatine is used properly, then following weeks will see you making huge gains in muscle mass and strength.
Creatine increases the activity of satellite cells, which make muscle hypertrophy possible.
Creatine supplementation increases the number of many nuclei that satellite cells will ‘donate' to damage muscle fibers, which increases the growth of those fibers.
At the end creatine alone will not make you a bigger person. The only way to harvest the benefits of this supplement is to combine it with intense exercise
Benefits of Creatine to Weightloss
It is a matter of fact that many people use creatine to lose weight, but it does not make you lose or gain weight, since this is a role that involves nutrition.
Creatine actually draws the water present in the body into our muscles. But muscles are not ready to accept this large amount of water, and in order to do so the muscle cells must expand.
Now, since the larger muscles require more calories to maintain their new size (remember, this does not mean huge, just bigger than before), the muscles will have no other choice but to draw on their reserves of fat for the calories needed to maintain their size.
But if you are a woman and do not want that to happen, because you do not want big muscles, you need to be careful with the calories you ingest, you should never exceed.
In fact, many women take creatine, but do not have huge muscles at all, they are rather toned.
However, those who take it, whether man or woman, will have at least small increase in muscle size.
Benefits of Creatine to Women With Proof
Although most creatine research has been conducted in men, some evidence indicates women also benefit from creatine supplementation.
Similar to men, women can experience significant muscle creatine accumulation and performance enhancement in response to creatine monohydrate. However, some studies show little to no benefit at all.
Overall, creatine seems to have a beneficial effect on strength in women who take it for a long period of time.
However, the available evidence doesn’t show much benefit for women in short-term use (less than 28 days) on anaerobic power, such as sprinting performance or HIIT training
In one study, researchers examined the effects of creatine supplementation during a 10-week resistance training program in physically active, but untrained, women.
During the 10-week program, all women performed resistance exercises (five sets, 12 repetitions at 70 percent RM for leg press, shoulder press, squat, leg extension, leg curl, and bench press) for one hour three times per week.
A 20-gram/day loading dose of creatine for four days was followed by five grams per day for the remainder of the program.
After the four-day loading regimen, muscle PCr levels increased by 6 percent and the five-gram maintenance dose was adequate to maintain this increase over the duration of the study.
When strength was tested at the end of the 10 weeks, women in both groups showed significant improvements in strength in all exercises, which is expected, given that they were all untrained.
However, the women taking creatine had a 20-25 percent greater increase in one-rep max (1RM) strength for the leg press, leg extension and back squat compared to the women taking nothing.
Benefits to athletes
To meet the demands of a high-intensity exercise, such as sprinting or power sports, muscles generate energy from chemical reactions involving adenosine triphosphate (ATP), phosphocreatine (PCr), adenosine diphosphate (ADP), and creatine.
Stored PCr can fuel the first 4-5 seconds of a high-intensity effort, but after that, another source of energy is needed.
Once synthesized, creatine is moved to the muscle. The amount of creatine that can be moved and stored is limited.
However, so additional supplementation beyond this capacity can't be used. It can be made in the body, but it is also available in the foods we eat, particularly beef.
The goal of this energy supplementation is to increase muscle phosphocreatine and make more ATP available to fuel the working muscles.
This improves an athlete's ability to perform repeated bouts of short, high-intensity exercise before becoming fatigued.
Optimal creatine supplementation seems to include a loading phase for about five days followed by a reduced maintenance phase. Individuals have varying responses to creatine depending upon their personal needs.
Is it Actually Safe?
The short answer here is, yes. Creatine is one of the (if not the one) most well-studied sports nutrition supplements, with more than 200 scientific studies behind it, confirms its benefits and a low level of adverse reactions.
There are, of course, special cases where some users will experience allergic reactions characterized by red and itchy skin and a swelled throat.
These are, however, not common reactions to creatine supplementation.
The above listed side effects are fairly common (water retention, upset stomach and diarrhea) and should probably be expected if you run a heavy loading period, but these are not dangerous side effects.
Some people will claim that creatine is bad for you, but you shouldn’t sweat it out too much as countless studies have indicated that dangers of creatine are quite minimal.
In any case, it is of course, a good idea to start out with a very low dose, just to check for any adverse effects. Check with your doctor if you want to be 100% sure, creatine supplements are safe for you.
Among athletes and bodybuilders, creatine is such a big deal! It becomes unsafe when you take it in high doses as it could harm the kidney, liver or heart function.
However, studies are yet to prove the connection between this negative effects and high doses.
There is some concern that combining creatine with caffeine and the herb ephedra might increase the chance of having serious stroke.
As a rule, do not forget to always seek medical advice if you have any concerns about its use as it relates to your health.
Forms in Which it is Used
There are many different types of creatine circulating the market and this leaves you with the problem of choice. The following are different forms in which Creatine exists:
- Creatine Ethyl Ester
Creatine Ethyl Ester (CEE) is Creatine with a bond attached to enhance delivery to muscle cells.
CEE can enhance phosphocreatine levels, resulting in increased strength, endurance and muscle volume, resulting in better training sessions.
It is reported to have stronger effects than Creatine Monohydrate and is ideal for those who suffer bloating and cramps from regular creatine.
It should be noted that while these effects have been reported, and were once heavily marketed, and have not been shown to outperform Creatine Monohydrate in clinical trials.
It can only be used by those who suffer cramps and other side effects from Creatine Monohydrate who can otherwise tolerate it
- Buffered creatine
Buffered creatine monohydrate is claimed to enhance the effects of creatine through the promotion of greater creatine retention and training adaptations with fewer side effects at lower doses (1.5 g/d for 28-days vs. 4 x 5 g/d for 7-days).
Research performed found no significant difference in muscle creatine content, body composition or training adaptations between buffered creatine monohydrate and creatine monohydrate.
There was also no evidence that supplementing the diet with a buffered form of creatine resulted in fewer side effects.
- Creatine hydrochloride
Creatine hydrochloride (Creatine HCL) is a hydrochloridesalt patented in 2009 and marketed as an athletic and bodybuilding supplement.
Due to its higher solubility, the recommended dosage for creatine hydrochloride is much lower than that for creatine monohydrate.
- Creatine magnesium chelate
Creatine magnesium chelate (pronounced key-late) is a form of creatine bound to two magnesium atoms. Its effects are similar to creatine monohydrate.
- Creatine malate
Creatine malate is a creatine compound containing three creatine monohydrate molecules attached to one molecule of malic acid.
Creatine monohydrate supports the production of ATP, the muscles primary source of energy in the body.
Malic acid plays a supporting role as an intermediate substance that encourages energy transport to the muscles during physical activity, enhancing the Krebs cycle.
- Creatine nitrate
Creatine nitrate is a nitrate salt form of creatine. No benefits have been noted except that it may be more water-soluble.
- Liquid Creatine
Liquid creatine is simply a form of creatine–usually monohydrate–suspended in liquid.
Studies show that it’s less effective than creatine monohydrate because, when suspended in a solution for several days, creatine breaks down into the inactive substance creatinine.
- Creatine gluconate
Creatine gluconate is a form of creatine where the molecule is bound to gluconic acid.
- Micronized creatine
Since 2011, products containing micronized creatine monohydrate have been marketed as sports supplements. Micronization involves reducing the size of creatine particles to between 0.36 and 9.08 μm in diameter.
Purported benefits of these products include easier mixing into drink format for supplementation and faster absorption of the creatine into the bloodstream.
While reducing particle size may make powdered creatine easier to dissolve in water due to exposure of a greater total particle surface area to collisions with solvent molecules (increasing the rate of reaction), it cannot change its overall solubility.
There is no evidence that micronized creatine monohydrate offers any physiological benefit over other forms or can reduce the risk of gastrointestinal side effects.
What Type of Creatine Should You Take?
Powder is the better option.
Several studies have shown that liquid creatine and ethyl ester break down in the blood stream and are of minimal benefit to your muscles.
Using one of the other forms of creatine in a powdered form is your best option. Also, ensure that you buy 100% creatine very close to that.
Some companies may mix their powders with other electrolytes but 100% still is the best.To achieve maximum benefits from using creatine, it is best if you mix the powder with fruit juice.
Mixing with fruit juice helps to speed up the uptake of creatine into the bloodstream and eventually the muscles by driving the release of insulin.
In addition, note that poor quality powders are usually harder to dissolve and are less likely to give you value for your money.
How Much Should You Take?
The standard dosing advisable for an athlete is an initial dose of 0.3g for each kilogram of body weight per day for a week.
Then a maintenance dose would be 0.075g per kg per day…
How to take Creatine
Alright so you might be convinced by now. You decide to give it a go with a jar of creatine.
First of all you need to decide if you should get creatine monohydrate or one of the many creatine alternatives.
Once you have decided on the creatine type, you need to choose which supplement you want, that contains the type you need.
Cycling with Creatine
The idea was that as your body creates creatine; it was believed that taking a daily dose of supplemental creatine would over time, shut down your natural production.
In order to avoid from happening, creatine cycles were recommended, where a pause will help to restore and stabilize natural creatine production.
I think the main reason why this belief got so much attention was because of a few parallels to testosterone and the use of steroids – namely that:
- Your body produces testosterone
- Taking steroids would shut down the natural Testosterone production
- Steroid users would run cycles to avoid this from happening
- Your body produces creatine
- Taking supplemental creatine was believed to shut down the body’s natural creatine production
- Creatine users would run cycles to avoid this from happening
There is some truth to this, but there key differences. Today, with main difference here is naturally that testosterone is a hormone and creatine is an organic acid.
A steroid cycle will shut down natural testosterone production, and there is no guarantee that levels will go back to normal, automatically.
A creatine cycle will lower natural creation production, but after the cycle, levels will automatically go back to baseline.
When should you take it?
Should you take creatine before or after workout? This is a common question from people new to creatine.
There are a lot of different opinions on this matter, but I think the key point here is that, as long as you get a daily dose, it probably won’t do much difference at what time of the day you get it.
There a couple of studies on this topic – what is the best time to take creatine? From a rational perspective, it would seemingly make sense to take it prior to your workout session, but this isn’t necessarily the truth.
Based on a study from Jose Antonio and Victoria Ciccone, you are likely to see more benefits from creatine when taking it immediately after your workout session.
Creatine supplementation plus resistance exercise increases fat-free mass and strength. Based on the magnitude inferences it appears that consuming creatine immediately post-workout is superior to pre-workout Vis-a-Vis body composition and strength
Things to avoid while taking
Avoid drinking caffeine (coffee, tea, soda) or taking herbal stimulants such as ephedra or Ma Huang while you are taking creatine.
Combining this product with these substances may increase your risk of having a stroke or other serious medical problems. Avoid becoming overheated or dehydrated during exercise and in hot weather.
Is it a Drug or Steroid?
No, creatine is an organic acid that occurs naturally in the body, and there are strict governmental regulations surrounding the creatine supplement that go into sports supplements.
This ensures that no narcotic substances are found in commercially available creatine products.
Although we have discussed the fact that creatine is both effective and scientifically proven in its efficacy, it should be noted that this is by no means intended to come across as hype of any kind.
Creatine does not provide drug-like effects of any kind, but even if it helps to add a few percentage points to your overall progress from one month to the next then it will definitely be money well spent.
Creatine and children
Are there any other conditions in which creatine helps children? Yes, creatine has been used successfully in kids with muscular dystrophy.
In one study, kids who took creatine monohydrate for four months gained strength and muscle mass, experienced less bone breakdown, and had no side effects.
It’s also been used on pediatric cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.
The corticosteroids they take to alleviate the side effects of the chemo are known to cause rapid gains in body fat. With creatine, that increase in fat was attenuated
Is it safe for children?
There’s a long history of using creatine supplements with children, even infants. A very small number of kids are born with an inborn error of creatine metabolism.
It’s extremely rare, but if left untreated the child could end up with severe neurological problems, as well as cognitive problems like mental retardation or autistic disorders.
Some of these children have been treated successfully with creatine monohydrate. One patient was given 4 to 8 grams a day for 25 months, the equivalent of 80 to 160 grams a day for an adult.
The patient experienced significant improvement, with brain and total body creatine rising to normal levels. As David Sandler says, “Some of the first research studies on creatine were done on overly weak infants. So, yeah, it’s safe.
Creatine Supplements Reviews
Several studies have been conducted on the uses and effectiveness of creatine as a performance enhancer.
One study concluded that though creatine could cause short bursts of strength for athletes, its effect on endurance training was minimal.
Furthermore, research shows that some people are less responsive to the effect of creatine than others. While some people will see benefits from creatine usage, others will see none at all.
There is insufficient reliable evidence about the effectiveness of creatine supplementation for babies, adolescents and young people.
Are the gains temporary or permanent?
The simple principle behind creatine is that it increases water retention and cell saturation of it, thus making you “weight more” which is just water in the beginning.
Creatine does help build muscle mass, but you have to stay on it a while, since it does help strength and muscle endurance, let’s say you want to put some lbs. on creatine.
Don’t quit it after getting some 5 lbs , go for at least some 10lbs up and then you know at least half of that should be muscle mass (or fat depending on training and nutrition) and when the de-loading and the de-bloating occurs you will only be losing the water weight.
Therefore creatine gains can be permanent if you continue using it.
Side Effects and Safety of Creatine Supplementation
It is important to know that supplements are not held to the same rigorous standards that the FDA applies to medications.
Having noted that, it is important to read supplement labels and make sure that there are no ingredients in it that could harm or irritate you.
This is so because supplement manufacturers do not have to publish all of the ingredients in certain supplements as long as those unpublished elements are below a certain quantity.
Although most healthy people can take it with no problem, creatine can, in rare cases, have adverse effects, particularly when used in excess.
If prescriptions are not followed, it could lead to weight gain, anxiety, fatigue, fever and rash. Other side effects can include:
- Upset stomach and Diarrhea
Luckily, there is no guarantee that you will get an upset stomach or diarrhea from creatine supplementation.
There is however, a pretty good chance you might experience a bit of this, especially if you chose to run a loading period.
The upset and diarrhea usually occur if you are loading with creatine but if you maintain your normal take, upset or diarrhea is rare.
- Muscle Cramps
Another creatine side effect that has been hyped several times is muscle cramps. There is not scientific data supporting this claims (there are however, studies indicating that Cr does not cause muscle cramps).
Finally, should this happen, then sure, muscle cramps can be a bit annoying and you’ll find it very uncomfortable.
- High risk of Injury
The fact that creatine gives you some insane muscle and strength doesn’t mean you should abuse the benefits.
Remember that when you use creatine supplements, you have more water and energy getting stored in your muscles thereby allowing you to push harder and lift heavier.
While this is great, overdoing it could cause injuries to your muscle.
You are likely to feel dehydrated once you start running low on normal water levels in your body. Creatine supplies more water and energy to your muscle, thereby improving your performance.
However, this is not without a cost, as it would normally leave you dehydrated.
You should ensure that you stay hydrated on a regular basis and make sure that you do not neglect it regardless of whether you are taking creatine supplementation or not.
Creatine is usually in powder form so when it is not properly dissolved, it can cause nausea. To address this make sure that you take creatine in the proper dosage, dissolve it completely before drinking and take in more water.
How to avoid the risks
Creatine interacts with Nephrotoxic Drugs (drugs that cause possible kidney damage). If you have kidney disease or diabetes, avoid use as there is some concern that creatine might make kidney disease worse.
If you are taking creatine, avoid exercising in the heat.
You might become dehydrated. Don’t forget to drink more water to make up for the water creatine draws from the rest of your body into your muscles.
If you are pregnant and breast-feeding, you should stay on the safe side and avoid use. There isn’t sufficient information to assure its safety for pregnant women.
For people with bipolar disorder, creatine could make mania worse in such people. You should also check with your physician to be sure that it is okay for you to take creatine especially if you have a pre-existing medical condition.
Again, you should avoid taking overdose of creatine and ensure moderation.
Creatine users often do a “loading phase” of taking 20 grams throughout the day for 5-7 days before moving a maintenance phase of 2-5 grams per day.
Research has shown this to increase the rate at which muscles become saturated. However, loading is not necessary for creatine to exert its positive effect.
In some models, the presence of insulin increases the amount of creatine that is absorbed into the muscles. Caffeine may lessen it.
Warning by most health experts…
Several groups of people should not take creatine. These groups include;
- People with kidney disease
- People with liver disease
- People with diabetes.
- Children under age 18
- Women who are pregnant or nursing.
- People taking any medication that could affect blood sugar because creatine also affects blood sugar.
In conclusion, if you have decided to go ahead with this amazing supplement, it is important to stay hydrated by drinking a lot of water.
Furthermore, make sure you consult your doctor before you start taking any supplements and keep him abreast of any development.
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