With over 200 studies to date in just the last decade, creatine is one of the most heavily researched supplements in the history of sports nutrition. With it being one of the most researched supplements out there, you would think that there would be published literature out there to prove that it is unsafe. But, surprisingly, no one has come out and proved that creatine is indeed unsafe (that is unless you listen to people who study bro science).
The fact of the matter is that creatine works. Lifters know this, researchers know this. Whether or not you should take creatine is a completely different debate though.
Let’s dig into creatine a little more to see what it actually does because no one should put anything into their body without weighing the benefits and risks first.
Creatine is a sports nutrition supplement touted as improving strength and enhancing muscle size to athletes. It is an amino acid that typically comes in powder form to mix with a beverage – typically juice. Creatine is a fuel source for ATP, which is an energy system used for short bursts of power. It gives the body the ability to produce energy rapidly. With more energy, you can train harder and more often. With this increased workload, you should see faster results.
Creatine is an osmotically active substance pulling water into your muscle cells. This, in turn, will increase protein syhthesis. Given this information, you will notice that creatine will make you gain weight – about 2 – 4 lbs. in the first week of supplementation. These early gains will be water weight, and after this initial period, you should expect the extra weight to be focused on your muscles since you can now increase your workload. The catch of this all is that you need to actually put the work in for creatine to provide you any real benefits.
Creatine phosphate (creatine’s high energy molecule form, stored within cells) is used to supply the type 11b muscle fibers (fast-twitch high-glycolytic; the ones that get largest in size) with immediate energy, ensuring these muscles do not prematurely fatigue. This is invaluable to bodybuilders.
Under conditions of strenuous activity, ATP releases one of these high-energy phosphate groups to power muscular contraction. Once this phosphate has been released, ATP becomes ADP (Adenosine Di-Phosphate, a de-energized form of ATP). To regenerate ATP and assist further energy production – to complete additional reps for example – creatine becomes a key player.
Creatine also enhances your body’s ability to recover from a strenious workout. Creatine has been studied for its post-exercise muscle regeneration properties. Studies have shown that creatine supplementation reduces muscle cell damage and inflammation following an exhaustive exercise. It also helps to improve anaerobic capacity.
Another important benefit of creatine for bodybuilders and strength athletes is its muscle volumizing effect. Creatine has a property that causes muscle cells to inflate, which produces a more heavily muscled appearance, and, more importantly, serves as a stimulus for protein synthesis.
Creatine enhance brain function as well. Researchers Wyss and Schulze looked at the broader health implications of creatine as they tried to determine its value in treating several neurodegenerative, vascular and muscular disorders. Their findings, published in the prestigious Neuroscience, showed creatine to be an extremely important neuroprotectant (an agent that increases the survival of nerve cells to environmental insults).
Creatine also improves bone healing and glucose tolerance.
Overall, researchers have found that creatine will provide the following benefits:
- Promote greater gains in increasing FFM (Fat Free Mass, which includes muscle mass).
- Increases muscle fiber size; hypertrophy.
- Increases muscle mass.
- Increases myosin.
- Improves maximal strength.
- Improves maximal power.
- Improves single-effort sprint performance.
- Improves worked performed during repetitive sprint performance.
- Improves performance during exercise of high to maximal intensity.
- Improves recovery following endurance activity.
- Has a neuroprotective function.
- Enhances bone regeneration.
- Improves muscle and performance in vegetarians.
With all of these positives thrown in front of us, we are still left with the question of whether or not it is right for you. It has been determined that bodybuilders and strength athletes can benefit from the use of creatine in addition to sufferers of neurodegenerative disease. Creatine can also be very useful to those with naturally lower levels of creatine, such as vegetarians, who have a lower base level of creatine.
As with every other supplement on the market, the type and quality of creatine that you purchase will normally determine the results that you receive. Here are a few different types of creatine and theur benefits.
Creatine monohydrate is the most common form of this supplement – the one most scientific studies and research use. It is bound with water to provide 88% pure creatine per molecule. In other words, one gram of creatine monohydrate will supply 4.40 grams of active product to the body.
Despite the newer creatine products to have hit the market as of late, monohydrate remains the most used from of creatine (400 million in annual sales in the US alone).
Micronized Creatine is essentially creatine monohydrate, but with much smaller molecules (this creatine has been micronized, which means its molecules have been cut up or divided). This dividing or cutting reduced the surface area of the creatine, making it easier to absorb and lessening any potential stomach discomfort.
It also reduces the unwanted bloating effect – one of monohydrates drawbacks. It is also thought to be purer to monohydrate and more effective as a result (it goes through more processes).
For creatine to be effective, it first has to bond with a phosphate group to become creatine phosphate. Creatine phosphate has only 62.3% creatine per molecule as opposed to creatine monohydrate, which has 88%. Creatine phosphate has never been shown to be more effective than monohydrate, and it is more expensive.
This is essentially regular creatine bonded with special molecules to increase absorption. This type of creatine mixes extremely well but has only 400 milligrams of active creatine per gram. Also, it is very expensive. However, it does cause less stomach discomfort in those susceptible.
Widely touted as the future of creatine supplementation, CEE is thought to have absorption rates up to ten times higher than regular creatine due to its solubility. This solubility improves its transport over biological membranes such as muscle.
Basically, CEE is creatine monohydrate with an ester attached (an ester is made when an alcohol molecule is combined with an acid). Normal creatine molecules have one positive and one negative end. However, the ester attached to this molecule counteracts its charges, therefore making for greater absorption.
Thus far no scientific studies have been done on CEE, but anecdotal reports suggest it is superior to creatine monohydrate in several ways. Reported benefits of CEE include faster absorption, smaller dosages needed, and elimination of the “creatine bloat” look (CEE is thought to pull nearly all the water into the cell, whereas regular creatine that is no so well absorbed leaves much of the water sitting outside of the cell, which causes the bloated appearance).
The of the main goals of creatine manufactures is to improve the absorption rate of their product to ensure greater results in performance and muscle size in those who use these products. Kre-Alkalyn, a buffered from of creatine that is processed at higher PH levels than regular creatine monohydrate, is believed to have one of the fastest absorption rates of all.
Regular creatine is broken down into a waste product called creatinine before the active compound is absorbed – this lowers the absorption rate. With Kre-Alkalyn, this conversion to creatinine is halted and the absorption rate is enhanced as a result. Reported benefits include, faster absorption rate, no loading phase, no creatine bloat, and immediate results.
One of the more controversial of the creatines, creatine serum is variously reported to give great results or no results at all. This is basically creatine dissolved in water, often with various vitamins and amino acids added. Many like this product as there is no loading phase required and it is easy to use (it is simply dropped under the tongue).
On the downside, scientific evidence points to it as being virtually useless as creatine is unstable in liquid (it breaks down to creatinine over time).
Effervescent creatine is combined with sugar or sodium and a chemical that gives it an effervescent quality. It is thought to have better absorption than monohydrate and tastes better. However, it does have the sodium and/or sugar, two compounds bodybuilders generally try to eliminate. It is also very expensive.