There are hundreds of sites out there that sell you creatine supplements but none of them give you the facts about creatine and whether it’s what you need for your goals. This page has everything you wanted to know about creatine supplements. If you are considering creatine supplements you should read this page first.
UNDERSTANDING CREATINE BASICS
What is creatine?
Put simply, creatine is a compound that supplies energy to your muscles. It is made by the human body, and also found in some foods – primarily fresh meat. Creatine is produced in the liver, pancreas, and kidneys, and is transported to the body’s muscles through the bloodstream. Once it reaches the muscles, it is converted into phosphocreatine (creatine phosphate). This high-powered metabolite is used to regenerate the muscles’ ultimate energy source, ATP. When you workout, your ATP levels drop rapidly. Creatine is responsible for restoring ATP levels.
Creatine and athletic performance
Over the last two decades, creatine has emerged as the king of all athletic performance supplements. And with good reason. Creatine intake heightens your body’s creatine phosphate energy system. This allows you to push yourself for longer periods of time, with more energy. Creatine also improves your ability to tap into explosive energy when you need it as critical times in your training. It should also be noted that in clinical studies, creatine has been shown to increase strength and lean muscle mass.
Creatine food sources
Though creatine is naturally manufactured in the human body from amino acids, half of all stored creatine comes from the foods we eat. Creatine is primarily found within fresh meats. Beef, pork, salmon and tuna are exceptionally rich in creatine, containing 2 grams of creatine per pound of meat. Herring contains an amazing 3 to 4 grams of creatine per pound of meat. Cranberries are also relatively rich in creatine.
Creatine is very heat sensitive. During cooking preparation, a good portion of a meat’s natural creatine levels are destroyed.
Benefits of creatine for good health
Because of its popularity, creatine’s health benefits have been studied quite extensively. Research has found that proper creatine intake is essential to good health in a number of ways.
- Creatine and Alzheimer’s Disease. Creatine supplementation can lower serum homocysteine levels. High serum homocysteine levels are linked to numerous neurological and psychiatric disorders. These conditions include depression, dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. In fact, a recent study revealed that high serum homocysteine levels doubled the risk of chance of getting Alzheimer’s.
- Creatine as an antioxidant. Recently, it was found that creatine is very effective as an antioxidant. In fact, creatine is nearly as effective as glutathione in battling free radicals. Glutathione is an extremely potent antioxidant produced naturally in the body. Therefore, proper creation intake is essential for long term good health.
- Creatine use with B vitamins. Vitamins B2, B6, B9 and B12 are essential for proper creatine synthesis. Supplementing B vitamins along with creatine optimizes cellular methylation. Proper methylation optimizes beneficial cell growth, in addition to muscular growth. Sub-optimal methylation leads to higher instances of unwanted, cancerous forms of cell growth.
- Creatine and heart disease. Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) is the leading cause of death in the Western world. Currently in the United States, over 13 million Americans are battling CHD. Creatine supplementation can help battle the onset of CHD. Creatine lowers serum homocysteine levels. Without proper creatine intake, serum homocysteine levels rise. High serum homocysteine levels contribute to the development of Coronary Heart Disease (CHD).
- Creatine and cognitive function. Not only does creatine battle muscle fatigue, but it also appears that creatine empowers proper brain functioning. A recent study revealed that creatine supplementation directly lead to an improved ability to solve problems, and improved short term memory. Individuals supplementing with creatine also had better IQ scores.
ANABOLIC EFFECTS OF CREATINE
The term anabolic is associated with improvements in lean muscle mass. Creatine supplementation works on several different levels to improve lean muscle mass.
Training performance and creatine
Because creatine allows you to train longer and harder, with the ability to squeeze out more reps, the intensity of your training is heightened. This heightening of intensity forces your body to adapt and grow, more so then without creatine supplementation.
Creatine and cell growth
We’ve touched upon the subject of cell methylation, and seen that creatine is essential for good health and proper cell growth. A diet that limits the consumption of fresh meat is a diet that is ill-suited for new muscle cell growth. This reality adds another dimension to the daily protein requirement for athletes and bodybuilders. Not only do you need extra protein for amino acids and raw materials, but the creatine derived from fresh meat sources also insures that the cells are strong and healthy.
Creatine and muscle volumization
Muscle volumization is, without a doubt, the most talked about form of creatine anabolism. Creatine supplementation causes muscle cells to swell with water. This swelling leads to better muscle feel – or pumps. In turn, muscle swelling also encourages the cell to increase production of vital structural and enzymatic proteins. Simply put, not only does creatine enlarge a cell, but it also strengthens a cell. This volumization of muscle cells leads to an overall increase in lean muscle mass.
Creatine supplementation also boosts muscle growth and repair by:
- Working as an antioxidant, creatine works to remove harmful free radicals, strengthening muscle cell membranes, and allowing muscle cells to repair and grow more efficiently.
- Creatine works to buffer muscle acidity. Without proper PH balance, a muscle will fatigue more easily.
- Creatine assists in regulating proper calcium levels within muscle tissue, which allows for proper contractions. Low levels of creatine can cause calcium imbalance, and a resulting decrease in performance.
INTRODUCTION TO CREATINE SUPPLEMENTS
What are creatine supplements?
Outside of protein supplements, creatine supplements are the most talked about and effective muscle building and performance supplements on the planet. Creatine supplements can provide a 10 to 15% boost in overall strength, and a lean muscle mass gain of up to 10 pounds. Because of their popularity, creatine supplements are extremely cost-effective, giving an athlete the most bang for his supplement buck.
Creatine supplements come in powder, pill or liquid forms. Because the powder form of creatine is most popular, many creatine supplements are flavored and sold as powdered drink mixes. Common flavors include grape and fruit punch.
Brief history of creatine supplementation
In 1912, Harvard researchers discovered that ingested creatine could boost the creatine content of a muscle. Over a decade later, scientists discovered that creatine impacted metabolism of muscle.
Creatine supplementation first caught the public eye following the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. Later that year, The Times (a British newspaper), wrote an article detailing creatine supplementation by several athletes. These athletes included the 100m dash winner, Linford Christie, and several members of the British rowing team.
It wasn’t until a year later that creatine supplements became commercially available. In 1993, EAS (Experimental and Applied Sciences) released a product called Phosphagen. In 2004, Creatine Ethyl Ester first hit the market.
What are the different forms of creatine supplements?
Creatine supplements are generally sold in the following forms:
- Creatine Powder. Creatine powder is the most popular, and common form of creatine supplement. Creatine powders are sold as stand alone products, or are sold with flavoring powders as mixable drinks.
- Creatine Capsules. Creatine capsules, or creatine pills, have gained popularity over the last several years. Creatine pills are sold as either 100% pure creatine, or mixed with other supplements including vitamins and minerals, amino acids, and more.
- Creatine Liquid. Liquid creatine is packaged and marketed at a more easily digested form of creatine. Despite these claims, liquid creatine is not a very popular supplement.
- Creatine Blends. Creatine blends combine various forms of creatine, often with other supplements such as simple carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, and herbal extracts, to amplify potency, and increase digestion and athletic performance.
Benefits of using creatine supplements
We have already taken a close look at the anabolic and health benefits of creating. Here is a closer look at the primary benefits from creatine supplementation.
- Extra Energy. Creatine supplementation boosts energy, allowing you to train or compete harder, longer, and dig deep when you need a big burst of energy. When you need quick energy, your body relies on a compound called ATP (adenosine tri-phosphate). ATP stores quickly burnout, and are typically exhausted after 10 to 15 seconds. Creatine works to help restore ATP stores, preparing you to work hard again.
- Protein Synthesis. A recent study revealed that creatine supplementation stimulates muscle specificprotein synthesis.
- Muscle Volume. Creatine supplementation volumizes muscles, which in turn strengthens muscles cells. With a greater muscular volume, you are generally stronger, and will carry more lean muscle mass.
- Lactic Acid. Creatine works as a lactic acid buffer, delaying muscle fatigue, and allowing you to work longer into sets, or harder on the playing field.
Who uses creatine supplements?
Though creatine supplements are most popular with strength athletes and bodybuilders, they are actually perfect for anyone that is physically active. Creatine has been shown to boost endurance, strength and muscle mass. Creatine provides an edge when you need to dig deep, and gives you a burst of energy when you are late in the game or pushing for a personal record.
Creatine also has numerous health benefits. It strengthens muscle cells, helps combat disease, improves mental functioning, and much more. Creatine is also a must have supplement for vegetarians who don’t derive creatine from fresh meat sources.
Bodybuilders. Bodybuilders use creatine to increase lean muscle mass, and for extra energy and strength.
Powerlifters. Powerlifters use creatine to help endure intense workouts, and for the strength gains that it provides.
Endurance Athletes. Runners, bikers, and other endurance athletes use creatine to amplify their training sessions, and for its ability to help them dig deep when they need a quick burst of energy.
Team Sports. Athletes involved in team sports rely on creatine for extra strength, and for energy when the game is on the line.
Body Transformation. Creatine isn’t just for hardcore athletes. It is a staple supplement, used by many individuals who are turning their lives around, and getting back into shape. Creatine helps them get stronger, and perform better. Also, the added muscle mass from creatine allows them to burn more fat.
Vegetarians. Vegetarians supplement with creatine for good health. As we’ve explored, creatine deficiency can lead to numerous health problems.
Creatine supplements and natural creatine sources
In general, the average healthy individual receives 1 gram of protein from their daily diet. The following foods are rich in creatine:
- Herring – 3 to 4.5 grams of creatine per pound of herring.
- Pork – 2.25 grams of creatine per pound of pork.
- Beef – 2 grams of creatine per pound of beef.
- Salmon – 2 grams of creatine per pound of salmon.
- Tuna – 1.8 grams of creatine per pound of tuna.
- Cod – 1.35 grams of creatine per pound of cod.
- Milk – 0.05 grams of creatine per pound of milk.
- Cranberries – 0.001 grams of creatine per pound of cranberries.
It should also be noted that chicken does not contain a substantial amount of creatine.
At minimum, it is wise to supplement with at least 5 grams of creatine per day. As you can see from the chart, you would have to eat an incredible amount of meat each day to reach the 5 gram mark. Also, as mentioned previously, cooking diminishes the creatine content of a food source. Natural food sources simply do not contain enough creatine to replace supplementation.
CREATINE FORMS USED IN CREATINE SUPPLEMENTS
Creatine monohydrate is the king of the creatine supplement world. It is the most inexpensive form of creatine, and has been studied exhaustively. It is popular because it works. No other legal non-hormonal bodybuilding or sports supplement can come close to the potency of creatine monohydrate. Creatine monohydrate is 88% pure creatine bound with 12% water.
Early creatine products were filled with large, hard to digest particles. These earlier supplements often caused intestinal issues. Most modern creatines are micronized, and are 20 times smaller. Modern creatines generally do not have the intestinal side effects that older creatines had.
Creatine ethyl ester
Creatine ethyl ester (CEE) is a relatively new, but extremely popular form of creatine. It is second in popularity only to creatine monohydrate. Scientists attach an ester to creatine, allowing it to pass through cell membranes much easier. Because of this, creatine ethyl ester absorbs more rapidly into muscle cells.
Other forms of creatine
- Creatine anhydrous. Creatine anhydrous is creatine monohydrate without the water molecule. Creatine anhydrous provides approximately 6% more pure creatine per serving compared to creation monohydrate.
- Creatine citrate. Creatine citrate appeared not long after creatine monohydrate. Creatine citrate is a creatine molecule bonded to a citric acid molecule. Because citric acid is instrumental in providing aerobic energy within muscle tissue, it is speculated that creatine citrate will provide an athlete with more energy. This theory has yet to be proven.
- Creatine phosphate. Creatine phosphate is another early form of creatine. Creatine phosphate is a creatine molecule bonded to a phosphate molecule. This bonding is a process that naturally occurs within muscle cells. It was thought that by pre-bonding creatine with phosphate, that it would amplify results. Ultimately, creatine phosphate was found to be less effective then creatine monohydrate.
- Creatine malate. Creatine malate is a relatively new version of creatine. It is creatine chemically bonded to malic acid. Malic acid works in much the same way that citric acid does, and assists muscles with aerobic energy production. There is little current research for or against creatine malate’s effectiveness.
- Creatine tartrate. Creatine tartrate is creatine bonded to tartaric acid. This form of creatine is often used in pills, capsules, bars and chewables. It offers no benefits over creatine monohydrate.
- Magnesium creatine. Magnesium creatine is creatine chemically bonded to magnesium. Magnesium assists in the digestion of creatine, primarily helping it pass through the stomach. Magnesium is also involved in the process of turning creatine phosphate into ATP. Magnesium creatine has been shown to be an effective form of creatine, but only in the bonded state. Taking creatine together with magnesium, but as separate supplements, is not as effective.
- Creatine glutamine taurine. This form of creatine has creatine bonded with glutamine and taurine. Because both glutamine and taurine act to volumize cells, it is hoped that – in conjunction with creatine– their benefits will be heightened. One side benefit to taurine use is that it has been shown to improve strength.
- Creatine HMB. Creatine HMB is creatine chemically attached to HMB (beta-hydroxy beta-methylbutyrate). HMB, by itself, assists muscle recovery and growth. This form of creatine is generally easier for the body to digest. Once in the bloodstream, the creatine and HMB are separated. CreatineHMB is a relatively new form of creatine, and there is very little research to back its effectiveness.
- Effervescent creatine. Effervescent creatine has been available for a number of years. Effervescent creatines usually contains creatine monohydrate or creatine citrate, along with citric acid and bicarbonate. When effervescent creatine is placed in water, a chemical reaction takes place, resulting in the formation of creatine carrying a neutral charge. This form of creatine passes through the stomach better then creatine monohydrate. It also retains its stability longer in solution then creatine monohydrate, making it a solid option for those that mix and take their creatine solution with them.
- Creatine titrate. Creatine titrate (different from creatine tartrate) works in a similar manner to effervescent creatine. Creatine titrate changes the PH of the water solution when it is mixed, allowing for a more stable solution that is easier to digest.
- Liquid creatine. Liquid creatine is a form of creatine that is completely dissolved, and supposedly, easier to digest. Unfortunately, creatine is very unstable when dissolved, so many early liquid creatine products were failures. Modern liquid creatine products are improved, and can remain solvent for up to a year.
- Creatine gum. Creatine gum allows for a slow, steady creatine release as you chew.
- Time released creatine. Time released creatine is a new creatine product. It provides a slow, steady release of creatine. The debate over the effectiveness of time-released creatine is very heated. Because of its very nature, time-released creatine does not provide a high concentration of creatine in the blood. Many believe that a certain “concentration threshold” is required for creatine to be effective.
HOW TO USE CREATINE FOR MAXIMUM RESULTS
A look at creatine loading
On the average, the human body contains 120 grams of creatine. 95% of this creatine is stored in skeletal muscle. In general, muscle can hold an addition 30 to 40 grams of creatine, for a total of 150 to 160 grams. Of course, existing muscle mass is a huge factor in this equation.
There are two primary means of taking, or loading creatine. They are:
- Rapid loading. Rapid loading involves taking 20 grams of creatine for 5 to 7 days, then taking 5 to 10 grams per day thereafter. Creatine is generally taken 5 grams at a time, in a non-acidic fruit juice, or with dextrose.
- Slow loading. Slow loading, or gradual loading, is simply taking 5 to 10 grams of creatine a day without the rapid loading, 20 gram per day phase.
Both rapid loading and slow loading are effective. It is recommended that you experiment with both approaches, and determine which is best for you.
Should creatine be loaded?
There has been no substantial research against the long term use of creatine. Still, many experts recommend cycling creatine. 4 week cycles are very popular. Long term cycles can be used, but should be limited to 3 months in length. Here are some popular creatine cycles:
4 week cycle
Week 1 – Creatine loading, 20 grams per day (4 servings x 5 grams).
Weeks 2-4 – Maintenance phase, 5-10 grams per day.
Weeks 5-8 – No creatine.
9 week cycle
Week 1 – Creatine loading, 20 grams per day (4 servings x 5 grams).
Weeks 2-7 – Maintenance phase, 5-10 grams per day.
Weeks 8-9 – No creatine.
Taking creatine with carbs/high glycemic carbs
It is recommended that you take creatine in 5 gram servings along with a non-acidic fruit juice, preferably grape juice. Creatine can also be taken with the high glycemic carbohydrate dextrose. Taking creatine in this manner improves absorption. High glycemic carbs – such as dextrose – create an insulin spike, which dramatically increases creatine uptake. It is recommended that you take 70 grams of these carbs to get a quality insulin spike.
When to take creatine supplements
There is no evidence supporting a best time to take creatine. But taking it post workout is a logical and convenient time. Creatine stacks well with post-workout waxy maize and whey protein. There is evidence revealing that taking creatine with a 1 to 1 ratio of carbs to proteins can increase creatine absorption.
When loading creatine, it is best to take creatine at the following times:
- Morning – 5 grams with grape juice
- Pre-workout – 5 grams of creatine with waxy maize
- Post-workout – 5 grams of creatine with waxy maize and whey protein
- Evening – 5 grams of creatine with grape juice
Creatine and water intake
It is recommended that you drink ample amounts of water while supplementing with creatine. Creatine supplementation causes muscle tissue to hold more water. Drinking a less then adequate amount of water as your body is taking on creatine can lead to diminished benefits, or in some cases, mild dehydration.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT CREATINE SUPPLEMENT
Price vs. quality
All creatine supplements are not created equal, and all supplement companies are not created equal. Lower price supplements are also generally lower quality. Manufacturers can cut costs by purchasing lower quality raw ingredients, and by using inferior packaging and quality control methods.
When choosing a creatine supplement, compare reviews. And if no reviews are available for a product, head over to the Muscle and Strength forum and ask for advice on finding quality, reasonably priced creatine supplements.
Benefits of creatine monohydrate
Creatine monohydrate increases lean body mass, muscle hypertrophy (growth), strength gains, and leads to better power output in short bursts. It has a proven track record, and is an extremely inexpensive supplement. Creatine monohydrate has also been studied exhaustively by the scientific community. Currently, over 200 studies exist, revealing the effectiveness of creatine monohydrate.
Benefits of creatine ethyl ester
Creatine ethyl ester (CEE) gives you the same muscle, strength and performance benefits as creatine monohydrate. It also provides you with some additional benefits. Creatine ethyl ester is a faster absorbing form of creatine, and is easier on the stomach. Creatine ethyl ester is less likely to leave you feeling bloated. It should also be noted that CEE tastes very bitter. There are also very few clinical studies on creatine ethyl ester.
Comparing creatine supplements
Because of its popularity and effectiveness, creatine supplements are packaged and solid in many different ways.
- Creatine monohydrate. The most popular form of creatine monohydrate is pure micronized powder. Pure creatine monohydrate contains no calories, protein, fat or carbs. More advanced creatine monohydrate products are flavored and sold as mixable drink powder. Popular flavors include grape and fruit punch. It is not uncommon for creatine products to include other added supplements, such as glutamine, taurine, amino acids blends, or even blends of numerous other creatine forms.
- Creatine ethyl ester. Creatine ethyl ester, although very bitter, is sold in pure powder form as well. In general, creatine ethyl ester products are slightly more expensive, but are still an amazing value. Creatine ethyl ester products are very similar to creatine monohydrate products. CEE is sold as flavored powders. You can also find creatine ethyl ester mixed with other forms of creatine in creatine blends. Because of creatine’s popularity, CEE is also often mixed with other supplements, including products likeCellmass that contain proprietary blends.
- Creatine pills. Creatine pills come in a variety of price ranges and products. Simple creatine pill supplements are generally just creatine monohydrate or creatine ethyl ester in capsule form. They are easy to swallow, and in general, more convenient. Creatine pills also leave no bitter taste in your mouth, and cause little to no bloating. Create pills do tend to absorb more slowly. There are also many advanced creatine pill formulas on the market, many containing other supplements and proprietary blends. These pills can be great for heightening the benefits of creatine.
Benefits of creatine blends
Creatine blends are supplements that contain one or more forms of creatine mixed with other ingredients, such as vitamins and minerals, amino acids, simple carbohydrates and proprietary supplements blends that work towards amplify the effects of creatine.
Creatine blends are generally formulated based on the latest clinical research, meaning that they are the most high quality, well thought out creatine supplements on the market.
STACKING CREATINE WITH OTHER SUPPLEMENTS
Creatine and waxy maize
Creatine stacks well with waxy maize. Creatine and waxy maize work well together before, during and after a workout. The simple sugars in waxy maize allow for proper creatine absorption, and insure that you are maximizing your workouts.
Creatine with protein and carbohydrates
Research has revealed that creatine taken in conjunction with a 1 to 1 ratio of simple carbs (dextrose) to protein is an optimal combination for efficient and effective creation absorption. This combination is nearly equal in effectiveness to just taking creatine and dextrose alone. Because of this, creatine stacks well with waxy maize, and protein powders and bars. The pre and post workout stack of creatine, waxy maize and whey protein is especially effective in maximizing a workout, and recovery from the workout.
Creatine and pre-workout supplements
Most pre-workout formulas contain some form of nitric oxide (NO). The combination of creatine and nitric oxide creates an amazingly powerful pre-workout stack. Pumps and energy will be intense. The heightened mental and physical state that comes from NO will allow you to aggressively push deeper into sets, maximizing creatine, and forcing your body to respond with new muscle growth.
Creatine and intra-workout supplements
Intra-workout supplements generally include waxy maize, BCAAs, and vitamins and minerals. Some intra-workout supplements also contain creatine, so often, there is no stacking required! The stack of creatine with intra-workout formulas makes sense. As we’ve already explored, creatine is generally taken pre or post-workout. Taking creatine with an intra-workout formula can allow for fast creatine absorption and delivery, powering you past the point of fatigue, and preparing you for recovery and growth.
Creatine and post-workout supplements
Most trainees take creatine post-workout. Most post-workout formulas – such as Dark Matter or Torrent by Universal Nutrition – contain the potent post-workout stack of creatine and waxy maize, saving you time and money.
Creatine and fat burners
Creatine is a natural fat burner. Because it helps mobilize energy, and allows you to train harder, longer, and with more weight, you will burn more calories. Add a fat burner to this mix, and you will be propelling your fat loss to a whole new level.
CREATINE MYTHS AND FACTS
Is Creatine a steroid?
No. Creatine is not a hormonal product. It is not a testosterone pre-cursor, nor is it a prohormone. Creatine is a naturally occurring organic acid that helps in providing energy to muscles.
Does creatine supplementation cause side effects?
No serious side effects have ever been documented in the clinical researching of creatine. After cycling off of creatine, you may feel like you have less energy. Proper water intake is necessary while supplementing with creatine.
Does creatine make you fat?
No. Creatine pulls water into skeletal muscle, giving you more lean muscle mass. It does not make you fat.
Should pregnant women take creating?
This is a question that should be answered by a physician. During pregnancy, a woman should consult with her doctor before taking any new supplement.
Can women take creatine?
Of course! Creatine will help then tone up and lose fat. Creatine is a perfect supplement for active, athletic women.
Should teenagers take creatine?
There is no supporting evidence that reasonable creatine use by teenagers has any negative side effects. Creatine is a proven, and safe supplement. With that said, creatine hasn’t been on the market long enough to rule out the possibility that its use by teenagers might cause side effects.
Can vegetarians use creatine?
Absolutely. Because vegetarians derive very little creatine from the foods that they eat. Creatine supplementation is not so much an option as it is a necessity for vegetarians.
I just started training. Can I use creatine?
Yes. Creatine enhances energy and strength, and can heighten the efforts and muscle gains of a beginning trainee. Creatine is safe and effective for athletes of all skill levels. Creatine can’t replace a good training approach, but it can improve all training efforts.