Creatine has become one of the most popular fitness supplements on the market behind protein powder. It’s touted for causing quick increases in size and weight, strength boosts while lifting, and improved thinking and alertness.
But like with many supplements you have to ask: Is it worth it?
The science says most definitely- and so do we. Creatine offers a host of benefits, and not only in the gym, but for overall health and wellness. But first, let’s start out with a bit about the supplement.
What is Creatine?
Creatine is a naturally occurring substance, an organic acid that plays an important role in supplying energy to your muscle cells during strenuous activity. It aids the cells in producing ATP, the primary energy source in the body, and therefore allows for a higher output.
Though creatine is natural occurring, it’s not abundant in many foods. The best source for it is meat, but the amount is not significant enough to compare to the benefits of using a creatine supplement.
The science is certainly there as for the basic role of creatine, but let’s look at it further. Here are just a few of the most significant benefits of supplementing with creatine:
Increased Muscle Appearance
One of the most sought after benefits of creatine supplementation is increase in the appearance of muscle size. We say ‘appearance’ because unlike lifting weights, creatine does not directly cause muscle hypertrophy, but increases the water content of muscles thus making them bigger. It essentially inflates them to produce a more muscular look by inflating them with water. And seeing as muscles are actually composed of about 70% water, this is a fantastic idea…
Also, muscle hypertrophy is associated with long-term hypertrophy use. That however, is a result of the next benefit:
Research has shown that creatine supplementation can increase speed, strength and other criteria of athletic performance. As previously mentioned, creatine increases supply of ATP which is used as a means to increase energy output in muscles. This is beneficial during both athletic events and weight lifting. For example, when bodybuilders are doing a heavy set, having adequate creatine in their system will help them grind out those few extra reps. This specific effect comes into play during short, repeated exercises like the weight lifting set, but also for short sprints. One study showed that creatine supplementation improved sprints for durations of less than 30 seconds, but not more than 90.
Additionally, creatine supplementation is something vegetarians and vegans should definitely consider. As meat is the best source of creatine, vegans and vegetarians will naturally suffer from low levels of creatine. This will hinder performance in the gym, and can be easily fixed with supplementation.
Enhanced Protein Synthesis and Recovery
Protein synthesis is essentially the process in which proteins are repaired and created. Without it our muscles wouldn’t grow. By speeding up this process, we allow our muscles to recover faster and therefore hit the gym with more intensity the next workout. Creatine also helps increase recovery in general. It works by reducing the muscle’s cell damage and inflammation, thereby speeding up the process of muscle tissue repair.
Boosts Cognitive Function
You may be familiar with the fictional Limitless pill that allowed users to develop incredible cognitive powers. While there is no replica for that, there are supplements that can help increase cognitive function— and creatine is one of those supplements.
What creatine does is that it serves as a protector of nerve cells in the brain. It can therefore help prevent neurodegenerative diseases and over time. Additionally, in studies of creatine supplementation, users had exhibited increased short-term memory capacity and problem solving skills. So although most people aren’t going to supplement creatine for this reason alone, it is certainly a welcomed side effect!
Creatine Improves Glucose Tolerance
Research has shown that creatine supplementation improved glucose tolerance, a critically overlooked aspect of health and fitness is the body’s sensitivity to glucose. To function, the body must be able to regulate glucose and absorb it and release it when necessary.
Potential Risks and Side Effects
Whenever using a supplement, you should be aware of the potential for any risks or side effects. Creatine, because it’s naturally occurring, is completely safe for individuals to use. Issues only arise if individuals already have a form of kidney or liver damage. If that’s the case then creatine should be avoided.
One side effect you will likely notice after supplementing with creatine is dehydration. What happens is that when you supplement creatine, your body needs more water, because more water than normal is being sucked into the muscles. Although your body will tell you when it’s thirsty, it’s still very important to increase water consumption while taking creatine. The general rule is to drink 4 ounces of water for every 3 grams of creatine.
How to Take Creatine
The creatine market has grown exponentially over the years. There are now a variety of different forms of creatine from a number of different companies. This can always be overwhelming, but to make it easier it’s best to stick to a company like Optimum Nutrition. We recommend their creatine monohydrate, which is the most tested and most highly-touted form of creatine. Many other companies offer a variety of forms of creatine, and while they have different benefits, these variations are less proven. They are trying to simply recreate the wheel, and it’s more of a marketing tactic than anything.
When starting out with creatine, many recommend what’s known as a ‘loading phase’. The idea is that for a few days you take more creatine than you normally would to fully saturate your muscles with creatine. While loading isn’t entirely necessary, it has proven to be effective. TO load your creatine, consume 20g per day, for 5-7 days. Then lower your dosage down to 5g per day and maintain there.
Overall creatine is one of the best, if not the best, bang for your back supplement. It’s super cheap, lasts forever and will give you noticeable results within just weeks. If you stay consistent with creatine supplementation you will undoubtedly reach your fitness goals.