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Creatine: Benefits, Dosage & Side Effects

Creatine: Benefits, Dosage & Side Effects

Creatine

By Taylore Fox

Creatine is a common supplement that athletes and bodybuilders use to enhance muscle mass, strength and endurance. But it’s even more than that. At its core, creatine is simply a chemical compound inside all animals’ bodies, including humans. But why do people take it, especially if it’s already present in the body? How does it work? And where do creatine supplements come from?

The first person to discover creatine was Michel Eugène Chevreul, a French chemist, who identified the compound in 1832. He extracted the compound from meat and discovered that the body stores creatine. From there, it occurred to Chevreul and other chemists that people may be able to take it as a dietary supplement to increase the natural creatine content in the muscles (x).

It’s been around since the early 20th century, but it really gained popularity in the early 1990s after the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona because some participants in the track-and-field events admitted to using it after they had taken home the gold (x, x). So if creatine can help an Olympian, why can’t it help you?

What is Creatine?

In the body, creatine is a natural chemical compound that all creatures with vertebrae produce. It plays a very important role in the way the body stores energy in order for the muscles to contract and retain water. This water retention is what makes the muscles grow and stay hydrated (x).

Where Does Creatine Come From?

Creatine is a nonessential amino acid, meaning the human body makes it itself. Specifically, it synthesizes in the liver and kidneys, with smaller amounts in the pancreas. From there the body stores most of it in the muscles to use for energy. Whatever creatine that the body does not produce on its own comes from diet, mostly meat. Creatine is made up of three different amino acids that combine together:

  • Glycine
  • Arginine
  • Methionine

What is Phosphocreatine?

The body stores most creatine in two different forms. 40%percent of the stores are in a free form and 60 percent are in their phosphorylated form, appropriately called phosphocreatine (x, x). The phosphorylated form means that it contains a phosphoryl group made up of phosphate and oxygen.

What is Creatine Kinase?

Like almost all chemical reactions, this whole phosphorylation process requires another substance to set everything in motion and make it all happen (x). These substances are called enzymes and in this case, creatine kinase (CK) is the enzyme that catalyzes phosphorylation. CK is a type of protein in the muscle tissues and it uses a compound called adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, to make phosphocreatine (x).

But why is creatine kinase important? Why does the body need it at all? Well, the body needs this enzyme to make sure that the muscle cells function properly. Heart attacks, injury, strenuous exercise and excessive alcohol consumption can raise CK to dangerous levels. High CK levels may indicate damage to the muscles and also the heart, depending on the type of CK enzyme (x).

What Foods Have Creatine?

According to research, people can get a percentage of the creatine that their bodies need from their diets, whatever the body doesn’t synthesize on its own. However, creatine is a carninutrient, meaning it is only available from meat and animal products, specifically skeletal muscle since that’s primarily where it’s stored. Meat—red and white—and fish are the main sources of creatine, but it is also present in dairy products like milk.

But what about those who don’t include animal products as part of their regular diets? Unfortunately, those who practice vegan and vegetarian lifestyles do not receive dietary creatine. These diets typically lead to lower creatine levels in the muscles than those who consume an omnivorous diet. Infants who feed on milk receive it from breast milk and milk-based formulas, but they do not consume the compound by feeding on soy-based formulas (x).

What Does Creatine Do?

Forms Muscle Mass

The body stores and distributes it throughout the body to the brain, the liver and kidneys, but most of it is in the muscles. About 95 percent of it is in the muscles in its phosphocreatine form. According to PubChem, “creatine, in its phosphate form, helps supply energy to muscle cells for contraction.” This is what helps build strength and muscle mass. Then, phosphocreatine helps synthesize ATP, which provides energy for metabolic processes that each cell in the body uses to function (x, x, x).

Creatine helps build muscle mass in a variety of ways:

  • Increasing water retention. Creatine drives water into the muscles, keeping them hydrated and helping them grow in size
  • Slowing muscle breakdown
  • Building muscle fibers

Supports Brain Function

Creatine isn’t just great for the muscles. Did you know it might improve brain function too? Your body stores 95% of it in the muscles, but the rest of it is stored in the liver, testes, kidneys and the brain. Even though the brain is not technically a muscle, it acts like one.

Remember that molecule we mentioned before—ATP? Well, the brain stores creatine phosphate and gets its energy and function from the ATP that it produces. The brain relies on a consistent energy supply to maintain its function and if something disrupts this energy, it damages cellular structure and function. We see this result in different health conditions like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s diseases. But according to research, creatine may successfully help replenish cellular ATP that the brain already stores naturally (x, x).

Glycogen Storage

Creatine plays an important role in energy production thanks to its relationship with ATP. But there is also another substance involved called glycogen, which helps store glucose, which is the main type of sugar circulating through the human bloodstream. When your body needs energy, glycogen breaks down into glucose and enters the bloodstream (x)

How does this relate to creatine? Like creatine, glycogen is mostly in the muscle liver cells in humans and animals. Glycogen stores and releases glucose based on the amount of energy the body needs in a process called glycogen homeostasis. According to studies, dietary creatine may help support and increase glycogen storage, helping to distribute energy more efficiently (x, x).

Inflammation and Cell Damage

Many athletes engage in high-intensity and endurance exercise, but these types of physical activity can also cause muscle damage and inflammation. However, studies argue that it may be able to help reduce cell damage in the muscles. There are several possible mechanisms responsible, though there is not enough research to come to a definite conclusion (x):

  • Reducing the inflammatory response after injury, which is associated with damage to the skeletal muscles
  • Reducing oxidative stress and increasing antioxidant capacity
  • Calcium homeostasis by reducing excess calcium in the blood that may cause secondary damage to the muscles
  • Stimulating satellite cells, which regenerate after muscle damage

Creatine & Caffeine

If you don’t take it for energy or fatigue, chances are you’ve used caffeine for the same reason. Though they are both very common aids to increase energy, researchers debate on whether they are effective together. Some studies suggest that caffeine cancels out the effects of dietary creatine. Researchers claim that caffeine may interfere with muscle relaxation time, but there is not enough research to make a complete conclusion (x).

Why Take Creatine?

But if your body makes creatine on its own, why would anyone need to take supplements? Well, in 1912 a research paper from Harvard University made the first claim in favor of oral creatine to boost what the body already makes. Dietary supplements may help the body absorb even more creatine and stretch its benefits even further. According to research, oral creatine may also help the body make ATP faster than it would on its own, providing more energy, especially between high intensity exercises when the body needs it (x, x, x). However, do not take creatine supplements without approval from a doctor for safety.

Benefits of creatine supplements

Why Take Creatine?

But if your body makes creatine on its own, why would anyone need to take supplements? Well, in 1912 a research paper from Harvard University made the first claim in favor of oral creatine to boost what the body already makes. Dietary supplements may help the body absorb even more creatine and stretch its benefits even further. According to research, oral creatine may also help the body make ATP faster than it would on its own, providing more energy, especially between high intensity exercises when the body needs it most (x, x, x). However, do not take creatine supplements without approval from a doctor for safety.

What is Creatine Used for?

Chemists discovered it as a natural body compound and potential dietary supplement in the early 20th century, but it really gained popularity in recent decades. And in the 90s it joined mainstream society after the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. A 1993 article from the Associated Press reported that Olympic athletes used it in training to improve their stamina, energy and sports performance (x).

Sports Performance & Training

Creatine is a popular supplement among athletes and bodybuilders. Why? The research states that because it helps boost natural creatine stores in the muscles, increasing energy and performance during short, high-intensity exercise. Another benefit that athletes value is that the supplement may be able to speed up recovery time and reduce fatigue. That being said, creatine supplements are designed to allow the athlete to perform intense exercise with increased energy at maximum performance. But when the exercise stops, the athlete may feel less tired and ready to get right back into training even faster (x).

Early Criticism

However, when it first stepped into the mainstream, some officials were skeptical about it and its legitimacy and, more importantly, its legality. But researchers supported its benefits and legality, claiming that using the supplement did not violate any of the Olympic games’ rules or pose any immediate risks to the athletes using it. Researchers compared it to carbohydrate loading and noted that it could possibly improve performance by up to 5 percent (x).

How Much Creatine to Take

When you’re looking for a dose of creatine, you’re faced with tons of options and it can be hard to narrow them down. Dietary creatine supplements are sold and marketed in dozens of different forms including creatine pyruvate, creatine taurinate, creatine citrate, creatine orotate, creatine phosphate and creatine malate. Other forms of dietary creatine supplements include:

Depending on the type you’re taking, you may need to take different doses. For example, here are the recommended dosages for the forms mentioned above:

  • Creatine HCL powder – 750 to 1,500 mg daily with at least 16 oz. of water or another beverage
  • Creatine monohydrate micronized powder – between 2,500 and 5,000 mg daily with water or another beverage
  • Creatine monohydrate capsules – 4 capsules daily with water or another beverage
  • Creatine ethyl ester HCL (CEE) powder – between 750 and 1,500 mg daily, mixed into at least 16 oz. of water or another beverage

These are recommended doses, but you should always consult a doctor before taking creatine supplements. Doses may vary per individual and they may cause unwanted side effects or interact with medications.

When to Take Creatine?

How important is timing when taking creatine? Should you take it before your workout? After? Throughout the day? Researchers debate on when is the best time to take the supplement for optimum performance ability and maximum energy. But instead of producing a simple answer, studies have produced different results.

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In one study, researchers concluded that taking it immediately after a workout helped the subjects perform better than those who took it right before (x). In another one, the subjects benefited more when they took the supplements long before and after their workout (x). Other studies claim that there is no difference (x).

However, more studies seem to lean in favor of taking it right before a workout. The supplement seemed to form more muscle mass in subjects who took it right before exercise compared to those who rationed the dosage throughout the day. According to this research, you may want to follow suit (x).

The bottom line is the best time to take it may be right before a workout, unless a doctor gives you different instructions.

How Fast Does Creatine Work?

Even though the body stores creatine, the muscle stores are usually only between 60 and 80 percent full, according to research (x). That’s why some people choose to take supplements, to try and fill up that empty space and get as much use out of the natural compound as possible. But how long does it take for it to work? How long before you start seeing results?

How to Creatine Load

Sometimes trainers recommend that athletes go through a “creatine loading phase,” taking large amounts of the supplement in a short amount of time. The loading phase aims to increase the muscle stores quickly and after this phase, you can lower the dosage to maintain the stores. According to research, loading up on it in this way may help boost stores by 10 to 40 percent (x, x).

Research states that using a loading phase may be the fastest way to see results, possibly in about one to two weeks. But if you choose to maintain a consistent lower dose, you can still gain the effects. It may take a little longer to see results, but it is possible to boost stores in lower doses. In one study, the subjects took daily creatine supplements for 28 days before the compound fully saturated their muscles (x). Consult a medical professional or a nutritionist before starting a creatine loading phase.

Side Effects of Creatine

In appropriate doses, creatine is generally safe to take. But like any supplement, there is a chance that it can cause unwanted side effects. Most cases that report negative side effects are a result of misusing the dosage or failing to take the supplement with enough water. The most commonly reported side effects include:

Users may avoid these side effects by confirming doses with a doctor before starting a regimen with it or adding it to an existing one. Pay attention to dosage instructions and take the supplement with water to stay hydrated.

Where to Buy Creatine

You can purchase creatine in both powder and capsule form at BulkSupplements.com. The company is an industry-leading manufacturer and distributor for pure dietary supplements. BulkSupplements.com is not just a consumer brand. It also supplies pure ingredients to other food and supplement brands to make their products. All products at BulkSupplements.com are manufactured and tested according to current and proper manufacturing practices.

Are you interested in trying it as a dietary supplement? Contact BulkSupplements.com to place an order.

Bottom Line

So let’s recap. Creatine is an amino acid that the body produces naturally. It produces a compound called ATP, which provides energy for metabolic processes. The body stores it—primarily in the muscles—for energy, power, hydration and muscle growth, making it popular with athletes, bodybuilders and any other regular gym goers.

Most creatine is present in the body in its phosphorylated form, called phosphocreatine. In this state, an enzyme in the muscle tissue called creatine kinase catalyzes the phosphorylation process by activating adenosine triphosphate (ATP) to create phosphocreatine. After it’s been synthesized, phosphocreatine helps use and replenish ATP to provide energy that helps power the body’s cells.

But since it’s a nonessential amino acid, the body makes it on its own. But research states that taking creatine supplements may help boost what the body already contains naturally. This way, users may be able to take advantage of its benefits even more. Creatine supplements are not designed to treat, cure or prevent any disease. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration. Always consult with a doctor before taking it or any other supplement.

 
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