Creatine Supplementation- What You Need to Know
Easily being one of the most widely researched and marketed products on the market, creatine has been a staple dominant within the industry and for good reason. However, creatine has previously and is often currently confused to be a form of anabolic steroid, in fact it is quite the opposite and an essential in any athlete’s supplementation regime, whether they be professional or amateur.
There have been numerous studies into the ergogenic properties of creatine supplementation, with the majority reporting statistically significant results supporting the use of the product, “Of the approximately 300 studies that have evaluated the potential ergogenic value of creatine supplementation, about 70% of these studies report statistically significant results”. – (Kreider RB, 2020)
Of these studies conducted there has been no significant reports of creatine having an ergolytic effect.
How does creatine work?
Creatine is a nitrogenous organic acid, a derivative of glycine, L-arginine and S-adenosyl-L-methionine which is involved in energy transfer in the form of phosphocreatine (PCr) and which is metabolized to creatinine which is then excreted by the kidneys. It is endogenously produced by the body at roughly 1g/day, with synthesis occurring in the liver and kidneys. Storage of creatine takes place in skeletal muscle (95%), with the remaining 5% being distributed in the brain, liver, kidney, and testes.
Creatine combines with the chemical compound phosphagen to form phosphocreatine (PCr), which is used for muscle contraction. During explosive exercise, such as a 100m sprint, the body uses adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is the body’s primary energy carrier.
A simple way to understand creatine function in the body is to think of one’s muscles as a gun, PCr being the bullets, supplementation of creatine increases the available PCr stores in the body thus allowing the “gun” to fire for longer without running out of ammunition.
Performing with saturated PCr stores consistently through the supplementation of creatine will allow one to accrue a higher amount of muscular output for a longer duration, thus reaping the accompanying physiological adaptations such as increased overall muscular hypertrophy, strength and endurance.
There are varying studies that mention creatine having slight positive impact on short term memory, however, there has not been significant enough research around this particular claim to provide sufficient supporting evidence.
There has been some research showing the positive correlation between the paired supplementation of creatine, protein and carbohydrate supplements and enhanced creatine retention. Steenge et al. reported that co-ingesting creatine (5 g) with 47–97 g of carbohydrate and 50 g of protein enhanced creatine retention.
The varying forms of creatine
Much like other supplements such as whey, there are varying forms of creatine with varying functions subjective to individual needs, the most popular forms include:
The most common form of creatine on the market and the primary source used for research studies. As the name suggests, this is creatine with a singular water molecule accompanying it, meaning the product is around 90% creatine. In patented products creatine monohydrate is typically micronized in the form of Creapure in order to increase water solubility and in turn increase absorption rates.
Another common form of creatine found in many products such as pre-workout, creatine hydrochloride has gained popularity due to its increased solubility in water. One one study conducted in 2010 by Gufford et al provided evidence to suggest creatine HCL is up to 38 times more soluble in water when compared to creatine monohydrate.
“The aqueous solubilities of the salts were significantly more than that of creatine monohydrate with the hydrochloride and mesylate being 38 and 30 times more soluble, respectively.” – (Gufford et al., 2010)
Although there is sufficient to suggest a superior rate of solubility in water, there is little scientific evidence to suggest this is a superior ergogenic aid to creatine monohydrate.
A common side effect of creatine consumption is stomach cramps/ GI stress, this is due to the product having a low PH. Buffered creatine is a patented product, typically labelled as Kre-Alkalyn and contains magnesium which will increase PH levels to be more neutral/alkaline, thus relieving the possible stomach upset that occasionally is associated with creatine supplementation. Although there are some benefits to choosing buffered creatine, there has been no research to suggest that it is a superior ergogenic aid to creatine monohydrate.
How should creatine be dosed?
Contrary to popular belief, creatine does not need to be loaded in order to produce an ergogenic effect. Creatine is typically loaded during scientific studies in order to saturate PCr stores over the short period of time in which the study takes place, as this will emulate the effects of long-term usage.
As previously mentioned, creatine supplementation can cause GI stress, taking a consistent dosage of 3-5g/day is more than sufficient for the average individual in order to saturate PCr stores, although it will take longer to saturate stores PCr stores, it will help mitigate any uncomfortable side effects. There is no scientific research to suggest that loading creatine is more ergogenic over time than consistent daily lower dosages. A report published in 2013 by Hall and Trojian states that “loading doses are not necessary to increase the intramuscular stores of creatine”.
Figures given above are subjective to the individual, creatine dosage may need to be increased in accordance with higher muscle mass/ physical demand.
Is Creatine supplementation safe?
Creatine is commonly referenced to have a water retention affect and this is indeed true, being a hydrophilic molecule, it draws water INTO the cell. An influx in intracellular water is a positive for any performing athlete as water is the primary carrier for vital nutrients such as glycogen which are detrimental to optimal performance. This effect is commonly confused with the retention of extracellular/subcutaneous water, which gives the body a puffy, bloated look.
A study conducted by Kreider et al in 2003 assessed the effects of long-term creatine use in trained athletes over a 21 period, covering a 54-item panel of quantitative blood and urine markers.
“Results indicate that long-term creatine supplementation (up to 21-months) does not appear to adversely effect markers of health status in athletes undergoing intense training in comparison to athletes who do not take creatine”- (Kreider et al,. 2003)
The above research and supporting studies provide no evidence that suggest creatine needs to be cycled, supplementation can be a consistent process with no breaks.
Considerations for vegetarians/ vegans
There are varying reasons to supplement creatine, not just for sporting/ physical performance. The primary one being dietary restrictions, vegetarian/ vegan diets are typically deficient in creatine as natural sources of creatine are mostly red meat (5g of creatine per kg of uncooked beef, chicken also has 3.4g/kg). Even a carnivorous diet will struggle to get optimal creatine from solely diet, this would suggest creatine supplementation would benefit the vegetarian/vegan athlete or individual.
Conclusion on creatine supplementation
In conclusion, along with supporting studies and evidence, I feel that creatine is an essential supplement to be utilized by all athletes, being included in many patented products and being a relatively inexpensive addition to anyone’s daily supplement routine.
By Tireoghain O’Neill
- AL; (2020). Long-term creatine supplementation does not significantly affect clinical markers of health in athletes. Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry, 244(1–2). Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12701816/
- Gufford, B. T., Sriraghavan, K., Miller, N. J., Miller, D. W., Gu, X., Vennerstrom, J. L., & Robinson, D. H. (2010). Physicochemical Characterization of Creatine N-Methylguanidinium Salts. Journal of Dietary Supplements, 7(3), 240–252. https://doi.org/10.3109/19390211.2010.491507
- Hall, M., & Trojian, T. H. (2013). Creatine Supplementation. Current Sports Medicine Reports, 12(4), 240–244. https://doi.org/10.1249/jsr.0b013e31829cdff2
- Kreider, R. B., Kalman, D. S., Antonio, J., Ziegenfuss, T. N., Wildman, R., Collins, R., … Lopez, H. L. (2017a). International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 14(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-017-0173-z
- Kreider, R. B., Kalman, D. S., Antonio, J., Ziegenfuss, T. N., Wildman, R., Collins, R., … Lopez, H. L. (2017b). International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 14(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-017-0173-z
- Kreider RB. (2020). Effects of creatine supplementation on performance and training adaptations. Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry, 244(1–2). Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12701815/