The recognition of the use of creatine by athletes of all sports and physical trainers has caused it to be considered as a kind of magic potion.
It favours sports performance, especially in anaerobic efforts (brief and explosive) and it is very useful in the exercise with weights, for people who seek to increase their musculature without having to resort to anabolic agents.
Here’s what you need to know about this great supplement.
Creatine at a glance
According to studies, oral supplements of creatine monohydrate (20-25 g/day, in 4 doses per day for 5 days) produce an increase of creatine in muscle content of 20%, and if during the period of supplementation submaximum exercise or strength, such as hypertrophic (to increase muscle mass), the uptake is further stimulated.
Once the creatine deposits are saturated, they will remain elevated for 6-8 weeks, especially if maintenance doses of 2-5 grams per day are used.
Creatine should be taken before meals or after training, dissolved in juice or by adding some simple carbohydrate (improve absorption).
What is creatine?
Creatine is a compound synthesized in the liver, pancreas and kidney from three amino acids (arginine, glycine and methionine). It is also found in the diet (meat and fish).
In addition, creatine is also found in the diet, especially in fish, meat and other animal products, and in negligible amounts in some vegetables.
A person of 70 kilos has creatine deposits of about 120 grams. About 95% is found in the musculature. The rest of the creatine is divided between the heart, the sperm, the retina and the brain. 2 grams of creatine are needed daily for this person.
In general, half is obtained through diet and the rest is synthesized by the body itself. The creatine supplements consumed by athletes are a synthetic version of the substance manufactured by the body and ingested daily with the diet.
However, it should be borne in mind that while much has been said about creatine in recent times, studies to date are not enough to state with certainty whether this substance is really effective for everyone and if it may have any unwanted side effects.
However, many athletes have found in creatine a source of power and vigor that allows them to train with greater intensity getting better results.
How to take creatine
When supplementing with creatine, the aim is to increase the concentration of creatine in the muscle until it reaches its maximum physiological concentration, which is 150 to 160 mmol/kg of dry muscle.
Some sources suggested until not so long ago that a so-called loading period should be started so that the cell could store creatine to its maximum potential.
It was recommended that this phase be extended for at least 5 or 6 days in which between 4 and 5 doses of about 5 grams of total creatine monohydrate were consumed throughout the day (before breakfast, lunch and dinner and before and after physical activity).
Currently the loading period is used in sports such as “bodybuilding” and in situations where the primary goal is rapid weight gain and muscle mass.
After this loading stage, the maintenance period was continued with the aim of maintaining the level of creatine obtained during loading, since it is assumed that the cells have reached their maximum capacity in this first phase and the deposits will not continue to grow.
The organism will be in charge of eliminating the excess creatine by renal route, therefore, in this stage of maintenance, the main objective is to re-establish the concentrations of creatine obtained previously.
In this phase between 2.5 to 5 grams of creatine are administered after training.
Creatine with carbohydrates
It should be consumed after training with a source of carbohydrates, because after training is when our body is able to absorb a greater amount of nutrients.
Numerous sources claim that creatine assimilation depends, in part, on the presence of high concentrations of insulin. That’s why they recommend consuming it with carbohydrates in a proportion of approximately 1/6.
This way for 2.5 grams of creatine would correspond to 15 grams of pure carbohydrates, such as 200 ml of natural orange juice or pineapple. The latter should not be cold, as low temperatures reduce absorption in the stomach.
Why are carbohydrates ingested? Because they will cause the pancreas to release insulin into the blood and this will stimulate the absorption of glucose, amino acids and creatine.
Increase water intake
Another recommendation is to maintain a high fluid intake (200 to 250 ml of water added to the usual intake per 2.5 grams of creatine) since creatine needs water to be stored and if its availability is minimal, its absorption will decrease as well as its retention within the cell.
In addition, the reduction or elimination of coffee consumption is highly recommended as it reduces intestinal absorption and creatine retention in the cells.
Why is this? Coffee has diuretic powers that affect, to a great extent, cellular hydration.
What creatine to buy
There are many people who decide to buy creatine but when it comes time to buy, and seeing the wide variety of mixtures and presentations offered by the market, can not decide for any.
If you are buying creatine monohydrate, the best thing to do is to buy a well-known brand. This way you will be sure that the product is truly creatine and not another substance.
Keep in mind the type of creatine, its purity and its price. Nowadays it is very common to find two-for-one promotions at quite reasonable prices and from well-known brands.
In terms of type and purity many advise avoiding liquid supplements because, apparently, creatine is hydrolyzed in liquid and acidic media so it is very likely that what is being ingested is a by-product (creatinine) and not pure creatine.
The most recommended is powdered creatine, since most studies have been done on it. If you are thinking of buying a mixture of creatine with carbohydrates, you should keep in mind that this is not necessary since you yourself can cause the increase in insulin release.
How do you do this? Simple. Mixing creatine with juices, white bread, sugar or glucose in bulk. The result will be the same and the only difference will be that if a loading period is taking place, it is likely to take a little longer to complete.
Creatine and increased muscle mass
We present some of the known mechanisms of action that explain the increase in muscle mass after a regular intake of creatine:
- Once in the muscle, creatine attracts water into the cell. This is why some attribute the creatine-induced weight gain to a simple fluid retention process. This conclusion is a bit hasty; all the more so if we bear in mind that, as the example of glutamine shows us, the state of hydration of the cell influences the speed of protein synthesis, which is favoured when the cell is well hydrated.
- It boosts the cellular storage of glycogen, a source of muscular energy.
- It increases the secretion of IGF-1 (Insuline-like Growth Factor-1) and MGF (Mechano Growth Factor), two anabolic hormones produced within the muscle. This stimulation could explain the positive effect of creatine on stem cells or muscle satellites.
- Muscle anabolism requires a lot of ATP to express itself. During an effort, when the energy level of the cell is low, the whole anabolic process is in a state of alert. Creatine could reactivate it more robustly than through rest and food alone.
- It protects the muscle cell from degradation, among other things, thanks to its antioxidant and moisturizing action.
- By increasing muscle strength, creatine increases the intensity of training and therefore its effectiveness.
When taking creatine, you should train
In a 1997 study, Brannon T. illustrated very well the relationship and synergy between muscle training and creatine.
He made rats take creatine or a placebo for four weeks. He compared the dry weight of a muscle composed essentially of rapid-contraction fibers (strength muscle) and a muscle of slow-contraction fibers (resistance muscle) before and after creatine intake. Some of these rats followed physical training, while others remained sedentary.
In terms of muscle perimeter in slow-contraction (endurance) fibers, no effect of creatine or exercise was observed. On the other hand, the results obtained in the strength muscles were different. Creatine alone, without training, had no measurable impact on the dry weight of this muscle.
Training without creatine only increased muscle weight by 5%. A 10% increase in weight was observed in rats that had ingested creatine and had also been trained. The combined effect of creatine and training was what produced remarkable results.
These results show that the increase in muscle mass is not simply induced by fluid retention, since only the dry part of the muscle has been considered.
Advantages of taking creatine
Over the years, numerous studies have been carried out to support the use of creatine in sportsmen and women. Some of the conclusions reached regarding the effects of creatine supplementation are the following:
Creatine acts as a reserve molecule for ATP regeneration.
Its role is important at the beginning of intense and short-term physical exercise, since it is at this moment that the muscle receives energy from the ATP that is responsible for its release.
Many studies have shown that creatine supplementation increases its concentration in skeletal muscle by more than 30% of its original concentration and phosphocreatine by more than 20%.
As a consequence, this enables a higher performance in intense and short duration exercises.
In addition, it was found that even after 15 days of discontinuing creatine administration, the concentration of creatine in the muscle was higher compared to the initial values. This makes it easier to replace the ATP after training.
Creatine Decreases muscle fatigue
The studies carried out by Balsom et al. in 1993 showed that the intake of creatine supplements also reduces muscle fatigue when repetitions of series are performed with great intensity and in a short time.
This is due to the fact that it reduces the increase in ammonium and the decrease in both intracellular and blood pH that occurs during intense and repeated exercises.
In this way, it is possible to optimise the effectiveness of physical activity carried out at maximum intensity.
This increase in the concentration of creatine in the muscle which reduces its acidity (due to a drop in pH) makes it possible to increase the load during physical exercise and makes it possible to work with more repetitions and quicker recoveries.
Creatine Increases strength
By facilitating the availability of energy, it produces a significant increase in strength.
Creatine favors the increase of muscular mass.
This is due to the fact that creatine generates an increase in the volume of the cells due to the retention of water inside each one of them.
This simultaneously stimulates the processes of cell regeneration and hypertrophy (increase in size), which facilitates protein synthesis during the recovery phases between physical activity.
Creatine Favors the recovery of ATP
Increases the rate of substrate transfer between cell compartments such as mitochondria and cytoplasm, which speeds ATP recovery during pause periods.
Creatine Accelerates muscle contraction and relaxation
By facilitating the release of calcium from the sarcoplasmic reticulum found in each cell.
This is because the actomyosin bridges that are formed separate more quickly, allowing the muscle fiber to be stimulated again, thus increasing the efficiency of the training.
Negative effects of creatine
There are no studies that reliably prove most of the side effects attributed to it.
Could creatine supplementation cause suppression of its natural synthesis?
It has been reported that during the period of creatine supplementation, its natural synthesis decreases. Anyway, its production would return to normal after the administration of the substance orally.
To date, there are no studies in humans or animals that show that the suppression of their synthesis could occur in the long term.
Could renal pathologies occur?
Diets high in protein (>3 g/kg/day) are known to increase renal overload in patients with renal failure.
However, the intake of 15 to 25 grams/day of creatine increases protein intake by 0.1 to 0.2 grams/kg/day (8 to 16 grams of protein per day for an 83 kg athlete).
There is no evidence that consuming less than 30 grams/day of protein can lead to kidney failure in those who do not have these problems.
Can it cause cramps?
It is thought that it can cause muscle cramps and tugging due to dehydration and the lowering of potassium and electrolytes.
A higher incidence of muscle cramps has been suggested when training at high temperatures. The rationale is that creatine would also cause water retention, dehydration and/or electrolyte imbalance which could lead to cramps.
However, there are no studies that prove the onset of cramps in relation to creatine supplementation, although the vast majority of studies were conducted with highly trained athletes and during periods of high intensity.
Can Creatine cause Weight gain?
Creatine supplements often cause weight gain. Care should be taken in this regard as weight gain should not be confused with an increase in muscle mass.
The increased concentration of creatine within the cell could cause an osmotic flow of water into the cell, so it is possible that the weight gained is due to fluid retention rather than increased muscle mass.
Other long-term effects such as decreased effectiveness.
For 10 years now, a large number of athletes have been using creatine to improve their sports performance.
Although long-term studies are necessary (there are studies of up to two years at present), there is no evidence that creatine supplementation can cause long-term medical conditions if taken in the recommended doses.
Nor have results been provided to indicate that the effectiveness of creatine decreases after being given for a long period of time.
When in doubt about side effects, contraindications, or specific ailments of each person, it is advisable to seek medical advice from a physician who will be able to advise with greater certainty and efficiency.
If you suffer from any disease it would be prudent to consult a doctor before starting the intake of creatine supplements, since not having accurate information could harm you without proposing it.
Types of creatine
First-generation creatine is the creatine monohydrate without additives, which is the basis of all creatine supplements and the one we recommend in cambiatufisico.
Second generation creatine is the creatine monohydrate combined with carbohydrates. Dextrose is generally used.
In the section on how to take creatine we mention that the mixture of creatine with carbohydrates, mainly dextrose, facilitates assimilation by promoting the release of insulin in the blood.
Many companies add, in addition to dextrose, other substances such as Taurine (increases cell volume) and sodium phosphate (promotes the transport of creatine).
On the other hand, in many cases dextrose is replaced by amino acids that act as intensifiers in creatine synthesis and also increase cell volume. Finally we find the so-called third generation creatine, which is constituted by the monohydrate combined with substances such as L-glutamine, B vitamins or alpha lipoic acid.
Dextrose and alpha lipoic acid (ALA) stimulate the release of insulin and the introduction of glycogen, creatine and amino acids into cells.
That is why one of the most consumed compounds today is the combination of dextrose, creatine and alpha lipoic acid in the following amounts: 75 grams of dextrose + 10 grams of creatine + 20 mg of lipoic acid.
Types of creatine by presentation
- Powder form
- Instant or effervescent
- Chewable Creatine
- Liquid Creatine
- In capsules or tablets
However, the most popular is powdered creatine. In this type of presentation in a tea spoon are contained 5 grams of creatine and many often say that this is the way in which creatine has the greatest effect on the body.
It is argued that in its liquid version creatine is hydrolyzed and thus what is consumed is a by-product called creatinine. This happens because when creatine is found in a humid or acidic environment, it is hydrolyzed.
Therefore, many advise not to consume any type of liquid supplement since, in addition, the preservatives used are acidic and last for a few weeks. On the other hand, it must be considered that most of the studies carried out to date have been on creatine powder which has been shown to be assimilable by the body.
In any case, when buying a type of creatine, the quality and purity of the product must basically be considered, beyond the fact that it is a little more expensive than another type or presentation and it must be taken into account that, if it is powdered creatine that is being acquired, it must have a white colour, a texture similar to that of sugar and have a somewhat bitter taste.
If its color is not entirely white or tastes very sweet it is advisable to investigate a little more to ensure that what is being received is of the desired effectiveness.