Does Creatine Really Work?
We all know the struggles of weightlifting. Sore muscles, joint pain, constant fatigue - sometimes it’s not as fun as its made out to be, but the end goal - a near perfect physique - can make up for the pain you endure while training.
In every style of training, there is one supplement that will benefit you most. For endurance athletes, this would be l-glutamine, as it can limit muscle wasting. As a power athlete, citrulline malate can help you to accelerate performance and limit recovery time. As a weightlifter and general strength athlete - one supplement is king.
The questions do arise, is it possible to train hard without constantly feeling sore and fatigued? No, we are not talking about anabolic steroids. There are many supplements you can take to improve your overall fitness, but none of them stack up to creatine.
What is Creatine?
Over the years there has been a mass sense of confusion when it comes to creatine. You may have heard gym-bros talking about how creatine is basically a steroid, or how it is harmful when you are trying to lose weight. Above all theories, the most common is that creatine muscle is “fake muscle” as it only contains water.
Let's break down what creatine is and how it works.
On a very basic level, creatine is an organic compound that is found in the body and everyday foods. In other words, you are likely already obtaining it in many forms or synthesizing it on your own - just at a very minimal rate.
Creatine in Supplements
Creatine was first identified by a French Chemist named Michel Eugène Chevreul, who observed the creatine compound in human muscle tissue. He then named the compound after the Greek word for meat - kreas.
Understanding that creatine is a natural compound that your body already creates, modern science has created many supplemental forms to help initiate the fastest metabolism and highest absorption possible.
The gold standard in creatine. Not only is this the cheapest form of creatine, but it also has the most science to back its effectiveness. Creatine monohydrate is creatine with ammonium carbonate - which helps the creatine to enter the hydrated muscle cell.
Creatine HCL (Hydrochloride)
This is perhaps the second most common way to supplement creatine. Although there is not as much evidence to support its effectiveness, creatine HCL is one of the greatest assets to your workout program because it will not require as much water retention to become phosphorylated (produce energy for muscle).
Creatine Ethyl Ester
Another form of creatine that has come to great popularity for athletes who are looking to cut, but do not want muscle wasting (loss of muscle mass). Creatine ethyl ester or creatine CEE ethylates the creatine making it more lipophilic (metabolizes better with fats).
One of the most effective creatines that have not yet had the science to back it up, creatine chelate is creatine with magnesium. Since magnesium is an alkali compound it will help the creatine to resist breakdown by stomach acid, thereby allowing more to be utilized by muscle.
Creatine in Food
Not only is fish one of the best foods to consume for dietary protein and fats, but it also contains one of the highest concentrations of creatine per gram. Specifically salmon and tuna are the highest rated for creatine.
Fish contains about 4.5g of creatine per pound of meat.
To date, beef contains some of the highest amounts of creatine in traditional diets. Irrespective of the type of beef you consume, reducing the fat content generally will not have a drastic effect on creatine stores so feel free to go with low-fat beef.
Beef contains about 5g of creatine per pound of meat.
The king of creatine concentrations. Not only does bison meat contain the best source of amino acids (predominantly leucine), the creatinine concentration is very high.
Bison contains about 6.5g of creatine per pound of meat.
Although chicken is a great, low calorie and low-fat alternative to red meats, it does not stack up in terms of creatine concentrations.
Chicken contains about 3.5g of creatine per pound of meat.
What about vegetarians/vegans?
This is where we run into a little bit of difficulty. Most, if not all dietary creatine is found predominantly in animal products and your body can only synthesize (creatine on its own) a certain amount of creatine.
In other words, if you have big strength goals and are looking for the most effective way to increase muscle size and density, you will need to supplement creatine.
NOTE: Don’t worry, supplemented creatine is usually made chemically, as extracting it from meat is far too expensive - so it's vegan-friendly.
Regardless of the type of meat you have, or how perfect your diet is, you will notice that the amount of creatine you obtain per pound is very low (when compared to supplemented creatine). Most research will show that you need at least 5g/day to have any effect, and generally, 7-10g/day (depending on the type) is best for strength goals.
Yes, a well-balanced diet can take you very far in terms of the development of lean muscle tissue, but when it comes to massive strength goals, it's time we start to discuss why creatine is essential.
How Does Creatine Work?
This is the question we have all been waiting for. Creatine is a massive supplement that can boost performance, decrease recovery time and even limit muscle soreness.
How it works is not complicated, it only requires you to understand one concept of muscle performance - ATP (Adenosine TriPhosphate) which is the working fuel of exercise and performance.
What is ATP?
ATP, or Adenosine TriPhosphate is the working fuel for muscular contractions. Along with glycogen, it powers most of all the lifting you do in the gym.
Every time you lift something heavy, ATP works to provide you with energy for that specific lift. Of course, all energy has a cost, and through the lift you lose a phosphate.
You are now leftover with ADP (Adenosine DiPhosphate) which cannot be used to power muscular contractions.
Your body must now draw from phosphocreatine found in the cell to replenish and resynthesize ATP. This is where supplementing creatine comes into play. Your body can only resynthesize creatine so quickly. Supplementing creatine helps your body to have more metabolized phosphocreatine to draw from in order to create more ATP to fuel exercise.
Put simply, the more phosphocreatine you have, the faster your body can create ATP, the faster you can jump, lift, train, run and recover.
Benefits of Creatine
There are a host of benefits to creatine supplementation. Not only is it one of the cheapest and safest supplements you can buy, but there is a host of science to support its effectiveness - we’ve been studying it for over 80 years!
The bread and butter of training are to engage in as much exercise as possible without running into injury. Creatine helps stimulate muscle protein synthesis and can be a very effective tool for decreasing recovery time.
More phosphocreatine in the cell means that your body has a higher potential to draw strength from. You may not feel stronger in the first set, but high doses of creatine will help you to feel consistently strong throughout your workout - leading to a heavier workout and more sets trained at maximal exertion.
Creatine has been used very successfully to assist with many symptoms across the board of fatigue, anemia and even some forms of exercise induced injury. Creatine is, after all, a direct energy compound. When supplemented your body will work to synthesize the creatine and enable greater ATP generation - producing more energy for you to use daily.
Creatine - The God Supplement
We started off by saying that creatine has had a massive sense of confusion over the years. Whether people believe you will become a water-filled balloon of fake muscle or its harmful for weight loss - creatine is simply more than just a dietary supplement.
On the physiological level, creatine is one of the only supplements that will have a complete and direct influence on your overall performance and recovery. Its safe to use and studies have shown over the course of 80+ years that it's effective.
If you're a serious lifter and you haven't been supplementing creatine it's time to lay down the silly misconceptions and give it a try - trust us, you won't be disappointed.