What is Creatine & Why Use It? The Complete Creatine Guide

creatine guide

Creatine is an extremely popular supplement among bodybuilders and athletes alike. It offers many appealing benefits, but some debate it’s worth.

Of course, supplement companies want to make their creatine supplements appear to be the all-in-one solution to muscle growth and strength. Well, creatine isn’t the shortcut to making serious gains in the gym, but there are some important benefits to this organic acid and its supplement form.

In this creatine guide, I’ll break down exactly what this popular organic acid is, how it works, its supplement variation and ultimately answer the question, “does it matter to you?”

Creatine vs Amino Acids & Protein

Right off the bat, I want to stress that creatine supplements are meant to be just that, a supplement. Meaning, you need to ensure your body is at optimal nutritional levels before beginning supplementation to see any serious benefits. 

Therefore, you must ensure you are getting optimal amounts of amino acids and protein before taking creatine. Once you ensure you are getting all the essential amino acids you need and even supplementing with protein powder, you can begin using creatine.

When your body is nutritional sound, creatine can have are pretty respectable impact. Whether that means allowing you to do more reps or just bettering your endurance.

What is Creatine?

Similar to protein and amino acids, creatine (formally referred to as creatine monohydrate) is a natural substance that contains nitrogen and is made up of glycine, arginine and methionine (all three are amino acids).

95% of the creatine that’s found naturally in the human body is stored within the skeletal muscle. There, it becomes defined as creatine phosphate and is utilized for important metabolic functions.

Simply, creatine supplies our muscles with energy. Within the body, creatine is generated in the pancreas, kidneys and liver. After it’s developed, it gets sent to the body’s muscle via the bloodstream. Well, when it gets to the muscles it becomes creatine phosphate and is ultimately used to replenish the body’s ATP (body’s energy source).

The History

Creatine was first discovered in 1832 by a French scientist named Michel Eugene Chevreul. He made this discovery by removing creatine from meat. In the years to follow, creatine studies grew. In 1912, a Harvard study discovered that eating creatine had muscular benefits. In the 1990s public attention was finally given to creatine and its benefits, and it quickly caught on with athletes.

Foods that Contain Creatine

There are a few foods you’re probably are already eating that have creatine. Fresh meats like pork, beef and fish are ideal if your looking for foods with creatine. One pound of beef contains 5 grams of creatine, while one pound of red meat contains 2 grams. Tuna and salmon contain roughly 4.5 grams per pound. One of the issues that arrises when cooking those meats is that creatine is so sensitive that some of the natural creatine levels in the meat is cooked off.

In terms of vegetarian options, cranberries and milk contain creatine but meat is ultimately the best food source for creatine.

Creatine Forms

Creatine monohydrate is by far the most popular, but it’s not the only form of creatine. Here are the forms of creatine:

  • Creatine monohydrate - most common natural form found in the body and supplements.
  • Creatine Ethyl Ester - this basically a form of creatine monohydrate that includes ester and has great absorption rates.
  • Micronized creatine - this is essentially creatine monohydrate that has been refined to a micronized form, allowing it to mix much easier than standard creatine monohydrate.

Ways to Ingest Creatine

Just like many of the other popular supplements, creatine supplements can be ingested in a variety of forms. The most popular of the choices is in the form of a powder, and it can be mixed with drinks for quick consumption. Other choices include pill and liquid forms.

Benefits of Creatine

  • Increase muscle size - supplementing with creatine provide the body’s muscles with fuel to build muscle tissue. Additionally, creatine increases the amount of water in muscle and so shows quick size results shortly after starting creatine. Often, you can achieve higher strength with the larger muscle size.
  • Boost your energy - when you work out, your body is depleted of its ATP. When creatine turns to creatine phosphate, it works to replenish that ATP supply and give your body energy.
  • Build muscle, fast (protein synthesis) - it’s very effective in showing lean muscular results within the first few weeks. It aids in not only showing results in the short term, but allows for more muscle to be gained long term than without it. Additionally, it allows for better workouts by giving the body the fuel it needs to do things like additional reps, heavier weights and increased cardio. It encourages protein synthesis and so allows the body to build protein quickly.
  • Higher Intensity Workouts - when performing in high intensity exercises, creatine supplies the fuel to keep going. It gives nutrients to help muscles repair and recover, reduce fatigue, increase strength and improve endurance. You’ll notice your ability to kick your workouts up a notch when doing high-intensity routines.
  • Cognitive benefits - there are many neurological benefits such as bettering memory. This is especially helpful in the elderly. Intense brain activity uses up ATP, and creatine helps to replenish that lost energy. It may even help improve dopamine levels.
  • Lower fatigue - this is major benefits to athletes struggling with their tough routine. Additionally, for those dealing with tiredness and fatigue issues due to problems with things such as sleeping, creatine can help lower those levels of fatigue.
  • Antioxidant - it offers antioxidant benefits that can help to promote a thriving healthy body.
  • Neurological diseases - due to the cognitive benefits of creatine (such as its role in bringing in dopamine), it may help with the symptoms of diseases like Alzheimer’s, ALS, Huntington’s disease and Epilepsy.
  • Parkinson’s Disease - symptoms of Parkinson's as a result of the decreases in the important neurological transmitter dopamine include: difficulty speaking and loss of strength. Creatine can helps with these issues by providing the brain with nutrients to better cognitive function and may even bring enough strength back for patients to workout.
  • Diabetes - creatine may help control the body’s ability to maintain normal blood sugar levels, especially after a carb loaded meal. This very helpful as it can keep sugars moving from the bloodstream and so help normalize sugar levels.

Side Effects

We’ve discussed many of the exciting parts of creatine, but it’s not without its faults. You may deal with stomach issues such as diarrhea and nausea, especially when taking large amounts (such as vegetarians). Other issues may include muscle and stomach cramps. It may also cause unwanted weight gain. One of the most concerning issues is that it may have a negative impactful on the kidneys, so it would be wise to run it by the doctor before trying creatine out.

Ensure you stay hydrated while taking creatine to ensure your body doesn’t run into any dehydration issues.

Difference Between Organic and Lab Produced

Creatine is produced in the kidneys, liver and pancreas. This amount in the body is improved by ingesting fresh meats that are high in creatine like beef and fish. This typically allows for a reasonable creatine amount to occur in the body’s creatine stores, naturally.

However, this may not be enough and supplementation could help. Lab produced creatine can be very effective and helps aid the body’s already existing creatine structure. Therefore, although lab produced creatine isn’t completely the same as body produced, it stills has strong benefits.

What’s the Ideal Dosage?

If you’re taking creatine monohydrate (the most popular) you have some room to dictate how much you’re ingesting. If you’re looking to fill in your body's creatine stores in under a week, you’ll need to start your doses heavy (15 to 25 grams). This will quickly get your body loaded with creatine, but it’s not the most cost efficient choice as a lot of the creatine is wasted in the loading up process.

The ideal way to ease into a daily intake is to ingest 3 to 5 grams per day. You can even go as high as 5 to 10 grams a day, depending upon your needs. This allows your body to adjust to this new supply and your creatine stores will be full in a few weeks. Ensure your are cycling on and off of creatine on set schedules (such as 8 week on, 2 weeks off).

It may also help the creatine absorb if you combine it with a 1:1 ratio of proteins to carbs.

Is Creatine Right For Me?

Creatine is beneficial to athletes of all types. Powerlifters like it for its endurance benefits and it improves their workouts, bodybuilders like it for its muscular size benefits, cardio athletes (like bicyclists) enjoy it for its promotion in endurance and even vegetarians use it to improve their creatine levels (due to lack of meat).

Ultimately, if you are already taking or have optimal levels of proteins and amino acids, and want to improve strength, endurance, muscle size, even cognitive function, creatine may be worth a try.