Creatine 101: The Basics you need to know

Creatine 101: The Basics you need to know

Creatine 101: The Basics you need to know

What the Heck is Creatine Anyway?

Most people think that creatine is this mysterious white powder people take before a workout at the gym, and this is true. But it is likely your body already has its own creatine stores. The average 70kg young man contains around 120-140 grams of creatine in their tissues (mainly muscles).[1] The chances are you already have creatine in your diet as it is found naturally in foods such as red and white meat, milk, fish, and molluscs.[2] Despite creatine being found naturally in the human body, it was only discovered in 1832.[3] Today, creatine is one of the most popular sports supplements on the market with sales exceeding 400 million dollars annually.[4] What we know so far is that it is naturally found in the body and loads of athletes are supplementing with it, but is it any good and if so, how can it help your body?

How Does Creatine Help Your Body?

The Barcelona Olympics (1992) is where creatine became super-popular because some of the top athletes were taking it and according to these sporting stars, it helped with their athletic performances. [5] In 1992 there was little research to support the use of creatine, however today, there have been numerous well-designed studies pinpointing how creatine helps the body perform.

When looking at the research on creatine, it seems to work via multiple mechanisms. Research has found that creatine increases anaerobic (short-term but intense) energy capacity and it decreases muscle protein breakdown, which results in increased muscle mass and physical performance. [6]

Creatine and Aging Muscles

One of the prime reasons people consume creatine is to improve muscle mass and as we age, this becomes more difficult to do. In one study, researchers gave middle age men (65 years plus) 5 grams of creatine per day for 14 weeks and during this time, the group who took creatine enjoyed greater muscle gains than the group who didn’t get the creatine.[7] In another study with older men, researchers supplemented creatine at 0.1 g/kg/day (or 7 grams for a 70 Kg individual), while combining this with protein (0.3 g/Kg of weight per day or 21 grams of protein for a 70 Kg man). The study found that the addition of protein increased muscle mass and reduced further degradation of muscles. Interestingly, this regime also helped bone mass in the supplemented individuals. [8] This is not just for men. Postmenopausal women have been found to benefit from creatine. A randomized double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial found that creatine supplementation (20 g/day for 5 days; 5 g/day for 161 days) during resistance training improved muscle mass in the supplemented group. Probably the most interesting part of this study was that a group given creatine (and did not exercise) enjoyed muscle gains when compared to the group who performed resistance exercise. [9]

However, creatine does not just benefit the older population. In one study, 18 untrained healthy young (average age 23) men were supplemented with creatine. Amazingly, when compared to the placebo group, the men consuming creatine had significant strength gains in as little as two weeks and these strength gains continued for the 8 weeks of the study. [10]

Creatine for Your Brain?

It must be said that people mostly take creatine for their muscles and don't consider their brains when it comes to creatine supplementation. The good news is that creatine supplementation has been widely researched for benefiting the brain. In one study, creatine supplementation was shown to benefit mental fatigue [11] and improve cognition and memory. [12] It is also a scientific fact that everyone hates maths! In one study, some cruel researchers had a group of subjects complete maths problems, which was a surefire way to fatigue the brain. And while creatine didn’t magically make maths enjoyable, the mental fatigue induced by the maths problems was reduced in the creatine-supplemented group. [13]

Is creatine safe?

As one of the most researched supplements on the market today, the evidence suggests that creatine is considered safe for adolescents right through to the elderly. A recent extensive research paper found that creatine is not a steroid, doesn’t result in kidney problems, doesn’t require large doses (3-5 grams per day), is beneficial for the vast majority of sports, and holds benefits in multiple parts of the body. [14]

Take Home Message

The scientific literature on creatine is vast and supportive of its effectiveness for a wide variety of sporting activities. Creatine has been tested on men, women, old and young and benefits all of these categories. Research has shown that it even helps you think and reduces mental fatigue. Creatine is generally considered safe and has been consumed as a supplement for decades, it has also been a part of the human diet since man walked the earth. Creatine combines well with other supplements such as protein powder and is consumed worldwide. It is difficult to find a downside to consuming 3-5 grams of creatine daily to help reach your body composition goals. 

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[4] Momaya A, Fewal M, Estes R. Performance-enhancing substances in sports: a review of the literature. Sports Med. 2015;45:517-531.

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[6] Kreider R.B., Kalman D.S., Antonio J., Ziegenfuss T.N., Wildman R., Collins R., Candow D.G., Kleiner S.M., Almada A.L., Lopez H.L. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: Safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine. J. Int. Soc. Sports Nutr. 2017;14:18. doi: 10.1186/s12970-017-0173-z.

[7] Chrusch M.J., Chilibeck P.D., Chad K.E., Davison K.S., Burke D.G. Creatine supplementation combined with resistance training in older men. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 2001;33:2111–2117. doi: 10.1097/00005768-200112000-00021.

[8] Candow D.G., Little J.P., Chilibeck P.D., Abeysekara S., Zello G.A., Kazachkov M., Cornish S.M., Yu P.H. Low-dose creatine combined with protein during resistance training in older men. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 2008;40:1645–1652. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e318176b310.

[9] Gualano B., Macedo A.R., Alves C.R., Roschel H., Benatti F.B., Takayama L., de Sa Pinto A.L., Lima F.R., Pereira R.M. Creatine supplementation and resistance training in vulnerable older women: A randomized double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. Exp. Gerontol. 2014;53:7–15.

[10] Kaviani M., Abassi A., Chilibeck P.D. Creatine monohydrate supplementation during eight weeks of progressive resistance training increases strength in as little as two weeks without reducing markers of muscle damage. J. Sports Med. Phys. Fit. 2019;59:608–612. doi: 10.23736/S0022-4707.18.08406-2.

[11] Van Cutsem J., Roelands B., Pluym B., Tassignon B., Verschueren J.O., De Pauw K., Meeusen R. Can Creatine Combat the Mental Fatigue-associated Decrease in Visuomotor Skills? Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 2020;52:120–130. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000002122.

[12] Avgerinos K.I., Spyrou N., Bougioukas K.I., Kapogiannis D. Effects of creatine supplementation on cognitive function of healthy individuals: A systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Exp. Gerontol. 2018;108:166–173. doi: 10.1016/j.exger.2018.04.013.

[13] Watanabe A., Kato N., Kato T. Effects of creatine on mental fatigue and cerebral hemoglobin oxygenation. Neurosci. Res. 2002;42:279–285.

[14] Antonio J, Candow DG, Forbes SC, Gualano B, Jagim AR, Kreider RB, Rawson ES, Smith-Ryan AE, VanDusseldorp TA, Willoughby DS, Ziegenfuss TN. Common questions and misconceptions about creatine supplementation: what does the scientific evidence show? J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2021 Feb 8;18(1):13. doi: 10.1186/s12970-021-00412-w.