In the continuation of our series on popular fitness supplementation we will be taking a look at the much used, but often less than fully understood, creatine.
Creatine was always part of my regimen in high school, but I hardly knew anything about it – only that if you mix this powder with water, you’ll lift heavier weights.
Researching creatine can be just as daunting as whey protein, due to the fact that it is sold by nearly every supplement company and comes in just as many different varieties.
Creatine is a mixture of three amino acids: glycine, arginine, and methionine. It is naturally produced in the liver, kidneys, and pancreas. 95% of creatine is stored in the muscles in the form of phosphocreatine. The remainder of creatine produced in the body is distributed to the brain, liver, and kidneys.
Benefits from creatine are due to phosphocreatine’s role in the recycling of adenosine triphosphate, ATP. ATP is an organic chemical that provides, stores, and transports energy and is the currency that is needed to drive processes such as muscle contraction and other metabolic functions.
Creatine can also be in food such as red meat but at lower quantities than supplementation.
Creatine is used by athletes to create more ATP in the body during high intensity work, where ATP only lasts for a short duration.
Creatine has been shown to increase power output for fast, intense movements like sprinting or jumping. This also leads to increases in strength, especially in olympic lifts where speed and power output are vital.
Recovery during exercise is another plus of creatine use because of ATP constantly being replenished. Gains in mass have also been noted, but this can mainly be attributed to muscles holding water, making them appear fuller. Creatine has been shown to be most beneficial for anaerobic activity.
Creatine Monohydrate: By far the most commonly used and studied form of creatine. Most benefits you read about creatine are derived from studies on monohydrate. This variety is made up of a creatine molecule and a water molecule.
Creatine Anhydrous: Made by the process of removing the water molecule from monohydrate. This leads to increases in creatine per dose, 100% creatine by weight. Potentially equally effective as monohydrate if given at the same dosage.
Creatine Ethyl Ester: Claimed by some manufacturers to be superior to monohydrate due to it being absorbed better in the body. However, a study conducted by PubMed Central shows that it in fact is worse at increasing creatine in muscles. Generally not recommended when compared to monohydrate.
Creatine Hydrochloride: Form that is touted as having superior water solubility than monohydrate, which means that is can be used at lower doses with equal effectiveness. This could potentially negate negative side effects such as cramping or upset stomach. However, there are currently not direct comparison tests, in humans, that have been conducted between the two.
Buffered Creatine: Attempt by manufacturers to improve stability in the stomach by adding alkaline powder. In theory, this would reduce bloating and cramping side effects. However, no study has shown the buffered variety to be any more effective than monohydrate in any other area.
Creatine is one of the most studied supplements in the industry. Most information regarding creatine has been conducted on the monohydrate variety. While other forms do show promise, at this time there just isn’t enough scientific research to back most claims of their superiority over monohydrate.
If you are new to creatine, start with monohydrate as it will be cheaper than other varieties, but still backed by statistical data. If you see desired results during your first cycle, then try branching out. Find what works for you.
Unlike whey protein, creatine is not recommended to be taken continuously. A common example of a typical cycle would be 5-6 weeks on and 2-4 weeks off. This is done to ensure your body will keep responding favorably and not adapt to the extra creatine.
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