THE DEFINITIVE GUIDE ON CREATINE

in Nutrition

The Definitive Guide On Creatine

In this post you will learn:

  • What actually creatine is. *SPOILER ALERT*: not a steroid
  • Creatine is produced already by our body. 
  • Why you need to supplement with creatine to get harder, better, faster, stronger.
  • Creatine is safe and might even be used to treat neurological diseases.
  • BONUS: The correct protocol to supplement with creatine

DISCLAIMER: I'm not a medical doctor. Before following the advice in this post consult your physician.

If I still had like two girls reading my posts, with this one I will definitely lose them all.

Today I want to talk about one of the most used supplement out there after whey protein: creatine.

As usual, there's everybody on the internet having an opinion on it based on what some bro at the gym told him.

"Creatine is a steroid and I don't do steroids brah!"

"I started doing creatine and I got 60 pounds overnight bro!"

"I had creatine for the first time last night and I got laid!"

As you can see the broscience is strong on the creatine topic and here I am ready to make some order. So, sit back and let me do my thing.


What is Creatine?

creatine meme

Your brofessor told you that if you wanna get swole you need to "get that shit man!". Since he is your brofessor, you don't wanna question his brothourity so you buy that shit and start doing creatine (and of course start bragging about your crazy gainz on the day after already). What is really creatine though?

Creatine is made by our liver and kidneys (and a little bit by the pancreas too) starting from three aminoacids: glycine, arginine and methionine. You also get it by eating meat and fish. For this reason vegetarians have lower levels of creatine compared to omnivores (study).

Once it's produced, it goes into blood and from here 95% is taken up by your babies (i.e. your muscles) and the remaining 5% by the brain, liver, kidney and testes.

As you notice, creatine is used by parts of our bodies with high energy requirements, in particular the muscles and the brain.  And there's a reason for that.


The two biological functions of creatine

Creatine has been speculated to have two roles inside our cells, let's see in brief what they are.

Creatine as Energy Transport System

First of all you need to understand a basic concept in biology: ATP. 

The energy contained in the food we eat is converted in our cells in ATP.
This is the fuel that our cells use to function.

As the fuel used to power your car, ATP is a molecule rich in energy.

To release this energy inside the ATP molecule, your cells break it down to ADP.

ADP has less energy than ATP but our cells can make ATP again by "recharging" ADP (in a second this is gonna make more sense).
ADP stands for Adenosine Di-Phosphate whereas ATP stands for Adenosine Tri-Phosphate. I bet you see where this is going. 

So the difference between ATP and ADP is one phosphate group. The removal of this phosphate group from ATP is very energetically favored releasing quite a lot of energy that cells can use.

Since the removal of a phospate group releases a lot of energy, you can imagine that the opposite reaction (adding a phosphate group to ADP requires a lot of energy too. That's why our cells evolved an incredible complex mechanism to make ATP (which you can read in the end of my post on the benefits of cold showers)​.

Cell

Production and use of ATP doesn't happen in the same cellular location. In fact, ATP molecules are made in the mitochondria inside the cell and ​they are used in the cytoplasm where they are broken down to ADP.

Some cells are very very active. Think about your muscles when you are in the gym doing that extra biceps work by shaking theatrically your protein shake.
This means that newly formed molecules of ATP have to travel really really fast from the location of production (mitochondria) to the utilization site (cytoplasm) so that you can keep shaking like everyone is watching.

Now, ATP molecules are not that fast in moving through the cytoplasm but still you can shake no stop for at least 2 minutes. Why is that?! ​That's where creatine comes into play (FINALLY FOR CHRIST SAKE!).

Creatine is basically the UPS Express of your cells. It takes a phosphate group from an ATP molecule in the mitochondrion and delivers it super quickly to the cytoplasm to the poor little ADP transforming it again into ATP that is then ready to be used again.

Creatine is an energy shuttle from the mitochondrion to the cytoplasm, from production site to utilization site.

creatine shuttle

Image from this review.

​This is specially useful in the muscles where too much ADP makes the muscle less prone to contract (review) which would make you too tired to complete all your sets. Therefore: more creatine = better workout = more gainz!


Creatine as Quick Energy Storage System

The other function of creatine will be easy to understand once you have a good grasp of the one just described.

In moments when you produce a lot of ATP (let's say when you have a good meal)​, the creatine that is already in the cells gets phosporilated. This is a fancy word to say that a phosphate group is added to it turning creatine into phosphocreatine

This phosphocreatine pool will be ready to give up the phosphate group to newly generated ADP molecules during those moments when shit get serious (like when you decided that today is gonna be leg day for real). 

You can then imagine creatine like the Red Bull of your cells.

It's there, ready to give that extra energy boost when needed (without that shitty taste).​


Why do I need to supplement with Creatine?

I know you skipped directly to this part you SOB. That's ok, I forgive you.

Creatine monohydrate is the form in which most people supplement creatine. There are also other forms of creatine but they are way less studied than creatine monohydrate. Some forms of creatine different from monohydrate even proved to be less effective (review).​ 
From now on, whenever I write creatine, I'm referring to creatine monohydrate.

A question I got asked a lot is: "yo bro, do I really need to take creatine?"

To which I usually answer: "I'm not your bro, buddy."​

But then I am actually nice and start a five hours long explanation on why he or she (I'm pretending that girls ask me this question of course) should take creatine​.

The amount of research on the use of creatine as supplement for athletes is pretty impressive and almost all of it goes saying: "creatine makes you focking stronger".

For scientific honesty I have to mention that few studies report that supplementation with creatine doesn't make difference. These studies they are poorly designed (e.g. not supplementing creatine every day) or don't take into account the fact that the chosen subjects for the study might be "non responders".

Let's see how creatine makes you Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger.

Creatine Makes You Stronger

kanye is stronger

Img © Ads Libitum

The majorities of the studies show that supplementation with creatine increases the body's' creatine pool.

This means that in between your sets, ATP is regenerated faster. So on every set you'd be lifting almost like on the first one making you complete all the sets. Of course this will make you stronger.

For a very extensive review about this, check here.​

Creatine Makes You Harder

creatine makes you harder

I'm talking about your muscles though. 

Whoever too creatine knows that it definitely makes you swole. This is not just broscience but real science confirmed it.

For instance in a study in 2007,  ​31 recreational bodybuilder underwent a 10 weeks training program. They were divided in 3 groups according to a different supplement they had to take every day.

  •  Group 1: only proteins
  • Group 2: proteins and carbohydrates
  • Group 3: proteins, carbohydrates and creatine

Well, guess what happened? At the end of the 10 weeks, the group who supplemented with creatine not only increased the 1RM but also got bigger: more lean body mass (which is muscles), bigger muscle fibers and more contractile proteins. 

Another study, ​showed how creatine creates an anabolic environment for the muscles. Anabolic means that it promotes growth, I'm not talking about steroids. In fact, supplementation with creatine increased expression of collagen, GLUT4 (glucose transporters on the muscles) and a protein involved in muscle contraction. And this happened at rest, even before the training! 

It has even been shown that lifting and taking creatine increases the number of satellite cells in your muscles which are the precursor of muscle cells​ thus increasing the size of your guns. Here the study.

Creatine creates the conditions necessary for your muscles to grow by:

  1. Providing a reservoir of rapidly usable energy
  2. Increasing proteins that make your muscles contract better
  3. Increasing the number of satellite cells

Creatine Might Make You Recover Faster

Few people know that creatine has an antioxidant effect (here an extensive review). For a quick recap about what an anti-oxidant is check this old post.

For instance, one study showed that supplementation with creatine before and Ironman competition decreased several markers of muscle damage​ associated with oxidative stress.

Furthermore, one study showed that supplementing creatine in people immobilized because of an injury not only slows down the decline of GLUT4 transporter from the muscles so that they are still reactive to suck up glucose but also make the muscles produce more GLUT4 during rehabilitation!

Creatine Makes Your Brain Better

sexy einstein

This is a big one and only recently emerging as one of the beneficial effects of creatine supplementation.

I firstly stumbled upon it when I found this interesting paper. ​ 128 women were separated into those who were vegetarian and those who were not. Upon supplementation of both group with creatine (and  controls with a placebo), the vegetarian had improved memory compared to omnivores.

This could be due to the fact that creatine might play an important role in neurons involved in learning and memory (study).

Here some studies showing the beneficial effects of creatine on the brain:

  • ​In an experiment of 24h sleep deprivation, subjects supplemented with creatine showed less changes in mood, balance and reaction time compared to the control. (study)
  • Vegetarians supplemented with creatine had improved memeory and intelligence compared to control. (study)
  • Supplementation with creatine reduces mental fatigue when subjects repeatedly perform a simple mathematical calculation. (study)
  • Creatine might be used to treat depression. (study)
  • Creatine is in several clinical trials for the treatment of some neuropathological conditions. (review, study)

Creatine might have an enhancing effect on certain brain functions. It should be taken especially by vegetarians.


Is Creatine safe?

Creatine? No bro, all natural.

One of the biggest concerns with supplementation with creatine is its safety.
All the incredible stories I've heard on creatine:

  • Creatine is a steroid
  • All weight you gain from creatine is just water
  • Creatine fucks up your kidneys
  • Long term use is dangerous
  • Creatine gives cancer

Let's see point by point why this is bullshit.

  • As we saw in the introduction, creatine is made up of three aminoacids and it's made from your body or ingested through meat and fish.
  • As we saw in the section "Creatine Makes You Harder", the hypertrophy is real and is caused by increase in size of the muscle fibers and by activation of satellite cells.
  • This is kind of an urban legend started after a paper showing that creatine supplementation had a negative effect on kidney functionality of one subject who was previously diagnosed with a kidney disease. I mean, seriously dude. Only 1 case and this guy had already a kidney disease. Bitch please.
    One thing you may want to check though: the creatine you take is pure and that it contains minimal amounts of creatinine.
  • Long term use up to 5 years has been studied and no negative effect on renal function was detected. (review, review, review)
  • No study shows creatine as cause of cancer. As a matter of fact there are some studies showing a protective effect of creatine on mitochondrial DNA mutation and from oxidative stress. (study, study)

How To Take Creatine?


Conclusions

Congrats for making it till here, this was another long post! Now you should know more about creatine than most likely even your doctor and definitely more than all your bros at the gym.

Creatine is good for you and you don't have to be scared of it so go ahead and have some.
Happy gainz!​

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P.S. If you want to be coached by me and you are badass, committed af and ready to change your life, send me an email to alex@www.thebroscientist.com. I take on only the most motivated and serious people so if you are not like that, don't contact me, please.