There are several myths that have spread over the last decade in the fitness community regarding creatine consumption, such as it causing dehydration, muscle cramps, even kidney disease. And the myth that in order for it to be effective you need to take it with grape juice. Creatine is undoubtedly one of the most effective and cheapest fitness supplements you could ever use.
In a meta-analysis done in 2004, 42 out of 66 studies showed that supplementing with creatine led to increased lean muscle mass in young and middle-aged adults. There are people who do not respond to creatine supplementation, but that percentage of the population which doesn’t experience any benefits is pretty small.
Creatine supplements usage is a well-established practice for professional athletes who are seeking for that edge in their physical performance and recovery across a range of fitness and athletic fields. This has made creatine the biggest selling sports supplement in the world, and it is widely used by baseball and football players, bodybuilders, weightlifters, Cross-Fitters, MMA athletes, sprinters and millions of fitness enthusiasts. It is by far the most effective sports supplement you can find on the market.
Creatine monohydrate is the top ranked performance-enhancing sports supplement currently available to athletes for increasing the capacity for high-intensity exercise as well as lean body mass while training. Around 95% of the creatine in your body is found in skeletal muscle. It works by supplying energy to all your cells, primarily muscle cells, by increasing the production of Adenosine TriPhosphate (ATP) which acts as the cell energy reserve for muscle contractions.
The main process of creatine in your body is to store phosphate groups high in energy in the form of phosphocreatine. When the body is under stress, such as when training, phosphocreatine releases this contained energy to power proper cellular functioning. This is the exact process which causes creatine to increase muscle strength, however, almost every other body system can benefits, such as the brain, bones, and liver. Most benefits from creatine happen through this energy releasing mechanism.
Taking 3 grams of creatine daily is scientifically proven to increase physical performance in successive bursts of short-term, high-intensity training like interval cardio and weight training. Being one of the most popular supplements used in the sports industry, it has been used by all types of athletes around the world to help promote energy output, strength, muscular energy, endurance, and repair. As a compound that is naturally found within the human body, supplementing with it has been shown to increase the formation of ATP molecules which ultimately helps optimize and prolong workout sessions.
In this article, we are going to list the top 10 reasons why you should use creatine during the entire year.
Creatine decreases myostatin and increases muscle IGF-1
In 2008, a study reported something rather shocking. Supplementing with creatine for 10 days straight stimulated genes related to anabolic signal transduction. In a study published in the Journal of Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology, scientists examined how creatine consumption affected the levels of the catabolic gene myostatin and the anabolic gene IGF-1 in muscle tissue in men who were experienced in resistance training. Myostatin is known to suppress the growth of muscle tissue and its levels are often increased in muscle-wasting diseases like AIDS and cancer. Many therapies meant to combat muscle wasting involve myostatin suppressing genes.
Animals born with various genetic defects in myostatin tend to have very big muscles. This means that any time myostatin levels are lowered, it is a good thing for building muscle. IGF-1 is an anabolic gene found in muscle tissue and it is often increased after doing a high-intensity workout session. Anytime IGF-1 levels are increased, lean muscle tissue is also increased. When scientists blasted the legs of mice, they found that radiation therapy eliminated IGF-1 levels in their muscles completely and the muscles atrophied. So, raising IGF-1 levels in muscle tissue is a good thing for building muscle mass.
Simply put, raising IGF-1 levels in muscle tissue and decreasing myostatin levels is a great combination for building muscle mass. In one study, 28 healthy male participants were put on a resistance training regimen and supplemented with creatine. The study found that supplementing with creatine while on a resistance training regimen further amplifies the decrease in serum levels of myostatin induced by training, thus increasing the effects of training of muscle mass and strength. Other studies have found that creatine consumption increases muscle IGF-1 responses as well combined with raising satellite cell activation. This means that creatine is helping increase muscle mass on a cellular level.
Creatine raises resting testosterone levels and reduces cortisol levels
Another study produced results which showed that continuous supplementation with creatine for 5 days straight when combined with weight training is sufficient to increase the concentration of testosterone in the bloodstream and decrease cortisol levels. Twenty males who were physically active were assigned randomly to either a creating supplementing group or a placebo group. During each workout session, the participants did 3 sets x 10 repetitions of 9 exercises that included: overhead press, bench press, lat pull-down, biceps curls, squats, leg extensions, leg press, leg curls and ab crunches.
The program’s intensity was set at 75-85% of the subjects’ one-rep max. A rest interval of one minute was allowed between sets of each exercise. When the study ended, subjects of the group that took creatine showed a significant increase in testosterone concentrations and decreased cortisol levels, compared to the placebo group and baseline, after 5 and 7 days of “loading” with creatine. The results of this study suggest that supplementing with creatine for more than 5 days combined with weight training is enough to increase testosterone concentrations and decrease cortisol levels. If you’ve been considering to supplement with creatine, this is a perfect example of why you should get started as soon as possible.
Creatine decreases muscle fiber damage and soreness
Creatine monohydrate could be a very useful supplement to your diet for preventing muscle fiber damage and speeding up recovery from high-intensity training, which perfectly fits into the field of sports rehabilitation. In a recent article that was published in the Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation titled, “Role of creatine supplementation in exercise-induced muscle damage: A mini review” scientists have a discussion on the many benefits that creatine offers for increasing muscle recovery.
Creatine’s ergogenic effect has become well-known in its ability to improve physical performance such as explosive muscle power and increased lean muscle mass after a training session. A couple of studies have shown that creatine decreases muscle damage induced by resistance training.
One study showed that healthy males supplementing with creatine beginning 5 days before exercise until 2 weeks after exercise increased maximal isometric strength and decreased muscle damage markers (creatine kinase) compared to subjects who only took a carbohydrate placebo. There are some potential mechanisms that explain creatine’s effect on exercise-induced muscle fiber damage, including decreasing inflammatory response and oxidative stress.
Creatine monohydrate produces similar strength increases as creatine nitrate and creatine HCL
Creatine Hydrochloride is a new form of creatine which is supposed to be 40 times more soluble in water compared to creatine monohydrate. The companies selling it propose that its greater solubility in water and permeability could potentially decrease the amount of creatine usually needed to fill the muscles. This would translate to greater absorption, decreased creatine excretion and less discomfort in the intestines. Lots of companies claim that creatine hydrochloride consumption results in greater muscle strength increase compared to creatine monohydrate. A study published in the Journal of Food and Nutrition Sciences showed that creatine HCL produced the same muscle strength increase as creatine monohydrate.
Scientists from Brazil did a study where they compared the effects of two different doses of creatine hydrochloride (1.5 grams and 5 grams) with a 5-gram dose of creatine monohydrate on muscle strength and body composition of recreational weightlifters. All groups did 4 weeks of strength training and were also asked to not engage in any type of regular physical activity for 4 weeks before the start of the workout program. When the study ended, it was shown that there was no strength difference between the group that took creatine monohydrate and the other group that took creatine HCl, however, the second group did experience greater improvements in their body composition in the form of decreased body fat percentage and increased lean muscle mass.
But before you decide to go the nearest store and get yourself creatine HCl expecting to become huge overnight, let’s look at this study more carefully. Both groups experienced almost the same muscle mass increase, on average and lost almost the same amount of fat, however, the groups that took creatine HCl 1.5 grams and 5 grams respectively lost 8% body fat while the group that took creatine monohydrate lost around 5%.
Another big issue with this study is that the scientists used skin folds to test body fat percentage which is notoriously prone to errors compared to a DEXA scan testing which is considered the best method to measure body composition. Skin folds show results that can be way off in regards to calculation body fat percentage in people. When it comes to monitoring changes in body fat levels over time in groups, then skin folds do a pretty good job. However, the errors in monitoring the change in individuals over time can be up to 2-5%.
Based on this study, it would seem that creatine HCl can be taken at lower doses than creatine monohydrate, however, the results would be approximately the same. This means you can pick whichever type of creatine you like, as there is no definite proof of the superiority of creatine hydrochloride over monohydrate. The latter’s efficiency has been proven in over 1400 peer-reviewed studies, however, it is still too early to deem creatine HCl more efficient until more long-term research is done.
Creatine nitrate has become the newest fad in bodybuilding. It is a form of creatine bonded with nitrate. Nitrates have been repeatedly proven to increase the flow of blood to the muscles and improve physical performance. Creatine Nitrate has been shown to have two positive effects on training performance: the creatine component for strength and the nitrate component for a greater muscle pump.
To this day, there hasn’t been any well-documented research that compared the effects of creatine nitrate to the good, old-fashioned creatine monohydrate. Scientists did two studies to see how safe creatine nitrate was and who it affects training performance. Both studies were published in the prestigious journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.
Study #1: Subjects took 1.5 grams and 3 grams of creatine nitrate or 5 grams of creatine monohydrate or a placebo pill in a randomized, crossover study to examine the safety of the supplements, i.e. how they affected heart rate, blood and muscle enzymes, blood pressure or if they caused any other potential side effects. The subjects were tested immediately upon ingestion, half an hour later and then every hour for the next 5 hours.
Study #2: Subjects took the same creatine nitrate doses vs. 3 grams of creatine monohydrate in a randomized, double-blind study which lasted for 28 days with a starting period of 7 days where the subjects did “loading” or consuming 4 servings a day. On the 7th and 28th-day bench press and anaerobic performance were measured via Wingate testing and a 6×6 bicycle ergometer sprint. What did the scientists find in the end?
They concluded that creatine nitrate is a very safe supplement. They found no significant changes in any of the blood markers or hemodynamic function for any of the groups after 5 hours of ingesting the supplement.
When they compared creatine monohydrate to nitrate, they noticed a significant increase in a couple of strength markers for the 5-gram creatine monohydrate group and the 3-gram creatine nitrate group. A similar improvement was also seen in lean muscle mass in both groups. It was found that body composition and strength changes were similar between the 3-gram creatine nitrate and the 5-gram creatine monohydrate groups.
The scientists concluded that taking a 3-gram dose of creatine nitrate was tolerated well by the body, provided similar benefits to performance as the 3-gram creatine monohydrate group and within the confines of the study, no safety concerns were reported. However, no solid evidence was produced which proved that creatine nitrate at recommended or twice that dosage is more effective than creatine monohydrate at the studied doses. There doesn’t seem to be any benefit whatsoever in taking creatine nitrate and HCL over the monohydrate form.
Creatine increases the replacement of glycogen
Creatine has been proven to increase muscle mass and strength, however a new research has come up and suggests that creatine consumption might increase the replacement of glycogen. Creatine has a huge role in the rapid provision of energy during muscle fiber contractions which involves the regeneration of ATP reserves.
Supplementing with creatine has become a very common practice in both professional and recreational athletes. Since the majority of studies on creatine have been focused on the ergogenic capacity of loading with creatine, far less attention has been given to creatine’s potential to affect the metabolism of muscle glucose. Since an increase in the synthesis of muscle glycogen should probably be accompanied by an increase in the uptake of muscle glucose, it’s been speculated that supplementing with creatine may up-regulate GLUT-4 expression. GLUT4 is the glucose transported regulated by insulin and primarily found in fat tissues and striated muscle, both cardiac and skeletal.
Creatine and carbs increase glycogen replacement by more than 80%
Previous studies have demonstrated that supplementing with creatine could increase post-workout muscle glycogen storage while following a standard ‘carb-loading’ diet regimen in healthy, young, male subjects. Scientists had 15 healthy, male subjects cycled to complete exhaustion at 70% VO2peak. Afterward, muscle biopsies were done while resting immediately after the workout and after one, three and six days of recovery, during which they took creatine or placebo 20-gram dose of creatine or placebo and followed a prescribed high-carb diet (more than 80% of the total daily calories were coming from carbs).
When the study ended, the scientists discovered that supplementing with creatine significantly increased post-workout muscle glycogen storage above the placebo group during a standard ‘carb-loading’ diet regimen and that this increase in glycogen storage happened almost exclusively within the first 24 hours of taking the supplement. The increase in glycogen storage in the first 24 hours after taking creatine was approximately 80% greater in the creatine group compared to the carb-only group. This was the first study which showed that creatine supplementation can improve glycogen replacement above that of carbs.
2 grams of creatine will cause no water retention or weight gain
The majority of women avoid supplementing with creatine because they fear they would gain excess weight. Previous studies have shown that creatine loading with 15-20 grams per day can result in increased water retention. During this creatine loading phase, as the cell becomes saturated with creatine, an increasing amount of water is transported into the muscle cell to compensate for the increased amount of creatine in it. This so-called loading phase, therefore, usually results in gaining water weight of a pound or two, sometimes more. Women should be aware that these water retention effects of creatine supplementation can be completely avoided if they consume lower doses.
Scientists looked into the effects of supplementing with creatine at low doses for 6 weeks on muscle function, body composition and its retention in the body. 20 healthy men and women were randomly selected into two groups. The first group took 3 grams of creatine while the other took placebo for 6 weeks in a double-blind placebo-controlled method. Subjects were tested twice. First, before taking creatine to set a reliable reference point and then a second time after supplementation.
Testing involved body composition, maximum strength (3-rep maximum concentric knee extension at 180 degrees) and plasma creatine concentration. They did not manage to find any significant differences in lean body mass, fat-free mass, fat mass, overall fat percentage, total water percentage or maximal muscle strength in either group from before or after the supplementation. After supplementation, the plasma creatine levels increased significantly in the first group, while there was no difference in the second, placebo group.
Compared to the reference point levels, subjects who supplemented with creatine were less likely to get tired after two sets. In the second group, subjects experienced no improvement in their resistance to fatigue after two sets. Taking a low dose of 3 grams of creatine for 6 weeks significantly increase plasma creatine supplementation and improved fatigue resistance during repeated sets of high-intensity muscle contractions.
Creatine is more beneficial when taken after working out
The same way there are new studies coming up noting the positive effects on muscle protein synthesis that protein timing has, there is now talk of the benefits of creatine timing as well. Previously, the majority of people thought it didn’t matter when you took creatine, however, new studies suggest that it might be better to take creatine after your workout to enhance its impact.
Supplementing with creatine not long after resistance training might be a great strategy for increasing muscle strength and mass. However, it is yet to be determined if supplementing with creatine before or after the workout is more effective for adults aged 50+. In one study, older adults aged between 50-70 were randomly put into three groups. The first group took creatine before their workout, the second after their workout and the third group took a placebo. The study lasted 8 months.
Before the study commenced and during its course, body composition (lean muscle mass and fat mass measured by dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry) and muscle strength (1-rep max on chest press and leg press) were assessed. Subjects did 3 sets of 10 reps to muscle with 1-2 minutes of rest between sets for each exercise at a training intensity roughly equal to their 10-rep max for each exercise. When the study ended, the subjects experienced an increase over time in their lean muscle mass and muscle strength and also a decrease in fat mass. Supplementing with creatine after the workout resulted in greater muscle mass gain compared with the placebo group.
Creatine supplementation, regardless of its timing, increased total muscle strength more than placebo. Compared to doing only resistance training, supplementing with creatine improves muscle strength, with greater lean muscle gains resulting from the post-workout creatine consumption.
Creatine has anti-aging properties
A recent study done on 357 older adults showed that supplementing with creatine during resistance training can improve lean muscle mass gain, strength and overall physical performance instead of just doing resistance training. A new meta-analysis of a collection of studies, published in the Journal of Nutrition and Health Sciences examined the current scientific literature on whether supplementing with creatine while training with weights at the same time improves physical performance in older adults well beyond doing weight training alone or just taking creatine supplements.
Even though the reports are contradictory, there is pretty solid evidence to suggest that supplementing with creatine while lifting weights increases lower body strength, muscular endurance, and lean muscle mass; this is above the results obtained with resistance training or creatine supplementation alone.
The increased lean muscle mass observed with a training regimen has been shown to lead to increased mineral content in the bones accompanied by a reduced risk of fracture; however any additional benefits of supplementing with creatine on this are not so clear and there is more work to be done before it can be confirmed if taking creatine will have a positive impact on bone mineral density.
Elderly people supplementing with creatine may find themselves having increased muscle mass, endurance, as well as physical performance and the ones who do resistance training in addition to taking creatine, might show even further improvements. However, for older participants who are unable to do resistance training, creatine supplementation provides significant benefits when it comes to increasing lean muscle mass, strength and improving their overall quality of life, even though these benefits are smaller on the whole compared to those who lift weights. As a conclusion, there is no denying that the benefits of lifting weights in the elderly on both bone and muscle health are significant and well documented.
Despite the evidence being somewhat inconsistent in some studies, supplementing with creatine is obviously a useful tool in your fitness arsenal which has the potential to increase muscle strength, endure and quality of life in elderly people, even if taken without doing any type of resistance training. As a summary, acute and chronic creatine supplementation has the potential to increase lean muscle mass and muscle function in older adults. Even more important, creatine in combination with lifting weights can results in a greater increase in skeletal muscle compared to just lifting weights.
Creatine works well with caffeine and beta alanine
Creatine supplementation can increase the total training volume. It has been shown to work in synergy with other supplements such as caffeine and beta-alanine. It has been suggested that the increase in skeletal muscle PCr and carnosine levels by supplementing with creatine monohydrate and beta alanine respectively works synergistically to delay fatigue by increasing the work capacity. A previous study showed that when both beta-alanine and creatine were mixed in a multi-ingredient supplement, it increased lower body endurance, body composition, and muscle strength and even decreased fatigue during training.
It was found that acute caffeine intake (5mg/kg one hour before the test) after 6 days of loading with creatine increased time to exhaustion during running on the treadmill at 125% of maximal oxygen uptake by over 10% compared with placebo and baseline trials. A different study suggested that caffeine intake after loading with creatine increased improved intermittent high-intensity sprint performance. The study consisted of 12 physically active males who were separated into caffeine, creatine or caffeine and creatine-only groups. In this study, mean and peak power output was increased after caffeine and creatine supplementation during the study compared to baseline.
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