Ok, so I’m playing on a pretty worn cliche here. I think it’s fair to say that by now people don’t immediately assume creatine is a steroid. But how many people honestly know what this popular supplement is? How many know how it works? Most importantly, what should you consider when looking to supplement with and purchase creatine?
Is it going to get you crazy jacked in 4 weeks? No. Is it going to add 50kg to your lifts? Not exactly. What about all the side effects? Eh?!
Read on my friend, as we go on a journey through biology, chemistry, and gains.
What actually is creatine?
According to everybody’s favourite reference source (Wikipedia);
Creatine is a nitrogenous organic acid that occurs naturally in vertebrates and helps to supply energy to all cells in the body, primarily muscle…
In plain English? It’s essentially an amino acid-type-molecule that is found in organs and cells which require rapid bursts of energy to function, such as the brain, and more importantly for us, in skeletal muscle. It helps cells rapidly recycle their energy source (ATP) at an increased rate through various reactions with enzymes in the short-acting phosphagen system (ATP/PCr… the PCr stands for phosphocreatine).
The Phosphagen System?
A quick note on this. The phosphagen system is your rapid release energy system, any physical exertion up to about 10 seconds in duration will use energy generated from the phosphagen system. It gives you a large amount of energy, in short burst, but not much more after that… woof.
It’s because of creatine’s role in this short acting system that there was such an interest in it’s potential as a supplement, and why it has proven so popular with strength athletes. The extra creatine available through supplementation leads to an increased amount of ATP generation, allowing you to work marginally harder for marginally longer. Whilst the effects may not be too dramatic, an extra 2.5kg on a lift can be the difference between making your PB or missing it. On a grander scale, an extra 1kg on a lift can be the difference between gold and silver medals.
Enough of This Biochemistry Rubbish, What Will It Really Do For Me?
Creatine has been heavily researched, and websites such as Examine.com have compiled an extensive review of the literature on creatine. If ever I’m considering purchasing something new, or someone has recommended something, I’ll always check it out on here first. In the case of their review on creatine, their evidence matrix shows what creatine is most likely to do…
Lots of studies in these areas with large effects means that creatine is a pretty well-researched bet for increasing strength and size. An increase in creatine content can help with increasing power output. An increased power output means more weight lifted for more reps.
What Are The Side Effects?
Will I get spots? Will I get mood swings? Will my balls shrivel up?! No, no and err, definitely no.
Creatine’s accepted side effects tend to affect those with a sensitive stomach. Some cramping and diarrhoea are more common, but these tend to be dose related. Most of the studies have shown that creatine is safe to consume, although there are disclaimers that people with pre-existing kidney disease, high blood pressure or liver disease should avoid using it.
Ok, I’m Ready To Buy, What Next?
Don’t overcomplicate it. Examine.com have come up trumps here again and recommend basic creatine monohydrate (the cheapest), or at a push micronized creatine. There’s no real difference between the cheaper creatine and the extortionately expensive creatine ethyl-ester & Kre-Alkalyn, despite what the supplement companies tell you. In this case, cost does not indicate how effective the product is.
Once you’ve got your hands on your new supplement, dosing is pretty straightforward. You can go for the loading protocols that come with the product, but 5g a day will usually suffice. It will just take a little bit longer to start seeing the effects of supplementation.
I wouldn’t class creatine as an essential supplement, you will progress and make gains without it. But it is definitely one of the most researched and thoroughly tested supplements you can spend your money. It works, and we can prove it works. Hopefully, this has given you some background understanding as to what creatine is, so that you can make a more informed choice in the future. If you want more supplement based articles then check out this one from a few weeks back, Never Mind The BCAAs.