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Everything you need to know about creatine
Everything you need to know about creatine

Everything you need to know about creatine

  • Reading time: 10 min.

After protein powder, creatine is probably the supplement most widely used by bodybuilders. For a very simple reason: creatine works! Creatine has been studied for many years during which we've learned exactly what it does and doesn't do and what the potential downsides of creatine are.

Nonetheless, using creatine can seem like a big step for athletes when they're starting out. That's why we're going to tell you everything about this supplement in this XXL Nutrition blog. You'll soon know everything about how creatine works, how you should use creatine and which creatines are the most effective!

What is creatine?

Okay, what is creatine exactly? The renowned dietary supplement creatine is in fact a substance that occurs naturally in your body and that is made from three amino acids: arganine, glycine and methionine. This substance plays an important role in your body's energy supply. The body makes it itself in the liver, pancreas and kidneys, but you can also supplement creatine with food or supplements. A healthy person around 70 kg in body weight has about 120 grams of creatine in their body.

In addition to the creatine that the body produces itself, creatine can also be consumed from external sources. Above all red meat, like steak, is relatively rich in creatine, but you'd still need to eat a kilo or more of it a day in order to get all the benefits of creatine. The other option, which is more efficient in practice, is to take a creatine supplement in powder or pill form.

What does creatine do in our bodies?

Have we piqued your interest in how creatine works in your body yet? Creatine can be used by your body to produce energy, and thus strength. Creatine is converted into creatine phosphate (CP) by the enzyme creatine kinase. In turn, this creatine phosphate transfers a phosphate group to adenosine diphosphate (ADP), to make adenosine triphosphate (ATP).

ATP is an energy source required to produce movement and strength. Muscles cannot be activated without ATP. Together, this forms the ATP-CP energy system. No oxygen and lactic acid are involved in energy supply through creatine, which means this energy system is anaerobic and alactic. This also explains directly why the ATP-CP system only works for short term, explosive exercise of about 15 seconds maximum.

After this, creatine stores are used up and the body switches to another energy system based on carbohydrates and/or oxygen. This is what makes creatine so popular among strength athletes, while it's of little added value to endurance athletes.

Main benefits of creatine

Creatine use brings several benefits. As you've already read, creatine use provides your muscles with an extra supply of 'fast' energy, which is really useful during strength training. But what does that actually mean in practice? Read on!

1. CREATINE STIMULATES MUSCLE GROWTH THROUGH EXPLOSIVE STRENGTH EXERCISES

The main reason for taking creatine is because, coupled with strength training, it stimulates muscle growth. And that's what creatine does best! Hundreds of studies have shown us that taking creatine leads to better results at the gym. Interesting for bodybuilders, you may say, but why should you take creatine if you're not a bodybuilder? A daily intake of 3 grams of creatine stimulates muscle growth/(lean) muscle mass with explosive strength exercises. And everyone benefits from muscle growth! Greater muscle mass is also very beneficial in making everyday exertions easier, or if you want to get more out other sports, or if, as a woman, you want to develop your butt, or if you're getting older and are therefore becoming more vulnerable to falls, and so on! Greater muscle mass is also very useful if you want to lose weight, because muscle mass consumes more energy than fat. Bear in mind that creatine is not suddenly going to change you into an Arnold Schwarzenegger lookalike. That's something that scares a lot of people when they hear about creatine, but rest assured, that's not going to happen just like that!

2. CREATINE PROVIDES MORE STRENGTH FOR EXPLOSIVE STRENGTH EXERCISES

As well as stimulating more muscle growth, creatine also ensures greater strength when combined with explosive strength training! This means creatine is not only a very beneficial supplement at the gym, but also outside it. Imagine how great it would be to have extra strength on your racing bike or motorcycle, for example! Or if you're doing DIY at home and need to do lots of heavy lifting. Or if you've got kids and you spend your whole day dragging a baby and their toys around. Or if you live on the fourth floor without a lift and have to carry your heavy shopping up the stairs twice a week? Do you see where this is going? Sure, the strength you get from creatine comes into its own at the gym. But the strength that it lets you build up applies to all areas of your life.

3. CREATINE IMPROVES PERFORMANCE DURING EXPLOSIVE STRENGTH EXERCISES

Were stimulating muscle growth and greater muscle strength not already enough, creatine also improves your performance upon exertion! That means that not only do you become stronger and more muscular, but also that you get more out of your training too. We've often talked about the importance of progress. That's exactly what creatine helps you achieve. In the long term, enabling you to put in more work in less time can make all the difference between an average and an awesome result!

Discover yet more benefits in our blog on what creatine does.

Tips for creatine use

Okay, so now you know how creatine works and that you can get more out of your strength training through creatine use. But how do you best use creatine?

Creatine use is actually very simple. It's been discovered that a daily 5 gram amount of creatine monohydrate is enough to fill the body's creatine stores completely and therefore obtain its maximum effects. This equals a scoop a day for most creatines.

Preferably take creatine with breakfast or before or after training. Mix a scoop of creatine powder with water or a carbohydrate drink, like fruit juice. You can also opt for creatine capsules instead of powder.

A creatine loading phase used to be recommended. This is a period of five days when you take 20 grams of creatine a day with the aim of increasing its effectiveness. You split this amount into four 5-gram doses. However, creatine loading has gone out of fashion and no studies have ever shown it to provide better results.

Does creatine have downsides or side effects?

Creatine doesn't have many side effects. One of creatine's greatest side effects is that it causes your muscles to retain fluid. This makes it look as if you are gaining muscle mass, which makes you look bulkier, but your weight also increases. This can also make you look less shredded. So if you aspire to take part in bodybuilding competitions, this is something to take into account.

Additionally, creatine can sometimes cause stomach and intestinal issues. Often the cause of this is not actually the use of creatine, but a too high dosage. If you get stomach or intestinal issues through using creatine, adapt your dose.

Not one scientific study has shown creatine use to be harmful to the body. It doesn't have any harmful effects on your kidneys, liver, heart or cardiovascular system and it doesn't cause muscle complaints either. Read more about the the downsides and side effects of creatine here.

Facts and myths about creatine

There are lots of myths doing the rounds on how creatine works. You can hear some pretty wild stories down at the gym, but what's the actual truth? We're going to talk through some creatine facts and myths below.

1. CREATINE IS LIKE ANABOLIC STEROIDS

Err, no way. Anabolic steroids are synthetic copies of the male sex hormone testosterone. Anabolic steroids mimic the action of testosterone, while creatine supports your body's energy system. Anabolic steroids are on the prohibited substance list and are prohibited in professional sports. Creatine is permitted by the International Olympic Committee.

Therefore, we definitely shouldn't mention creatine (and other supplements) in the same breath as anabolic steroids. The way it works and its effect on the body is completely different and the two cannot be compared. It is, of course, not for nothing that you can easily buy creatine in a shop, while you'd have to resort to illegal traffic to obtain anabolic steroids.

2. CREATINE MAKES YOU MUSCULAR FAST

Although the effect of creatine is proven and can help your performance in explosive exercises, you don't magically develop huge muscles from it quickly.

Were that the case, we'd all use massive amounts of creatine powder. Creatine doesn't ensure immediate, additional muscle mass. The substance stimulates muscle growth and supports muscle strength in combination with explosive strength exercises. It lets you just give that little bit more during your training and that ultimately ensures that your muscle mass increases. It's no miracle solution. You really do have to put in the work yourself.

If your training routine and diet are not in order, creatine isn't going to suddenly transform you into a muscular Adonis.

3. YOU RETAIN MORE FLUID WHEN USING CREATINE

A well-know rumour: creatine makes you retain more fluid. Although that's true in part, you don't retain fluid beneath your skin but in your muscles. Many people see this as a benefit, because it's an effect that you can see in the mirror. The amount of fluid retained can vary from person to person.

Tip; because creatine influences fluid retention, it's especially important to drink enough water. That might seem contradictory and yet it's true: drinking water really does help rid you of excessive fluid in your body.

4. CREATINE IS BAD FOR YOUR LIVER AND KIDNEYS

No worries. This is wrong! Scientists haven't found any proof that creatine is harmful to the liver and kidneys of healthy people. Although the effect of creatine can be harmful if you already have kidney or liver damage. Even long term studies on the effects of creatine on the body haven't turned up any risk of liver or kidney damage.

Do you have high blood pressure or diabetes? Then you have a heightened chance of kidney damage, and you'd do best to restrict your creatine intake to 5 grams a day. If you have kidney or liver issues, it is, of course, always necessary to discuss using creatine with your doctor beforehand.

5. THE MORE CREATINE THE BETTER

It sounds good: creatine stimulates muscle growth/(lean) muscle mass from explosive strength exercises. You may wonder if there's any sense in taking more than the recommended daily dose on the packing. But is that really a good idea? Or is too much creatine bad for you? The answer is simple. Stick to the recommended dose because there's no point in taking more. Your body can only absorb so much creatine; the rest is excreted. Avoid taking an extra scoop. Chances are that your stomach and intestines will suffer otherwise.

For clarity's sake: a creatine intake of more than 10 grams a day can lead to stomach and intestinal complaints, like diarrhea, gassiness and cramps. If you consume too much creatine, you may feel nauseous as a result and find yourself needing to sprint to the toilet.

6. CREATINE DOESN'T WORK FOR EVERYONE

True. Some people react more (or simply not at all) to creatine. Why? It may be that vegetarians notice an effect sooner than fish and meat eaters, because they consume less creatine through food. It may also be that some people are more muscular by nature, and therefore see a greater effect when taking creatine. The same is true of people with relatively many type-2 muscle fibres, involved in explosive sports, which will make you react more strongly to creatine.

We call the group of athletes who don't react to creatine use non-responders. It is estimated that approximately 20% of people do not react to creatine use. They may already have high levels of creatine in their bodies.

Is creatine use a must for bodybuilders?

Creatine has a lot of benefits, is safe to use and has none to few side effects. Creatine powder is one of the most used supplements and that didn't happen just like that. It supports the increase in muscle power, muscle mass and performance during explosive strength training. This makes creatine use a must for bodybuidlers and strength athletes.

Sources

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14636102

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12701815

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14636103

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19741313

[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5424457/

[6] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/15438620701693280

[7] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22817979/

Mathias Jansen
This blog is written by:
Mathias Jansen
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