Creatine: How to Use it and Which Myths to Ignore
Creatine is among the most heavily researched and widely promoted sports supplements. But despite the common use and potential efficacy, there is a lot of misinformation about how to best use it, forum after forum filled with myths, and a wide variance in quality control from product to product. In this article, we’ll try to help you sort through the muddle so that you can take full advantage of creatine’s benefits while avoiding some of the common pitfalls.
Before we get into how best to source and use creatine, we first need to look at what it is and how it functions in the human body. Creatine is an amino acid naturally found in mammals’ skeletal muscle. Its main role is preserving adequate levels of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which provides fuel for rapid muscular contraction. Creatine is also involved in transporting calcium between cells, antioxidant mechanisms, and mitochondrial function.
What Physical and Cognitive Benefits Does Creatine Offer Athletes?
“Creatine is one of the most heavily researched supplements out there,” said Momentous Performance Engineer and founder of Allegiate, Tim Caron. “It has been shown to increase ATP and creatine phosphate levels in the local muscular area and improve performance, whether that’s performing more reps or having greater capacity. Creatine also increases post-workout protein synthesis and improves recovery time.”
When athletes perform activities like throwing, jumping, and sprinting, or train using modalities like Olympic weightlifting that require fast muscle contractions, they use up their stores of ATP within just a few seconds. The fastest way to replenish these is through the use of phosphocreatine to build adenosine diphosphate (ADP), which then forms more ATP. There is ample research to show the benefits that creatine offers for speed, strength, and power. A review of 22 studies published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research noted an average 8 percent gain in strength when creatine was administered during resistance training, versus just lifting weights. Chinese researchers found that four weeks of creatine supplementation not only increased maximum strength output, but also reduced muscle damage incurred during training. A French team’s meta-analysis noted that taking creatine improves upper body power output for any activity lasting up to three minutes.
While much of the creatine literature focuses on the advantages it offers power athletes, there’s also evidence demonstrating its effectiveness for endurance athletes. A paper published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism discovered that rowers increased their time to exhaustion, and accumulated less lactic acid in their bloodstream during sub-maximal training after five days of taking creatine. Another study found that both younger and older athletes improved their maximal power output and total distance traveled during repeated cycling bursts, suggesting that creatine can be beneficial for endurance athletes who use interval training.
Creatine also appears to aid recovery in endurance athletes. A study of half Ironman athletes conducted by Reinaldo Abunasser Bassit from the University of São Paulo found that those who’d been consistently taking creatine had significantly lower levels of PGE2 and inflammatory cytokines in their blood plasma than those who didn’t take any. “Creatine supplementation before a long distance triathlon competition may reduce the inflammatory response induced by this form of strenuous exercise,” Bassit wrote.
Another benefit to regularly taking creatine that’s often overlooked is that it seems to improve cognitive function. A review of six comprehensive studies published in Experimental Gerontology concluded that creatine supplementation enhances short-term memory and intelligence/reasoning. Another review from the Department of Pharmacology & Neuroscience at UNT Health Science Center found that creatine might be helpful in minimizing the long-term effects of having a stroke and prevent or delay the onset of age-related neurodegeneration. As we mentioned earlier, the body burns through ATP quickly during exercise. According to an article in Psychology Today, something similar happens in the brain when we’re being mentally taxed. When there’s adequate creatine present, it binds to phosphate, creating phosphocreatine that can be utilized to make ATP 12 times quicker than via oxidative phosphorylation and 70 times faster than creating it from scratch.
The benefits of increasing creatine intake were demonstrated in a British study in which vegetarians given creatine monohydrate for five days improved their recall. The researchers speculated that the reason for non-meat eaters outperforming their omnivore peers in the test is that the latter already get sufficient creatine from meat. Beef, bison, and wild game are particularly rich sources. Given that athletic performance is both physically and mentally demanding, though, it’s reasonable to suggest that creatine supplementation can be beneficial for the brains of athletes, even those who eat plenty of meat.
What Myths about Creatine Should I Ignore?
The sheer amount of research on creatine, its widespread use, and the tendency of forum users to geek out has led to the creation of all sorts of creatine theories. One of the most prevalent is that creatine consumption causes cramping and muscle spasms. This was thoroughly debunked by a study of college football players, who over three years of practice and competition did not suffer any more cramping or muscular injuries than those who didn’t take creatine. Another common creatine myth is that it leads to dehydration and therefore negatively impacts athletes’ heat tolerance. Not so, at least according to research published in the Journal of Athletic Training, which stated that, “No evidence supports the concept that creatine supplementation either hinders the body's ability to dissipate heat or negatively affects the athlete's body fluid balance.”
The third rumor about creatine that just won’t go away is that it can cause renal dysfunction and even kidney damage. Two French researchers closely examined this claim and concluded that, “Neither short-term, medium-term, nor long-term oral creatine supplements induce detrimental effects on the kidney of healthy individuals.”
How Much Creatine Should I Take?
If you were going to take creatine monohydrate as a standalone supplement, the sweet spot is usually around 0.03-0.05 grams/kilogram of bodyweight. So if you’re a 200 pound (90.7 kg) man, for example, you’d need to take between 2.7 and 4.5 grams a day, or if you’re a 120 pound (54.4 kg) woman, then 1.6 to 2.7 grams a day should suffice. If you train hard, have a tough competitive schedule, and don’t eat meat, you may need more. To simplify matters, look for a high-quality protein supplement like Momentous Strength Recovery that includes just the right amount of creatine and removes the need to dig in yet another container for that tiny plastic spoon that has a nasty habit of burying itself.
Does My Creatine Source Matter?
As with every other supplement, the quality level of the many creatine options is rarely an “apples to apples” comparison because the sourcing and processing greatly impact the integrity of the final product. A 2011 analysis of 33 creatine supplements found the presence of contaminants like mercury, dihydro-1,3,5-triazine, and dicyandiamide and suggested that to safeguard themselves, consumers choose “producers that ensure the highest quality control.” To this end, we don’t source the creatine in Momentous Strength Recovery from cheap overseas sources like some companies do, but rather obtain it from a trusted partner in New York. Don’t take our word for it – our NSF Certified for Sport® status guarantees that all our products are free of contaminants, toxins, and banned substances. So if you’re searching for the highest grade creatine combined with the purest whey and plant proteins, look no further.