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Creatine: Fact and Fiction

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We have all heard of Creatine before but ask any two people what it does and you will get two different answers. There are two reasons for this:

1)      Creatine has many different benefits

2)      Creatine is a myth magnet!

In this article we will be taking a look at what creatine is, what it does and what are the most prevalent myths.

What is Creatine?

Creatine is basically an amino acid made up from three other amino acids Glycine, Arginine and Methionine. All amino acids are derived from protein and foods like red meat and fish will typically contain a small amount of Creatine. That’s right, Creatine is not artificially created in a lab, it is a natural ingredient, in fact your body can even produce Creatine itself! Then why would you ever supplement with Creatine? Firstly like other amino acids your body requires you to get them from a dietary source to have an optimal level and secondly food sources contain relatively low amounts of bioavailable Creatine as compared to supplementation.

How Does it Work?

When you consume Creatine or your body produces it, it will turn into Creatine Phosphate. Creatine assists your body in its production of energy at a cellular level to produce ATP (Adenine Tri-Phosphate).  When your body is metabolising calories (protein/fats/carbs) for energy it is doing this process to produce ATP. ATP is used during all energy expenditure, including of course, muscle contractions.

When the ATP is consumed by your body during the energy output process it becomes ADP (Adenine Di-Phosphate).  ADP is useless until it can be converted back into ATP. Creatine acts as a transporter of this phosphate molecule that attaches itself to the ADP to reform ATP. This is where we see the benefits of Creatine begin to reveal themselves. By increasing the efficiency of the recycling of ADP to ATP you are increasing your body’s energy to train harder and longer.

What are the Benefits?

When you understand how creatine works, it’s benefits for exercise are simple. These are the main benefits for training:

  • Increased strength
  • Increased muscular endurance
  • Increased cell nutrient uptake for improved recovery

… And now to my old time favourite supplement subject, the myths of Creatine.

Is Creatine Bad for You?

Creatine is an amino acid occurring naturally in normal foods and is even produced by your own body. This on its own is normally a good indication of an ingredients safety. To be fair it is not yet possible to know the long term side effects but we can at least say that to date there are no reputable studies that show that creatine has any dangerous side effects.

Will Creatine Make Me Bloated?

The short answer is no. It will increase water retention within your muscle cells but this has nothing to do with a bloated stomach feeling. Creatine is beneficial for anyone doing any kind of exercise training but for some reason historically it has been used most predominately by people wanting to “bulk up”. When you buy your Creatine and start a high calorie weight gain diet with lots of carbs, sodium and water, you will become bloated, but it won’t be from the Creatine.

Do I Need to Load Creatine?

No, but it can be beneficial. Creatine works most effectively when your muscles have reached a full saturation point. You can reach this full saturation point by taking just 5g every day but it might take as long as 3-4 weeks. You can short cut this time frame to just 1 week when you take 15-25g for the first week then reduce your dosage to 5g/day.

Do I Need to Cycle Creatine?

Not necessarily but you can benefit from it. The best way to think about this is how your body responds to caffeine. If you take it every day it still works but your body will increase its tolerance. A good guideline for Creatine would be to take it for about 8 weeks and then have a 1-2 week break.

Can I Use Creatine While Burning Fat?

Yes. The association of Creatine with bulking up is false. Creatine will not interrupt any of your body’s processes involved in burning fat. In fact if anything it will assist this process by increasing your energy levels during training. To put it simply, Creatine = energy, nothing to do with fat gain or loss.

Will Taking Creatine Before Training Increase My Energy?

Technically no. Creatine is not instant, it works by reaching a saturation point in your muscles and you can help your body attain this point by consuming Creatine at any time. In fact the best time to take Creatine is directly after a workout because this is when your body is most receptive to absorbing nutrients.

What is the Best Type of Creatine?

There are many different types of Creatine and many different products that contain Creatine mixed with other extra ingredients. While some types of creatine may require a smaller dose and the added ingredients mixed into other Creatine products may be beneficial, the actually effectiveness of the Creatine itself will be very similar. It’s hard to go past pure Creatine Monohydrate for value but the extra ingredients in other Creatine products can make for an overall better supplement.

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