The Powerful Training Effects Of Creatine
If you’re going to take one supplement to boost performance in the gym, I would recommend Creatine. Why? Because in an industry filled with fakes and scams, creatine monohydrate is like a breath of fresh air.
There’s no shortage of fitness and dietary supplements on the market, many of which are spiked with non-advertised drug ingredients, misleading claims, and other risks. But out of the thousands of products now on the market, creatine monohydrate is arguably the most legitimate supplement. It is widely used by athletes and bodybuilders to enhance strength, improve performance, and gain muscle mass. (ZME Science)
Creatine is an amino acid found in the body’s muscles, ( in the form of phosphocreatine), as well as the brain. About half of your body’s creatine stores come from the food you eat — especially red meat and seafood — and the rest is made in your liver and kidneys from amino acids.
Creatine helps your muscles produce energy during heavy lifting or high intensity exercise and it’s primary benefit is improvement in strength and power output during resistance exercise. Creatine is well researched for this purpose, and the effects are quite notable for a supplement. When used in conjunction with resistance exercise, creatine may modestly increase lean mass and some improvement in performance. Additionally, it may help lower blood sugar and improve brain function, although more research is needed in these areas.
When you supplement, you increase your stores of phosphocreatine, helping your body produce more of a high energy molecule called ATP, often called the body’s energy currency. When you have more ATP, your body can perform better during exercise and this leads to increased muscle mass, strength, and recovery.
Effects On Strength & Performance
Creatine can improve health and athletic performance in several ways by enabling more total work or volume in a single training session, improving cell signaling to aid muscle repair and new muscle growth, raising anabolic hormones such as IGF-1, increasing cell hydration to effect muscle growth, reduce protein breakdown to help increase total muscle mass and lower myostatin levels that may inhibit new muscle growth.
For performance, creatine helps fuel muscles, helping you lift more, promote more muscle fiber tears, which which means more muscle mass over time. One study shows that creatine increased muscle fiber growth 2–3 times more than training alone. The increase in total body mass also doubled, alongside one-rep max for bench press.
High-intensity exercises lasting less than 30 seconds are also typically improved following creatine supplementation. One study shows creatine and strength training combined increased strength by 8-15%, weightlifting performance by 14%, and bench press one-rep max by up to 43%.
And by causing the body’s increased capacity to produce ATP past its normal 10 second depletion point during intense exercise, creatine also helps maintain strength and training performance while increasing muscle mass during overtraining.
Research also indicates that creatine may lower blood sugar levels and help treat nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Additionally, a number of clinical applications of creatine supplementation have been studied involving neurodegenerative diseases (e.g., muscular dystrophy, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s disease), diabetes, osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, aging, brain and heart ischemia, adolescent depression, and pregnancy. These studies provide a large body of evidence that creatine can not only improve exercise performance, but can play a role in preventing and/or reducing the severity of injury, enhancing rehabilitation from injuries, and helping athletes tolerate heavy training loads. (Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition)
It has been known for a long time that creatine supplementation possesses neuroprotective benefits [29, 38, 40, 136]. For this reason, a number of studies have examined the effects of creatine supplementation on traumatic brain injury (TBI), cerebral ischemia, and SCI.
Creatine supplementation has also been reported to help lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels [67, 196]; reduce fat accumulation in the liver ; reduce homocysteine levels ; serve as an antioxidant [199,200,201,202]; enhance glycemic control [132, 203,204,205]; slow tumor growth in some types of cancers [32, 198, 206, 207]; minimize bone loss [211, 212]; improve knee osteoarthritis  and fibromyalgia ; positively influence cognitive function [43, 83, 195]; and in some instances, serve as an anti-depressant [215,216,217].
Many people who supplement start with a loading phase, which leads to a rapid increase in muscle stores of creatine. Based on the best available evidence, the ingestion of 20 g/d of creatine monohydrate for 5 days or 3-5 g/day for about 30 days will maximally increase muscle creatine. Eating a carb- or protein-based meal may help your body absorb the creatine, due to the related release of insulin.
Following the loading period, take 3–5 grams per day to maintain high levels within your muscles. As there is no benefit to cycling creatine, you can stick with this dosage for a long time. And since creatine pulls water into your muscle cells, it is advisable to take it with a glass of water and stay well hydrated throughout the day.
No evidence has suggested that muscle creatine levels fall below baseline after cessation of creatine supplementation; therefore, the potential for long-term suppression of endogenous creatine synthesis does not appear to occur.
Safety And Side Effects
Given all the possible harmful supplements and drugs available today, those seeking creatine input for its benefits should consider it extremely safe? After 25 years of research on the effects of creatine monohydrate supplementation across multiple body systems and processes, in healthy adults taking recommended doses, clinical trials have not revealed adverse effects. A small number of case studies reporting adverse effects have been published, but these are confounded by pre-existing disease, concomitant medication, other supplement use or extreme unaccustomed exercise.
Available data indicate that creatine monohydrate supplementation, when used properly, poses no threat to the renal, muscular and thermoregulatory systems. This supplement has been studied for up to 4 years revealing no negative effects except some weight gain [Buford TW, et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: creatine supplementation and exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2007;4:6.].
The vast majority of speculation regarding the relationship between creatine supplementation and hair loss/baldness stems from a single 2009 study. Specifically, DHT increased by 56% after the seven-day loading period, and remained 40% above baseline values after the 14-day maintenance period. Given that changes in these hormones, particularly DHT, have been linked to some (but not all) occurrences of hair loss/baldness, the theory that creatine supplementation leads to hair loss/baldness gained some momentum and this potential link continues to be a common myth today. It is important to note that the results of this single study have not been replicated, and that intense resistance exercise itself can cause increases in these androgenic hormones.
DHT is a metabolite of testosterone, formed when the enzyme 5-alpha-reductase converts free testosterone to DHT that can bind to androgen receptors in susceptible male hair follicles, leading to shrinkage and hair loss. However, in the above mentioned single study, no increase in total testosterone was found in the test subjects and free testosterone was never measured.
Also, with the increase in DHT and DHT: testosterone ratio remained well within normal limits. It is possible that creatine supplementation upregulated 5-alpha-reductase activity in these males (potentially leading to increased formation of DHT), no study has reported hair loss/baldness in humans.
The Bottom Line
At present, creatine monohydrate is the most extensively studied and clinically effective form of creatine for use in nutritional supplements in terms of muscle uptake and ability to increase high-intensity exercise capacity.
The International Society of Sports Nutrition says that creatine monohydrate is the most effective ergogenic nutritional supplement currently available to athletes with no compelling scientific evidence that the short- or long-term use of creatine monohydrate (up to 30 g/day for 5 years) has any detrimental effects on otherwise healthy individuals.