Creatine 101: Everything You Need To Know In This Guide

What is Creatine 101?

Creatine is a substance that is found naturally in muscle cells. It helps your muscles produce energy during heavy lifting or high-intensity exercise.

Taking creatine as a supplement is very popular among athletes and bodybuilders in order to gain muscle. Enhance strength and improve exercise performance.

Chemically speaking, it shares many similarities with amino acids. The body can produce it out of the amino acids glycine and arginine.

Several factors affect your body’s creatine stores, including meat intake, exercise, amount of muscle mass and levels of hormones like testosterone and IGF-1.

About 95% of the body’s creatine is stored in muscles. In the form of phosphocreatine. The other 5% are stored in the brain, kidneys and liver.

When you supplement, you increase your stores of phosphocreatine.

This is a form of stored energy in the cells, as it helps your body produce more of a high-energy molecule called ATP.

ATP is often called the body’s energy currency. When you have more ATP, your body can perform better during exercise.

Creatine also alters several cellular processes that lead to increased muscle mass, strength and recovery.

When to Take Creatine

There are two general recommendations when it comes to supplementing with creatine. The first is to take creatine before your workout because it increases your strength.

The second is to take creatine after your workout because it absorbs better.

According to one study, taking creatine after your workout is best. For the study, 19 male recreational bodybuilders were randomly divided into two groups.

One group took 5 g of creatine before their workout while the other group took 5 g after their workout.

For 4 weeks, the men trained 5 days a week and kept their protein intake similar.

At the end of the 4 weeks, researchers found that those who took creatine after their workout gained more muscle mass than those taking creatine before their workout.

However, the benefit was insignificant. Meaning, the advantage of taking creatine after exercise could have occurred by chance.

The timing of creatine doesn’t seem to matter. This is because creatine has no immediate effects on strength or muscle size.

Only when your body is fully saturated with creatine will you benefit from it.

Therefore, take creatine when it’s convenient for you, whether it’s in the morning, before your workout, after your workout, or at night.

Creatine Safety

Creatine is one of the safest sports supplements there is. Yet many myths about creatine linger. The main concern is that creatine damages your kidneys.

But there is zero data to support this notion. In fact, there are several studies showing that creatine has absolutely no effect on kidney function in healthy people.

One study  found no changes in kidney function between collegiate football players who supplemented with creatine and those who didn’t for nearly two years.

What’s more is that another study showed no changes in kidney function for individuals consuming 10 g – twice the recommended daily dose – of creatine for 12 weeks.

Others claim that creatine supplementation can cause dehydration, injury and stomach cramps, however. 

To date there have been no studies showing that creatine supplementation causes any of these issues.

How Does Creatine Work?

There are several ways that creatine can improve health and athletic performance.

In high-intensity exercise, its primary role is to increase the phosphocreatine stores in your muscles.

The additional stores can then be used to produce more ATP, which is the key energy source for heavy lifting and high-intensity exercise .

Creatine also helps you gain muscle in other ways, including:

Boost work load: It can enable more total work or volume in a single training session, which is a key factor in long-term muscle growth.

Improve cell signaling: Supplementation can increase satellite cell signaling, where signals to the muscles help with repair and new muscle growth.

Raise anabolic hormones: Studies have shown that there is a large rise in hormones, such as IGF-1, after supplementation.

Increase cell hydration: It is well known for increasing the water content within muscle cells. This causes a cell volumization effect that may play a role in muscle growth.

Reduce protein breakdown: Supplementation may also help increase total muscle mass by reducing muscle breakdown.

Lower myostatin levels: Elevated levels of the protein myostatin are well known for slowing or totally inhibiting new muscle growth. Supplementing can reduce these levels, increasing growth potential.

Creatine supplements also increase phosphocreatine stores in the brain. This may improve brain health and protect from neurological disease.

The Best Creatine Supplements

If you’re wondering what creatine supplements to take then why not try one of the following:

Creatine Monohydrate – this is the most popularly used creatine supplement, and it should definitely be part of your supplement stack.

Creapure – this is an extremely pure form of Creatine Monohydrate

Creatine Ethyl Ester HCL – this is a highly available form of creatine, which has been attached to an ester salt to increase the uptake of creatine into the muscle and reduces water retention in comparison to creatine monohydrate.

Creatine Boots Muscle Strength

Numerous studies have reported significant improvements in one-rep max strength of subjects taking creatine.

For example, Belgian researchers reported in a 1997 issue of the Journal of Applied Physiology that untrained subjects taking creatine while following a 10-week weight-training program increased their one-rep max on the squat by 25% more than those taking a placebo while following the same program.

A 1998 study by University of Nebraska (Omaha) researchers found that trained collegiate football players taking creatine while following an 8-week weight-training program gained a 6% increase in their one-rep bench press strength, while those taking a placebo experienced no strength gains at all.

A review on creatine printed in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research reported that out of 16 studies investigating the effects of creatine on one-rep max strength

The average increase in strength was about 10% more in those taking creatine as compared to those taking a placebo (see Figure 2).

Studies also show that creatine enables subjects to complete more reps with a given weight.

University of Queensland (St. Lucia, Australia) researchers reported that competitive powerlifters taking creatine while preparing for a competition increased the number of reps.

They were able to complete with 85% of their one-rep max by 40%, while those taking a placebo experienced no change in the number of reps they were able to complete with the same weight.

In the 2003 review paper discussed above, the researchers determined that out of the 16 studies. 

The average increase in reps performed while taking creatine was about 15% more than those taking a placebo (see Figure 2).

Figure 2:

Percent Increase in Muscle Strength

This graph shows the average percent increase in muscle strength and repetitions completed when subjects supplemented with creatine as compared to a placebo.

Creatine Boots Muscle Growth

There are a plethora of studies showing that creatine significantly boosts muscle growth.

The University of Queensland researchers found that the powerlifters taking creatine gained an average of over 6 pounds of lean body weight. 

With some subjects gaining as much as 11 pounds of lean body weight in less than four weeks. 

While those taking a placebo had no change in body weight at all (see Figure 3).

Since creatine supplementation likely does not increase bone mass or organ mass. 

The increase in lean body weight is more reasonably the result of a gain in muscle mass.

A study by researchers at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale reported in a 2000 issue of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise found that trained weight-lifters taking creatine gained almost 5 pounds of lean body weight in six weeks. 

While those taking a placebo experienced no change in body weight (see Figure 3).

Figure 3:

Increase in Lean Body Weight

This graph shows the average increase in lean body weight (muscle mass) that subjects gained while taking creatine and following a weight-lifting program.

Both studies found no change in lean body weight in subjects taking a placebo.

Creatine Boots Athletic Performance

Most of the studies performed on creatine indicate that supplementing with it significantly enhances athletic ability due to its ability to produce higher muscle force and power during short bouts of exercise.

The subjects used in these studies have mixed athletic ability and training status. 

From relatively untrained novices to competitive college-level athletes.

Some of the exercise performances that are improved include: various types of short-term, all-out cycling, sprinting, repeated jumping, swimming, soccer, kayaking, rowing, and of course weight-lifting, which was discussed above.

The greatest improvements in athletic performance seem to be found during a series of repetitive high-power output exercise bouts.

For example, following a short rest period (20–60 seconds) after a short sprint. Speed may be increased on the second bout of sprinting.

Athletic performance during these latter bouts of exercise can be increased by 5-20% with creatine over the placebo group.

This means that athletes in sports such as football and soccer. 

Tn which continuous play typically lasts for only a few seconds, can expect a significant boost in performance from creatine. 

Benefits Of Creatine

One of the most heavily researched supplements in the history of sports nutrition (over 200 studies to date, over the last decade), creatines efficacy cannot be denied. But exactly what benefits will it provide?

1. High Intensity Work

Creatine enhances the body’s capacity to perform high intensity work (and assists greater muscle size and performance gains as a result).

Creatine phosphate (creatines high energy molecule form, stored within cells) is used to supply the type 11b muscle fibers (fast-twitch high-glycolytic; the ones that get largest in size) with immediate energy, ensuring these muscles do not prematurely fatigue.

This strengthens muscular contraction of these fibers, and helps the athlete to pump out more reps, sprint at a faster rate. 

Or engage more forcefully in whatever sport or type of exercise they take part in.

Supplementing with creatine allows the muscles to store more of this high-energy molecule to provide greater gains in strength and muscle.

Creatine used in this manner is regarded as a high-energy phosphate, and its role in energy production cannot be overstated.

Whenever the body uses energy, a molecule called ATP (an adenosine with a tail of three phosphate groups, hence its name Adenosine Tri Phosphate) is used as an energy source – as a fundamental energy donor.

Under conditions of strenuous activity

ATP releases one of these high-energy phosphate groups to power muscular contraction. Once this phosphate has been released.

ATP becomes ADP (Adenosine Di-Phosphate, a de-energized form of ATP). To regenerate ATP and assist further energy production – to complete additional reps for example – creatine becomes a key player.

In fact, without creatine, energy production during high-intensity bouts of exercise would not be possible.

Supplemental creatine has been shown to further enhance this process. A fact not lost on the scores of athletes who depend on it to enhance their performance.

For bodybuilders, creatine is of particular significance as it feeds the aforementioned explosive type 11b fibers, thereby increasing power output and subsequently, muscle size.

2. Creatine Enhances Recovery

In recent years creatine has been studied for its post-exercise muscle regeneration properties. Findings have been very promising.

In 2004, Santos and colleagues studied the effects of creatine supplementation on muscle cell damage in experienced endurance athletes running a 30-kilometre race.

Closely monitoring several markers of cell damage (including creatine kinase, lactate dehydrogenase, prostaglandin-E and tumor necrosis factor-alpha) in their sample of 18 male athletes (who used 20 grams of creatine monohydrate per day for five days, mixed with 60 grams of maltodextrine).

The researchers found levels of these markers were reduced after the race, compared to 16 control subjects who took only the maltodextrine.

They concluded that creatine supplementation somehow reduced muscle cell damage and inflammation following the exhaustive exercise. The researchers issued the following statement:

It seems creatine also helps to promote complete recovery from intense exercise. Another reason strength and endurance athletes may benefit from its use.

3. Creatine Improves Anaerobic Capacity

In their impressive study, Ziegenfuss and fellow researchers demonstrated that creatine loading over just three days significantly improved muscle volume and cycle sprint performance in elite power athletes

For this study, ten male and ten female athletes were assigned to creatine or placebo groups, where.

Before and after the three-day creatine supplementation period, they were assessed on repeated sprint performance and thigh muscle volume.

The creatine group was given 0.35 grams of creatine per kilogram of fat free mass, and all subjects completed six maximal ten second cycle sprints with 60 seconds of recovery in between.

It was found that over the three-day period, creatine subjects experienced increased total body mass of, on average.

0.9 kilograms, a 6.6% increase in thigh volume (in five of six creatine taking participants), and increases in performance in all six sprints.

Their anaerobic capacity clearly had improved with the addition of creatine, compared to the control subjects who took in only maltodextrin.

4. Creatine Enhances Muscle Volumization

Another important benefit for bodybuilders and strength athletes is creatines muscle volumizing effect.

Creatine has a property that causes muscle cells to inflate. 

Which produces a more heavily muscled appearance, and, more importantly, serves as a stimulus for protein synthesis.

Up to six pounds of added bodyweight in the first few weeks is commonly reported in those who begin creatine supplementation (a process primarily accounted for by water moving rapidly from the bloodstream to the muscle).

5. Creatine Enhances Methylation

As explained previously in this article, creatine’s erogenic actions work to assist energy production and power output. Resulting in muscle size and strength, and improved performance.

Additionally, it has been found creatine provides a powerful anabolic boost through its enhancing of systemic methylation (the regulation of gene expression, protein synthesis and RNA metabolism through enzymatic catalyzation) status.

Indeed, methylation is a process that is essential for the supporting of life itself.

A molecule known as SAM (S-Adenosyl Methionine) is the body’s principal methyl donor, and a breakdown in its production can adversely affect whole-body anabolism.

Creatine drains the body’s SAM reserves like nothing else, which, in turn, deleteriously impacts methylation status (during its synthesisation by the liver and kidneys, creatine draws heavily from the SAM reserves).

Supplementing creatine will enhance methylation status. 

As it will lessen the drain on the liver and kidneys, and alleviate the body’s need to synthesize creatine from amino acids.

6. Creatine Enhances Brain Function

Widely known for it muscle-building benefits, creatine, it appears, has much more to offer than its erogenic properties.

Researchers Wyss and Schulze looked at the broader health implications of creatine as they tried to determine its value in treat[ing] several neurodegenerative, vascular and muscular disorders.

Their findings, published in the prestigious Neuroscience, showed creatine to be an extremely important neuroprotectant (an agent that increases the survival of nerve cells to environmental insults).

Energy metabolism and the production of Reactive Oxygen Species (very small molecules that can result in significant damage to cell structures. 

Of which include oxygen ions, free radicals and peroxides) are thought to underpin many nuerodegenerative disorders, and creatine is thought to enhance the brains ability to survive the metabolic and physical trauma associated with these conditions.

It was found by Wyss and colleagues that those with neurodegenerative disorders associated with creatine deficiencies (inborn errors in creatine production and storage) may require supplemental creatine. 

In order for it to be more effectively delivered to the central nervous system.

Placebo controlled cross-over design

Additionally, Ray and colleagues found creatine to improve brain function (specifically short-term memory) in normal subjects.

In a placebo controlled cross-over design study.

45 vegetarian and vegan subjects (chosen as their intake of creatine was negligible) took five grams per day of creatine for six weeks.

After this period, all subjects were assessed on non-verbal intelligence and verbal memory capacity.

It was found that subjects who took creatine rather than the placebo exhibited improved short-term memory. 

And were better able to problem solve under time constraints. Significantly, the researchers said:

7. Creatine Improves Bone Healing 

Gerbin and co-researchers at the Institute of cell biology in Switzerland found creatine could be used successfully as an adjuvant therapy for bone fracture healing or for the treatment of osteoporosis.

Based on their in-vivo study.

They concluded that creatine significantly enhanced the activity of alkaline phosphate (ALP; an important marker for bone growth).

Cell energy (of which in their study on bone regeneration creatine played a major role) is important for bone development and maintenance, and therefore directly related to osteoporosis.

Creatine, as we know, enhances cellular energy production.

The researchers linked this to bone formation.

8. Improves Glucose Tolerance

Creatine might assist with the combating of diabetes, as it has been shown to improve glucose tolerance.

Derave and co-researchers showed that supplemental creatine increased glucose transporter (glut-4) expression and muscle glycogen content while improving glucose tolerance in a previously immobilized limb.

Since this study was conducted. 

It appears the reasons for the improvements in glucose tolerance were due to the increased expression of glucose transporter type 4.

It seems the expression of this transporter was actually induced by IGF-1 and IGF-2, which are induced by creatine.

9. May Reduce Sarcopaenia (AGE RELATED MUSCLE LOSS)

As we age there is a natural decline in the production of muscle building (anabolic) hormones such as testosterone, growth hormone and the insulin like growth factors (IGF-1).

As a result there is a natural tendency for those advancing in age to progressively lose muscle mass.

Mentioned, fast twitch fibers (the type that make the bulk of our muscle size) respond well to supplemental creatine in the athletic population.

These fibers are also the first to be sacrificed by the effects of sarcopaenia.

The powerful anabolic hormone, IGF-1, has been shown to localize in the fast twitch fibers and

Significantly, this is the hormone most likely to dwindle to a greater degree as we age.

It follows that creatine supplementation into older adulthood might negate the degenerative effects of age related muscle wasting as it enhances fast twitch muscle fiber integrity. 

And, in turn, should help to maintain youthful levels of IGF-1.

At least this is the possibility researcher’s Louis and colleagues found when they studied creatines effects on IGF-1 and ageing.

Other researchers postulate that the muscle volumizing effect of creatine might switch on a gene responsible for IGF-1 production.

Further research suggests advanced systemic methylation (discussed earlier) resulting from creatine use might predispose the cell for greater IGF-1 production.

Which of these might prove to be the most efficient means of reducing age related muscle wasting is up for debate. 

But creatines potential as a muscle preserver in the aging population cannot be denied.

Improve isometric strength

Creatine has also been shown to improve isometric strength in addition to body composition in older adults. Provided a strength-training program is run concurrently.

In their double blind study, Brose and colleagues assigned 28 healthy men and women – over age 65 – to a 14 week resistance training exercise program. 

During which these subjects trained three days a week.

14 of these participants were given five grams of creatine mixed with two grams of dextrose while the other 14 subjects received a placebo of seven grams of dextrose.

After the 14 weeks, the creatine group were found to have experienced greater increases in fat free mass and total body mass. 

In addition to improvements in isometric knee extension strength.

This study helps to confirm the role creatine can play in offsetting age related muscle wasting, if combined with a strength training regime.

10. Improves Performance and muscle mass in vegetarians

Traditionally a group with lower creatine levels compared to their meat-eating counterparts.

Vegetarians stand to miss out on the benefits creatine supplies, unless of course they supplement, it appears.

It was also thought that given vegetarians initial low creatine levels, they would be more sensitive to its erogenic effects.

Researcher Burke and his co-workers studied this proposal when they compared the changes in muscle creatine. 

Muscle fiber morphology, body composition, hydration status, and exercise performance between vegetarians and non-vegetarians over an eight-week resistance-training program. 

In which, in double blind fashion, ten vegetarians took creatine and eight took a placebo.

Additionally, 12 non-vegetarians took creatine with the other 12 taking the placebo.

The creatine-taking subjects initially loaded with 0.25 grams of creatine per kilogram of lean body mass for seven days. 

Before 0.0625 grams over the subsequent 49-day period.

It was revealed that vegetarian subjects who took creatine experienced a greater increase in total creatine, phosphocreatine, lean tissue, and total work performance compared to the non-vegetarians who took creatine, indicating vegetarians are more responsive to creatine supplementation.

Overall, researchers have found that creatine will provide the following benefits:

  • Promote greater gains in increasing FFM (Fat Free Mass, which includes muscle mass).
  • Increases muscle fiber size; hypertrophy.
  • Increases muscle mass.
  • Increases myosin.
  • Does Improve maximal strength.
  • Improves maximal power.
  • Improves single-effort sprint performance.
  • Can Improve worked performed during repetitive sprint performance.
  • Will Improve performance during exercise of high to maximal intensity.
  • Improves recovery following endurance activity.
  • Has a neuroprotective function.
  • Enhances bone regeneration.
  • Improves muscle and performance in vegetarians.


Who Could Benefit From Creatine?

In light of the above benefits, populations most likely to experience creatines positive effects are:

  1. Bodybuilders and strength athletes.
  2. The aging population.
  3. Sufferers of neurodegenerative disease.
  4. Those with naturally lower levels of creatine (people, such as vegetarians, who have a lower base level of creatine)