Creatine represents one of the main ingredients needed to feed the main energy system that we utilise during a workout, especially when performing power-type exercises.
While over the years a number of questions have been raised regarding the safety of the creatine intake, International Society of Sports Nutrition published a study that presents us with a multitude of proven facts that the supplement is not only completely safe to consume, but is also highly beneficial for athletes involved in prolonged and high intensity exercises.
And it is not just about the workout - it provides benefits for our body on a microscopic level. Creatine promotes the hydration of muscle cells, thus enabling them to carry out some of the most vital processes more effectively, such as protein synthesis, processes involving cell organelles and many more.
At this moment, creatine is one of the most extensively studied supplements, and while the world is yet to be introduced to its full potential, we’ve decided to present you with its so-far proven benefits, alongside advice on when it should be used as a fitness supplement for the most optimal workout performance.
The Science Behind It
Just briefly allow us to explain the process which is initiated in our body after the creatine intake:
Creatine, or Creatine Phosphate (CP), is a supplement which elevates the levels of Phosphocreatine in our body, one of the main energy sources for muscle contraction. When CP is depleted within a muscle, you experience an increased muscle fatigue, what results in reduced exercise time and effectiveness. Taking this supplement will increase your muscular stores of phosphocreatine which feeds our body’s main energy system from which we extract energy during a workout.
The Benefits of Creatine
Roughly said, creatine has the power to increase our overall fitness performance. Nevertheless, if we were to list the specific benefits, they would be the following:
- Improved strength and power. A systematic review and meta-analysis of creatine has shown that it is extremely effective for the performance and strength of our upper limbs, so more often than not you will hear weightlifters saying how they get an energy boost during their lifting exercises. But it is not just about the upper body - cyclists as well report that they feel a great surge of power in their legs.
- Upgraded performance during a prolonged workout. A group of researchers from Louisiana State University proved that creatine triggers the increase in glycogen content, which boost our performance during a prolonged exercise routine. What is more, it showed to reduce inflammation and muscle soreness.
- Balanced body temperature. During a workout in humid and hot temperatures, creatine can aid in maintaining hydration status and body temperature.
- Enhanced sprint performance. This particular supplement can be beneficial during the recovery time between sprints.
- Elevated muscle volume. Due to the fact that creatine draws water within muscle cells, when combined with regular exercise creatine can trigger the increase of muscle volume. In addition to a fuller muscle look, creatine increases protein synthesis, which means that your muscles will appear larger short-term, while in the long run they are bound to increase in size.
- Suppressed lactic acid and hydrogen ions build-up. These are usually the result of intensive training sessions. The accumulation of hydrogen and lactic acids is manifested in a form of a burning sensation, and creatine can help you regulate their amount in the body. As a result, you will gain additional energy to prolong the workout.
- Improved glycemic control. Increasing the concentration of GLUT4, a protein responsible for the transport of glycogen, creatine boosts your muscle mass and strength during a prolonged rest period (for instance, caused by an injury).
When to Take Creatine
The question of time and the amount of any nutrient intake causes heated debates among fitness enthusiasts. What has been discovered so far is the fact that around 5g of creatine pre- and post-workout in combination with resistance exercise increases strength and fat-free mass.
Therefore, our final answer would be: take creatine 30 to 60 minutes prior a workout, and immediately after. While we are certain you’ve seen people shoving down their protein powder only minutes before a workout, know that it hasn’t done them any good. Your body needs time to digest, process and distribute creatine, just like any other supplement or food source.
The more creatine your body consumes, the more ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate) is produced, and the more power you acquire for the workout that is ahead of you. Taking it half an hour or an hour before an exercise will provide enough time for the supplement to be digested and have a positive effect on your workout.
The Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition published a study in 2013 which proved the benefits of creatine intake after exercising. Namely, introducing creatine to your protein and carb mix after a training session will aid in post-workout muscle recovery.
After a strenuous activity, your stimulant use as well as creatine levels are at their lowest, so taking a supplement with a meal will promote its uptake. With your muscles being ripped and torn, you need a dose of supplement to help you feed the starving muscle tissue.
The purpose of creatine consumption on a rest day is to maintain the supplement levels, but not to worry if your skipping on your daily intake while skipping on your exercise, this will not have a significant effect on the overall results you’ve already accomplished.
Still, if you do decide to continue with your daily uptake, be sure to include it with your first meal of the day because this is when your insulin response is at its highest.
Should you add anything else to the mix?
Based on several studies, experts suggest that taking creatine with carbs can influence the amount of supplement that is taken by the muscles. Still, note that additional carb intake means increased weight, so if your goal is weight loss, low-carb diet might be a better option.
On the other hand, Western Washington University study showed that magnesium provided a significant increase in cellular hydration and protein synthesis. True Creatine Magna thus represents a great source of both supplements since it promotes creatine absorption and boosts energy levels.
Protein and food rich in amino acids, as well, are highly beneficial as they aid in creatine retention. Therefore, make sure your post-workout meals contain either lean meat, poultry or seafood. Dairy products are also a great source of amino acids - low or no fat in particular provide the highest amount of protein per gram per calorie.
The benefits of creatine are indisputable, and over the years (in both theory and practice) creatine presented itself as an indispensable part of a fitness enthusiasts’ diet - both pre- and post-workout.
When it comes to dosage, the recommended amount is between 3 and 5 grams, and switching it up or down should not be done without previous consultation with an expert, as it all depends on a number of factors like your lean muscle composition and body weight.
In the end, note that although creatine has been the holy grail of bodybuilding due to its power to build muscle the natural way, other athletes have experienced the benefits of this supplement too.
Endurance, power, or strength training; cycling, running, functional fitness, weightlifting; even those involved in team sports promote creatine as the most effective workout supplement.