Creatine represents one of the vital compounds needed to feed the main energy system that we utilise during strength training or performing power-type exercises.
While over the years a number of questions have been raised regarding the safety of creatine intake, International Society of Sports Nutrition published their position statement, after reviewing all the available scientific literature to present us with a multitude of proven facts that supplementing with creatine is not only completely safe, but is also highly beneficial for elite and recreational athletes as an ergogenic aid.
Less known it that it’s also being used as a therapeutic agent for various medical conditions with positive outcomes. Creatine provides benefits for our body on a cellular level. It promotes the hydration of muscle cells, thus enabling them to carry out some of the most vital processes more effectively, including muscle protein synthesis.
Creatine is still 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 creatine1
Creatine is a compound derived from the amino acids methionine, glycine and arginine. It is primarily stored in skeletal muscle as phosphocreatine (PCr). This stored phosphate provides a rapid and easily accessible supply for the re-synthesis of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). The ATP energy system is the pathway your body favours during maximal effort, short duration exercise.
There is a daily turnover of PCr, approximately 1-2g/d is eliminated as creatinine. When PCr is depleted within your muscles, you experience increased muscle fatigue, resulting in reduced exercise time and effectiveness.
Due to this daily turnover and depletion from certain exercises, you must restore creatine through your diet. Creatine is found naturally in chicken breast, meat, fish and eggs. However, supplementation can also be an easy and effective way to replenish your muscle stores of PCr.
Creatine monohydrate is the supplemental form of creatine that is highly bioavailable, meaning your body can easily absorb and utilise it. True Creatine Mono is a German-sourced and premium grade of creatine monohydrate. It has excellent water solubility with a neutral taste.
The benefits of creatine
Generally speaking, creatine has the power to increase overall exercise performance. So, what are the benefits specifically?
Improved strength and power
Two systematic reviews have shown that creatine supplementation is extremely effective for the strength performance of our upper and lower limbs for exercise lasting less than three minutes2,3. This proven boost could be effectively utilised during maximal effort weightlifting or when you need to beat your component with short, sharp and explosive bursts such as in a race or during combat sports.
Maximising muscle glycogen for a prolonged workout
A study from Louisiana State University showed that creatine supplementation allowed for an increase in muscle glycogen loading capacity4. This means that it could help you fuel up more efficiently with glycogen which, in turn, will have a performance enhancing effect during prolonged/endurance exercise.
Balanced body temperature
During exercise in humid and hot conditions, creatine supplementation may aid the body to regulate its temperature. This process is called thermoregulation and its performance enhancing mechanisms are attributed to enhanced cellular hydration1.
Enhanced sprint performance and anaerobic capacity
This particular supplement can be beneficial for repeated high-intensity sprints like running, cycling or swimming as well as interval training1. If creatine can help you train harder and faster, then you can expect performance enhancement to follow in the form of anaerobic capacity.
Elevated muscle volume
Due to the fact that creatine draws water within muscle cells, when combined with regular hypertrophy-type exercises, creatine can trigger the increase of muscle volume making your muscle look fuller. In addition, creatine increases the concentration of certain cells within muscle fibres, which means that your muscles will appear larger in the short-term, while in the long run your muscles will increase in size due to the growth and gain of muscle fibres1.
Increased lactate threshold
Lactic acid and the build-up of hydrogen ions are usually the result of intensive training sessions. The accumulation of hydrogen and lactic acids is manifested in the form of a burning sensation and fatigue within the muscle group. Creatine can help you regulate the amount in the body. As a result, you will increase your lactate threshold before fatigue sets in.
As creatine supplementation has and continues to be extensively studied, there have been various benefits documented in other areas of health rather than exclusively sports performance. Notably, creatine supplementation can improve short-term memory and intelligence/reasoning abilities in healthy adults5. This concept opens a range of possibilities and opportunities that need to be explored in areas of mental health, ageing, dementia and cognitive impairment.
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 multiple strategies can result in benefits, so your supplement strategy will depend on what practically suits your lifestyle and training goals.
Scientific literature suggests that creatine can be commenced with a loading dose of 0.3g per kilogram of body weight per day for five days. Then, after loading, a maintenance dose of 3-5g daily is all that is required6.
For example, if your body weight is 80kg then your loading dose would be 24g/d for five days, then on the sixth day and thereafter, you can continue supplementing creatine at a dose of 3-5g/d.
This regime would most definitely cause a gain in water weight during the loading period. Remember, creatine causes cellular hydration. So, if this gain in body weight from water is not ideal for you then you can skip the loading period and go straight into the maintenance dose of 3-5g daily, just be sure to continue supplementing for at least three weeks for optimal benefits.
The timing of creatine supplementation remains controversial. It doesn’t really matter when you take creatine as long as you are taking it for the right reasons, as listed above, and the correct dosage (3-5g/d) for at least three weeks to ensure maximal PCr is stored in your muscles. Nevertheless, here are some interesting notes on creatine supplementation timing for the keen fitness enthusiast.
Taking creatine half an hour or an hour before exercise will provide enough time for the supplement to be digested and top up your PCr muscle stores ready for a hard training session. Also, one of the benefits of creatine supplementation is its ability to enhance muscle glycogen capacity, so if your sport relies on extensive glycogen stores, True Creatine Mono with an appropriate carb pre-workout could help saturate these stores which will be tapped into during prolonged exercise.
One American study concluded that immediate post-workout supplementation with 5g creatine for a period of four weeks in recreational bodybuilders may produce superior gains in free fat mass (FFM) and strength in comparison to pre-workout supplementation.
After a strenuous activity, the levels of key nutritional substrates including creatine are at their lowest. Your body is ‘primed’ for maximal uptake, so taking creatine with a post-workout shake or meal will promote its uptake. With your muscles being damaged and exhausted of nutrients, you need an appropriate refuelling supplement to feed starving muscle tissue and aid its repair. Namely, introducing True Creatine Mono to your protein and carb blend to consume after a training session will aid in post-workout muscle recovery.
The purpose of creatine consumption on a rest day is to maintain the supplement levels, but don’t worry if you’re 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.
Should you add anything else to creatine?
As mentioned above, consuming creatine with carbs (glucose) can influence the amount of stored muscle glycogen. Still, note that additional carb intake with creatine means increased weight from water, so if your goal is weight loss, then this is not your best option. This method is appropriate for those looking to enhance their sporting performance.
Is creatine safe?
Short answer, yes. If you are 18 years of age or older and you’re generally healthy, then yes. There has been some anecdotal reported side-effects including nausea and stomach upset during the loading phase, short-term. There is also longitudinal research showing creatine supplementation had no detrimental effects on renal (kidney) health in various athletic populations1. However, safety of creatine supplementation is related to creatine monohydrate. There are many supplements available on the market so it’s up to you to choose a brand you trust that is transparent with their ingredients.
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 enthusiast’s diet and supplement regimen on a daily basis.
When it comes to dosage strategy, the recommended amount is 3-5g daily. Initially, you can load your body with 0.3g per kilogram of body weight per day for five days. After this, there is no additional benefit of having higher doses above 3-5g/d.
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.
Power or strength training, cycling, sprinting, functional fitness, weightlifting, combat sports and even those involved in team sports promote creatine as one of the most effective and safe workout supplements.
Burke, L and Deakin, V. Clinical Sports Nutrition. 5th edition. 2015. Published by: McGraw-Hill Education (Australia). North Ryde, Australia.
Lanhers, C., Pereira, B., Naughton, G. et al. Creatine Supplementation and Upper Limb Strength Performance: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sports Med (2017) 47: 163. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-016-0571-4
Lanhers, C., Pereira, B., Naughton, G. et al. Creatine Supplementation and Lower Limb Strength Performance: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analyses. Sports Med (2015) 45: 1285. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-015-0337-4
Nelson AG, Arnall DA, Kokkonen J, Day R, Evans J. Muscle glycogen supercompensation is enhanced by prior creatine supplementation. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2001 Jul;33(7):1096-100.
Avgerinos KI, Spyrou N, Bougioukas KI, Kapogiannis D. Effects of creatine supplementation on cognitive function of healthy individuals: A systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Exp Gerontol. 2018 Jul 15;108:166-173. doi: 10.1016/j.exger.2018.04.013. Epub 2018 Apr 25.
Buford TW, Kreider RB, Stout JR, et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: creatine supplementation and exercise. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2007;4:6. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-4-6.