The name creatine derives from the Greek name Kreas = meat as it is linked to this food. In fact it was isolated for the first time by the French Chevreul (1832) starting from the meat stock. Subsequent studies of this element, conducted by Liebig, confirmed that it was a normal constituent of meat.
In common parlance, it is defined as an amino acid, although in reality, chemically speaking, it is not so.
Its chemical structure appears as a non-protein nitrogen compound, which is a compound containing nitrogen but which can not be considered a protein. It can therefore be defined as tripeptide, or a molecule composed of three amino acids.
Man has a daily creatine requirement of about 30 mg per kg of body weight.
This share is half satisfied through the diet – It is present in foods of animal origin such as meat and fish – and half through endogenous synthesis – in the hepatic, renal and pancreatic – from the amino acids glycine , arginine and methionine .
Once made bioavailable from the liver, it passes into the bloodstream and is captured, from skeletal muscle and cardiac muscle, through a specific sodium-chloride-dependent transporter (creaT1), storing it in the form of creatine phosphate.
When it stores in our muscles are saturated, excess share is transformed into creatinine: an inactive metabolite that is expelled from our body through the urine.
What creatine is for sports people
The importance of it in improving athletic performance derives from its ability to release energy at times of maximum metabolic demand. The energy required by our body, during a physical effort, is provided by the ATP (Adenosin Tri-Phosphate). The latter, after being used for ergogenic purposes by the mitochondria of muscle cells, is degraded in ADP (adenosine di-phosphate) and generally expelled from the cell to be regenerated. Thanks to the creatine phosphate stored in the muscles, ADP is restored to ATP, returning to the cell again, ready to be used again for energetic purposes for muscle contractions.
Therefore, having muscles with the reserves of saturated creatine phosphate will guarantee a quicker and more constant recovery of ATP, thus increasing the athletic performance.
Here is the reason why it is particularly effective in high-intensity exercise – with maximum or sub-maximal shots or efforts with a duration of between 2 and 30 seconds.
Creatine effects and Benefits
It is perhaps the most scientifically studied supplement. The benefits that are derived from its supplementation are multiple.
As far as sports activity is concerned, a significant increase in creatine phosphate muscle concentrations has been found (in some subjects it is almost 20%). The increase in its reserves results in a better ability to reshape ATP with advantages such as:
- Improvement of contractile capacity and neuromuscular function;
- The increase of the maximal power exerted during an exercise, before the sensation of fatigue is triggered;
- The reduction in the sense of fatigue induced by effort, thanks to a greater capacity to store muscle glycogen.
- Increased storage of creatine in the muscles;
- An increase in the activity of GLUT-4 (insulin-sensitive glucose transporters) and the accumulation of muscle glycogen in the muscles.
Since 1 g of glycogen is bound to about 2.7 g of water, increasing hydration and cell volume in the muscles promotes:
- Physical performance – aerobic or anaerobic;
- The increase in body weight – due to intracellular water retention – without changing the percentage of fat mass.
Creatine what it is for
The scientific evidences described up to now concern the average of the subjects examined. The intake of creatine and the power of its effectiveness are linked by individual factors. This variability has led scientists to coin the terms “responders” and “non-responders” to define respectively those who respond or do not respond positively to the effect of the substance.
The results of the various studies establish that the “responders” in general:
- They have a lower initial amount of intramuscular creatine and are able to absorb and take more of it through supplementation, through more active its transporters;
- They have a higher percentage of type II muscle fibers (rapids);
- They have a more hypertrophic musculature;
- They have more lean mass;
For non-responders it may be recommended to add, in conjunction with the intake of creatine, a supplement of Arginine alpha-ketoglutarate (AAKG).
As we have seen arginine is one of the 3 amino acids from which our body synthesizes creatine. Increasing the intake of this amino acid can lead to improved endogenous creatine synthesis and muscle storage.
Creatine and women
Relatively the theme “creatine and women” often recurs the myth for which it is unsafe and scarcely effective for the fair sex.
Being an amino acid present in all human beings and in the foods we ingest every day, it is safe and tolerated by every individual.
With regard to the efficacy of its supplementation, it has been clear from scientific studies that its intake is able to improve the anaerobic performance in women, although in many cases, no increase in muscle volume was found or of body weight.
Therefore, its supplementation can and should be recommended for anyone who practices physical activities with anaerobic efforts.
Creatine and caffeine
In the sports world “it is said” that it should not be taken together with caffeine (coffee or caffeine anhydrous).
The statement has a fund of truth, but let’s debunk this myth that does not sleep the middle gym.
Some scientific studies have shown that the absorption of creatine is inhibited – even if it would be better to say reduced – when large amounts of caffeine are consumed concomitantly with the intake of our supplement.
Those studies, however, used high dosages of caffeine (equal to or greater than 5 mg per kg of body weight). For a 70 kg man the dose used in the study would be 350 mg. If we consider that a cup of coffee can contain between 60 and 100 mg of caffeine, we realize how strongly this evidence is forced and that a normal consumption of caffeine has not shown effects antagonists to the integration of creatine.
It makes no sense, therefore, if we take normal doses of caffeine (100-200 mg) to deprive us of the ergogenic properties of the 2 supplements to follow a rumor.
Is creatine doping?
The creatine – doping myth originated in 1998 on an investigation, promoted by CONI and which enjoyed wide media coverage, regarding the use of it in football.
At that juncture, given the doses and methods of administration (intravenously), was declared, rather than a simple supplement, a molecule capable of altering the athletic performance of those who used it.
The truth is that the intake of Creatine for oral administration has not always been considered doping.
it is considered, both by the International Olympic Committee (COI) and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), a food supplement because the maximum amount of it that can be stored in the muscles is limited and therefore can not exceed the limits imposed by our body .
Creatine negative effects
The “poor” creatine have been attributed – on the part of the media, by doctors who are not competent in the subject and by popular beliefs – negative effects on human health such as dehydration, cramps, damage to the kidneys and liver, musculoskeletal injuries , gastrointestinal disorders.
For healthy individuals who use a physiological amount of cretin (3-5 g per day), these claims are groundless as they have never been documented in the scientific literature.
Does creatine cause liquids to accumulate under the skin?
Another voice, circulating in the world of gyms, tells of the fact that it provokes water retention under the skin resulting in “fogging” muscle – giving the body a soft and watery appearance around the roundness of the muscles.
This rumor, however, is the result of a strong misunderstanding.
One of the peculiar characteristics of creatine is undoubtedly to increase intracellular water retention. Agonist body builders, in fact, close to competitions, take advantage of this positive property by assuming high doses (more than 20g per day) to give the muscular muscles a more dense and voluminous appearance, without compromising their body composition.
There is no scientific evidence that it causes subcutaneous fluid retention. This effect is rather attributable to other factors such as an insufficient water supply during the day – which makes us appear swollen – or an excess of carbohydrates taken with food, which, failing to enter the cell, “overflow” “On the outside, causing the body to look smooth and watery.
Types of creatine on the market:
It has been on the market since the early nineties and is the most common form of creatine. With it, most of the supplements are produced on the market and it is on this that most of the scientific studies have been conducted.
Creatine monohydrate is one of the most effective, safe, and well-studied forms of it.
It is creatine monohydrate with a considerably lower dust diameter (about 20 times). This increases its solubility, resulting in greater absorption.
Creatine ethyl ester (CEE) has a special chemical structure that presumably would allow it to freely enter cells without the use of creatine-specific transporters designed to attract it into the cell.
The results of the studies conducted on its supplementation indicate that the EEC does not have an ergogenic value higher than the normal creatine monohydrate and would even degrade more producing more waste creatinine.
Buffered creatine is known under the trade name Kre Alkalyn. Its innovation consists in having a higher pH, with a less acidic impact on the body, allowing the same assimilation with lower doses of intake. Presented on the market of supplements as a form of higher and more effective creatine, it has been established by scientific research that this does not actually have any superior properties, being equally effective at creatine monohydrate.
Effervescent creatine or creatine citrate
It is marketed for its best water soluble properties. Also in this case, compared to the simple creatine monohydrate, it did not give any additional benefit.
Chelated magnesium creatine
Creatine magnesium chelate combines creatine and magnesium ore. Elaborated and marketed to improve the assimilation and physical performance of those who use it, the results of the studies conducted have not confirmed the thesis of their producers.
Often called tricreatin malate is composed of three molecules of creatine monohydrate linked to a molecule of malic acid. The benefits advertised for this formulation would be: greater solubility, greater digestibility, greater bioavailability, absence of gastric disturbances and a greater effect on the ATP cycle. These benefits, however, would not seem to have been analyzed and confirmed in the literature.
Creatine pyruvate (CPY) is a molecule composed of the union of creatine and pyruvate.
Creatine taurinate is the stable salt of creatine bound to the amino acid taurine. The underlying idea of this formulation is that taurine, mimicking the action of insulin, would improve the transport of glucose to the muscles and consequently the storage of creatine in these. Evidences that prove this link, however, have not yet been found
Creatine gluconate is nothing more than a molecule of its linked to a molecule of gluconic acid.
This combination has been proposed because the intake of creatine, concomitantly with carbohydrates or other sources that raise insulin, improves intramuscular retention.
Over the years, many combinations of creatine and other substances or supplements have been proposed (eg creatine phosphate, creatine + sodium bicarbonate, creatine + glycerol, creatine + β-alanine, creatine with cinnamon extract, etc.). Scientific research conducted on these creatine formulations has shown that they are not better than traditional creatine in terms of increased strength or performance.
Oral creatine supplementation
Here we are finally at the practical tips on its supplementation.
Almost 40 years of positive scientific studies on its usefulness, make it one of the few supplements to keep in the pantry.
Which creatine to buy?
On the market we can find infinite formulations of creatine, each with a specific excipient that makes it better than all the other forms.
On the purchase of it we advise you to turn your gaze to the micronized creatine monohydrate. As we have seen in the article “Types of creatine in commerce”, it has nothing to envy to other formulations. Having been the most studied over the years, we advise you to rely on the simplest, most economical and effective product.
How much creatine do you take?
Regarding the amount of creatine to be taken orally there are 2 integration protocols.
- Load and maintenance protocol:
It plans to perform the so-called “load” of creatine – in the first 5-7 days of integration – followed by a “maintenance” dose in the following days of the cycle.
The creatine load is made by taking either a dose equal to 0.3 g per kg of lean mass per day, or by introducing a standard dose of 20 g per day. To avoid the occurrence of abdominal cramps and diarrhea, it is recommended to partition the load in doses of 3-5g to be taken concomitantly with meals.
The maintenance phase consists of taking a single dose of 3-5 g per day of creatine.
At the end of this protocol, which lasts about 5-6 weeks, it is advisable to follow a period of “discharge” of 3-4 weeks in which the creatine supplementation will be reset.
- Protocol without load:
It provides a constant intake of 3-5 g of creatine per day. At the end of its life – about 2-3 months – a “drain” period of 3-4 weeks is recommended.
Studies and research have shown that taking 3-5 g of amount a day, over the long run has the same effect as a 20 g dose.
Scientific studies establish that the amount of creatine assimilated by the muscle, in a phase of supplementation, depends on the value of endogenous it present in the individual.
Based on this evidence, the “load” protocol has the advantage of making creatine muscle reserves more rapidly saturated. However, this initial benefit translates into a greater production of creatinine expelled with urea in the long run, if the muscle reserves are saturated.
Without the initial load, however, it takes about 5-10 days to saturate the muscle reserves and get the maximum effectiveness of it.
Our advice is to proceed with the protocol without loading by dissolving it in plenty of water and taking care to drink a lot during the day.
As far as the “discharge” period is concerned, there is no scientific evidence to support the idea that cyclization of creatine intake is necessary, but if you think it is useful to do so.
How and when to take creatine?
The timing of intake of creatine reads everything and the opposite of everything.
Based on the scientific evidence there is evidence for which creatine after training is more effective than pre-workout assumptions or at other times of the day.
Considering that post exercise with weights is quite common to take amino acids or proteins with rapid assimilation carbohydrates, it can be a good strategy to add in our shacker our daily dose of 3-5 g of amount to maximize assimilation by exploiting the peak of insulin provoked.
To sum up:
- On training days we recommend taking 3-5 g of creatine in the immediate post-workout with essential amino acids or proteins isolated / hydrolyzed with rapidly assimilated carbohydrates.
- On rest days the dose of it should be taken together with an insulin-stimulating meal consisting of carbohydrates, proteins or carbohydrates and proteins and very few or even zero fats.
Creatine side effects
If taken in high doses (above 20 g / day), this may create gastrointestinal disorders and diarrhea, caused by the unabsorbed amount of creatine.
Precautions for use
Under conditions of severe dehydration or impaired renal function, its use is not recommended.
In concomitance with the use of drugs that can engage the renal functions it is recommended to stop its supplementation.
The use of creatine should be avoided in pregnancy and lactation, in children and in all cases of increased risk of kidney disease.
In some cases, before starting to use, you should consult your doctor to monitor the degree of renal function.