Creatine: Your Guide to Making the Most of This Research-Backed Supplement

When deciding whether to add a new supplement to your regimen, a good rule of thumb is to start with supplements supported by a broad body of evidence to back up their efficacy and safety. And few have been as heavily researched as creatine. This is for good reason — creatine has a multitude of benefits and as our Momentous Performance Engineer and co-founder of Allegiate Tim Caron says, “If you have a pulse, you can benefit from creatine.”  In this piece, we’ll examine what creatine is, how it works in your body, and the benefits for both endurance and power athletes.  

Creatine 101

Creatine is a small peptide – a structure composed of the amino acids L-arginine, glycine, and methionine – and is found throughout the human body in muscle tissue and in the brain. It can be sourced from protein-rich foods like red meat, tuna, and salmon. If you’re an athlete, you might benefit from supplemental creatine too – particularly if you follow a diet low in red meat, as this makes it difficult to consume sufficient creatine through nutrition alone. 

When ingested, creatine helps to contribute to what we call a phosphate reservoir. Creatine is converted into creatine phosphate, which is then turned into adenosine triphosphate (ATP). When we exercise, we burn through energy sources including glucose and ATP, and we start needing more phosphates. The more phosphate we have circulating throughout our system, the more we can use that to create potential energy. So by supplementing with creatine, we are keeping our phosphate levels high, which in turn contributes to our ability to maintain a consistent stream of energy production.

What physical benefits does supplemental creatine provide? 

When you’re playing your sport or training at a high intensity, you will eventually exhaust most of your body’s usable creatine stores – even if you consume a lot from meat and fish. This can lead to a reduction in power, the need for longer recovery between bursts of effort, and other physiological compromises that impair your performance. 

This is where supplemental creatine comes into play. Creatine phosphate (phosphocreatine) functions as a phosphate reservoir. “When you take a creatine supplement, the pool of phosphates used for recycling ADP into ATP increases, providing a more readily available source of energy for your cells,” explained Caron. “Increasing the size of the pool enables you to replenish this reservoir more quickly, so you can go harder for longer and recover quicker.”

Why should power and endurance athletes take creatine? 

A study published in the journal Nutrients concluded that “Creatine supplementation combined with complex training improved maximal muscular strength and reduced muscle damage during training.”1 A group of Spanish scientists investigated the impact of taking creatine on repeat sprint intervals, maximal muscular contraction, power output, and time to fatigue during lifts like the bench press. Releasing their findings via Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, they reported that supplementation significantly increases all of these measurables.2 

There is also a growing body of research to suggest that endurance training can benefit from creatine supplementation. A study of elite rowers aged between 20 and 31 published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism noted that in addition to raising participants’ anaerobic ceiling, five days of creatine supplementation also improved their endurance. Compared to the rowers who took a placebo, those supplementing with creatine were able to achieve and sustain power output during a 2,000-meter time trial with a lower heart rate – likely due to an increase in the efficiency of the cardiovascular system. They also experienced a lower level of blood lactate accumulation, suggesting that the creatine helped their cells process and recycle byproducts more effectively.3 It may also boost mitochondrial function and support increased oxygen delivery at the cellular level. 

In a review of the literature, Professor Richard B. Kreider of Texas A&M University’s Exercise and Sport Nutrition Laboratory stated that in addition to boosting performance in high intensity activity, “creatine supplementation can also improve performance in field type events like running, soccer, and swimming.” Kreider went on to assert that rather than merely benefiting power athletes, “Creatine appears to be an effective and safe nutritional ergogenic aid to improve high intensity exercise performance and/or training adaptations in a variety of sports.”4 The takeaway? Don’t dismiss creatine if you’re a runner, climber, or cyclist because it could well benefit your performance. 

How much creatine should I take, when, and in what form? 

There seems to be an eternal debate on social media platforms and forums about optimal creatine dosing and timing. This largely depends on the context of your training cycle and competitive calendar, what your performance goals are, and your body weight. Yet there are some simple lines of best fit. 

You could benefit from starting to take a daily dose of creatine, with the sweet spot being between three and five grams a day. However, Tim Caron advises a week-long loading stage in which you take up to 20 grams per day spread out over four or five doses, and then transitioning into a maintenance phase. “Creatine uptake is all about maintaining a base level, so taking it consistently is more important than what you take on an individual dose-by-dose basis,” he said. Taking creatine in the middle of a workout can increase the size of the phosphate reservoir in the liver, while consuming it after training helps replenish the pool more quickly to aid recovery and help your body reload before your next session.

Supplement makers are offering a dizzying array of creatine variations (including such as HCL, Kre-Alkalyn, liquid nitrate, and magnesium), with each one claiming to be more effective and absorbable than the last. Yet human performance experts like Dave Scholz, head strength and conditioning coach for Texas Tech and Momentous Performance Engineer, believes there is one that is best. “If you’re going to take creatine, make sure it’s monohydrate, as this is the most evidence-backed form,” Scholz said.  

Another consideration is taking a close look at whatever else is included in your creatine. Even the monohydrate type that Scholz recommends can be combined with other substances that have not been proven safe and efficacious, and might even be contaminated. To alleviate such concerns, we ensure that every single batch of Momentous Performance Creatine is certified to be free of banned performance enhancing drugs, heavy metals, prescription drugs, and other unsafe chemicals by submitting it to both Informed Sport and NSF Certified for Sport’s rigorous testing protocols. In keeping with our commitment to quality, we source it from the most respected creatine monohydrate producer in the world— Creapure®. So if you’ve been shopping around for creatine, we’ve removed all the guesswork. Our Momentous Performance Creatine launches next week.

Resources:

1- Chia Chi-Wang et al, “Effects of 4-Week Creatine Supplementation Combined with Complex Training on Muscle Damage and Sport Performance,” Nutrients, November 2018, available online at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6265971/.

2- M Izquierdo et al, “Effects of Creatine Supplementation on Muscle Power, Endurance, and Sprint Performance,” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, February 2002, available online at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11828245.

3- Jolanta Chwalbiñska-Moneta, “Effect of Creatine Supplementation on Aerobic Performance and Anaerobic Capacity in Elite Rowers in the Course of Endurance Training,” International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 2003, available online at https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/c7a6/04c91dc5b5f40d144faf7722f4cb61b8b20d.pdf.

4- Richard B. Kreider, “Effects of Creatine Supplementation on Performance and Training Adaptations,” Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry, 2003, available online at https://www.researchgate.net/publication/10798699_Effects_of_creatine_supplementation_on_performance_training_adaptations.

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