Regardless of the level of athlete I am putting a supplement stack together for, be it a professional athlete or recreational lifter, creatine is one of the most important supplements I have on my check list. I have received numerous questions Via Facebook about creatine. Most importantly how to use it, when to use it, and what to take it with. Before we dive into this let me explain that we already have levels of creatine present in our system. Depending on how much meat or fish one eats levels may vary due to the fact that they contain creatine in a complex form, so we can assume that a vegetarians levels of creatine are low provided they are not supplementing with creatine. There are numerous ways you can maintain or increase these levels. I will discuss the natural way and then the supplement in a little more depth. Question is what are your personal levels? This is determined by many factors namely diet. Lets begin with the basics and then get more technical. Creatine is not a miracle supplement it will only work for those who work!!!! It is a supplement meaning it is going to work best when added to a well balanced diet and workout routine.
What is Creatine?
Creatine is one of the most popular sports supplements on the market and is used by various kinds of athletes from bodybuilders to sprinters to soccer players as well as recreational lifters. Creatine is a compound made naturally in our bodies as an energy replenisher. It is manufactured in the liver, kidneys and pancreas and secreted into blood for transport to muscle (amongst other) tissues. Its chemical name is methylguanido-acetic acid, formed from the amino acids arginine, methionine and glycine. It is beneficial for increasing high intensity work, enhancing recovery, brain function as well as bone regeneration to name a few. It is by far the most researched supplement.
Natural Sources of Creatine
Creatine is directly obtained from sources of skeletal muscle, i.e. meat and fish. During the digestive process the creatine contained within these foods is directly released into the blood stream where it is transported to skeletal muscle for absorption.
For example, 2-3 pounds of raw meat or fish contain the equivalent of 5 grams of pure creatine monohydrate powder, which is roughly the amount of creatine required as a daily dose for a supplementing athlete. Since heat degrades creatine, however, cooking will reduce the creatine content of these foods and increases the amount you’ll need to eat to obtain a given amount of creatine. Problem comes when you don’t want to eat all that raw meat and fish. Consuming high amounts of the later could lead to mercury poisoning. What if you don’t eat meat? Have no fear I haven’t forgotten about you.
Vegetarians: now because you do not consume meat and fish you will express lower than “normal” creatine levels. The same is true for lacto-vegetarians, which limit their animal protein consumption to milk and eggs. Creatine in its supplement form I would definitely advise for such athletes who purposefully restrict their animal protein intake.
Interestingly, vegetarians and vegans also typically express higher than average plasma homocysteine levels, since they must solely rely on their body’s capacity to synthesize creatine from arginine, glycine and methionine (see below CREATINE SYNTHESIS). Further accentuating the already elevated levels of homocysteine in vegetarians (and vegans) is the fact that animal proteins are the richest natural sources of the B-vitamins (folic acid, B 12 and B6) used to clear homocysteine from the blood stream and to restore the body’s methyl reserves. Creatine and vitamin B supplementation may prove particularly beneficial in these cases.
When dietary creatine intake doesn’t meet the body’s needs, new creatine can also be synthesized from the three amino acids; arginine, glycine and methionine, made available during the digestion of foods. Importantly, methionine availability sets an upper limit on creatine synthesis, since the body can not produce it on its own. Methionine is thus classified as an essential amino acid and, in this capacity, provides us with our principal source of exogenous methyl groups to support growth and development. In essence, methylation maintains life! It is thus imperative that methionine be present in our diets to assure that these indispensable cellular processes continue unabated. The king of methionine is fish.
Interestingly, methionine is also one of the amino acids used in the synthesis of creatine. Therefore, creatine supplementation, by alleviating the need to synthesize creatine from methionine, spars the body’s methyl reserves. These available methyl groups can then be used to activate key anabolic pathways.
To paraphrase, creatine promotes muscle anabolism via two principal pathways: (1) creatine supplementation increases muscle’s immediate energy reserves (ATP and PCr), thereby increasing exercise output; (2) creatine supplementation augments cellular methylation capacity, thereby creating a more favorable metabolic environment for muscles to grow.
Types of Creatine
There are multiple types of creatine here is a list of a few below.
Creatine Monohydrate– actually gets its name from having one molecule of water bound to each molecule of creatine. Monohydrate is by far the most popular creatine of all as it is very affordable. It was the German Olympic lifting teams that originally started using this. Loading usually is 20g a day for 5 days and then 5 grams a day there after.
Creatine Malate –comes in two forms di(2) or tri(3) referring to the creatine molecules attached to malate. There was a belief that this form could boost ATP, only because of how quick it dissolved in water. Very few have gastrointestinal issues with creatine monohydrate but I would suggest that those who do take this form. Dosing is same as creatine monohydrate.
Creatine Citrate – Interesting thing about this form of creatine is that it uses citric acid instead of malic acid. it was believed that doing so would provide greater muscular energy. Which later was found not to be the case. Dosing for this form has shown positive results post workout.
Creatine Kre Alklyn – This patented form of creatine was produced at a higher PH. The idea of the higher Ph was to blunt the conversion of creatine to its inactive form called creatinine. This would leave more creatine to be absorbed. You’re more likely to find this in pill form as the doses are smaller than that of regular creatine; research has not proved this to be superior however there are anecdotal reports that support this form of creatine. Dosage depends on manufacturer. I personally don’t suggest this form because you are not guaranteed that the pill coating with break open.
How to load Creatine
In my opinion loading should last 5 to 7 days 5 servings of 5 grams a day will do the trick unless you’re above 225 pounds I would suggest 6 servings. For the maintenance I would suggest 1 to 2 servings depending on how often your lifting. If you’re doing two a days I would suggest 2. If your above 225lbs I would suggest 2 servings for maintenance. On rest days just take 1 serving to help maintain levels.
Do you need to cycle creatine?
After the maintenance phase you may desire a period of rest from using creatine, or you may go straight back on the loading phase. If you want to have some time off, have at least 2 weeks. There is no evidence that cycling creatine is any better than using is constantly. Anecdotally, there are mixed reports about cycling.
Best thing to mix it with
Creatine absorption is increased by a quick spike in insulin so you’re looking for something that can do this, don’t go crazy now. Most people will say fruit juices only problem is they mainly contain fructose, which will not cause an immediate spike in insulin. Avoid citrus juices as they will convert the creatine to creatinine. I usually suggest PowerAde mixed with water or even Kool-Aid watered down. To the health nuts that will come at me for suggesting such drinks, the above is my personal opinion and what has worked for my clients.
A word of advice if you’re a competitor, I would suggest you talk to your trainer before using creatine. Despite the fact that creatine is supposed to draw water from around the muscle to within it, it has been reported to give a smooth stage appearance and the user definitely holds more water. Again supplement companies claim it can be used pre-contest for its cell volumizing effect. I wouldn’t risk it, unless your trainer understands the chemical make-up of the specific creatine you are taking and how it reacts to your body.
Wayne Mutata is the owner of iTrainStudio and is dedicated to helping individuals reach their health and fitness goals. As a personal trainer, nutritionist, leader, and motivator, he brings light into the Studio every day and positively influences those around him. You can follow him on Facebook at @iTrainStudio and on Instagram at @iTrainWithWayne or @iTrainStudio.Lancaster. For a free consultation, visit theiTrainStudio website!