What is Creatine?
Creatine is an organic acid that contains nitrogen. It is organic because its molecules contain carbon and it is acidic because it has a pH level less than 7. Don't let the word 'acidic' scare you; acids are very common in the body. For example, proteins are broken into amino acids in our bodies. Nitrogen is needed to make protein for new tissue (like muscles, skin and hair).
Creatine is a natural substance found in meat and fish and in our bodies naturally. It is not essential to consume creatine to sustain human life, because our bodies produce creatine naturally from the amino acids glycine, arginine and methionine.
Creatine has the primary role of supplying energy to the body, particularly the muscles. Energy cannot be created with creatine.
Creatine as a Pre-Workout Supplement
Creatine is often sold as a pre-workout supplement because it increases the body's ability to produce energy at a faster rate. Since the body can produce more energy, it is able to achieve a greater work load during workouts, which in turn leads to greater strength and muscle growth. This allows people to achieve their workout goals at a faster rate than normal.
Creatine is very effective in boosting anaerobic performance, such as weight lifting, sprinting and other activities that require short bouts of energy.
Creatine as a Muscle Building Supplement
Taking a creatine supplement leads to greater weight gain, initially in the form of water retention and then later in the form of muscle growth. By pulling water into muscle cells, creatine increases protein synthesis. There are many protein shakes and meal replacement supplements that contain creatine to boost muscle growth and recovery.
The Risks of Taking Additional Creatine as a Supplement
A great deal of research has been done on the possible health risks of taking creatine as a supplement, of which almost all studies conclude that creatine is safe to use. There has been some speculation that creatine damages the kidneys or the liver, but no studies have been able to prove this so far or find any correlation between creatine consumption and kidney or liver damage. However, it is still recommended that people with any kidney or liver issues avoid creatine supplementation.
It is generally recommended that not enough studies have been done to prove that creatine supplementation is safe for people under the age of 18, since the long-term effects of creatine during the growth phase before adulthood are not completely known.
Negative side Effects
Studies have not shown any negative side effects that could cause long term health problems in adults so far, however some people do experience short-term negative side effects because creatine retains a lot of water. For example, creatine monohydrate would have a lower absorption rate than other forms of creatine. This means that the unused creatine sits in your gut until your body expels it with other waste products. People can experience nausea, bloating, stomach pain, diarrhea and cramps if a large amount of creatine sits in the gut, pulling too much water into it.
Does Creatine Actually Work?
The effects of creatine vary from one individual to the next, since bodily function, genetic make-up and substance interactions differ between people. There have been some cases where people don't get any of the positive benefits of creatine after weeks of use, where others benefit greatly in contradiction. One key example of the different levels of benefit that individuals receive from creatine is the example of diet. Since creatine is only found in meat and fish foods, vegetarians would generally see a much greater effect from creatine supplementation than people who eat a lot of meat and fish, who are already consuming creatine.
Additionally, some forms of creatine work better than others, not all creatine is equal. Some people respond better to some forms of creatine when others respond better to other forms. In general, creatine in powder form has shown to be more effective in studies, compared to liquid forms (even so, some people report having a much more positive effect using the liquid form).
Different Forms or Creatine
There are different forms of creatine which can be bought at stores as supplements. Here is a list of the most common forms and their key characteristics.
Creatine Forms by Processing
- Is the most popular form of creatine
- It is the most basic, natural form of creatine which is the least processed
- It is less soluble in water compared to most other creatine forms
- Is basically micronized creatine monohydrate
- Micronizing the creatine breaks it down into smaller parts
- This increases the amount of the creatine that is absorbed and actually used by the body
Creatine Serum (Liquid Creatine)
- Is basically creatine monohydrate which has been dissolved in water
- It is supposed to be absorbed more easily, but some people report no effects of this form whilst others report that it works well
- Some argue that this liquid form of creatine breaks down because of the water content over time, rendering it useless
- Is made at a higher pH level than regular creatine monohydrate
- It supposedly has the same effects as monohydrate without the possible negative side effects like stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea and cramps.
- It is also believed that it does not break down as much as monohydrate, meaning that less in needed for the same effect as monohydrate
Creatine Forms by Bonding with Other Substances
There are many other creatine forms that companies create by bonding it with other substances, and many more will be created by these companies in the future.
Creatine Ethyl Ester
- Is creatine combined with ester on a molecular level
- Is said to be the form of creatine with the highest absorption percentage
- Apparently, everybody feels the positive effects of this form of creatine and doesn't cause any negative side effects like stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea and cramps
- Is creatine combined with sugar/sodium and a bubbling agent
- Has better absorption and taste than regular creatine
- A form of creatine with molecules (citric acid) that increase absorption
- It is more water soluble and absorbent, but is needed in a higher dose for the same effect as creatine monohydrate
Di Creatine Malate / Tri Creatine Malate (Tri is More Absorbent)
- Another type of creatine that is bonded with molecules (Malic Acid) to increase absorption
- This creatine form is also more water soluble
- Another form of creatine bonded with a molecule (Orotic Acid)
- Orotic Acid increases energy production in the body. So basically, creatine orate has two different substances that both increase energy at the same time
Creatine HCL (Hydrochloride)
- This is creatine bonded with hydrochloric acid
- It is more water soluble and absorbent than monohydrate
- Many say that this is the best form of creatine around at the moment, whilst others say that it does not work
- Creatine that is bonded to nitrate
- This form has the benefits of creatine combined with the additional benefits of nitrate, which also aids the body's energy production systems
Final Word of the Day
Creatine can work for you, but remember that we are all different and respond to it differently. Fortunately, there are many forms that are available for you to try and see what feels and works best through trial and error. Be safe and don't use creatine if you are under 18, have any kidney or liver damage or are cutting for a bodybuilding show (because creatine retains water). STAY STRONG!