Creatine: Myths Debunked

Creatine is one of the most talked about and arguably one of the most debated supplements on the market today. It doesn’t take an advanced gym goer to have heard about creatine and its supposed benefits and side effects. Unfortunately, there are a lot of myths and misconceptions about creatine and its uses in health, fitness, performance and strength & conditioning. What is creatine? In layman’s terms, creatine helps to increase the energy source within the muscle and combat fatigue during your workout enabling us to work harder for longer with a higher degree of intensity. Ultimately this vastly improves your strength and muscle size.

 

How does Creatine work?

To really break down how creatine works we need to delve a little deeper into the muscle cell. As muscles contract, they do so by splitting ATP into ADP and P (a phosphate group) and creating or releasing ENERGY within the inner membrane of the mitochondria, the cells power house. This is the energy used by the cell (in this case the muscle cell during muscular contraction) but what happens after? The cell is left with an abundance of ADP to which it requires ATP. This demands an anabolic reaction and the addition of a lone P (a phosphate group) to make ATP once again. This is where creatine or creatine phosphate comes into play. These phosphate groups are taken from your bodies PCr (creatine phosphate) store therefore supplementation of creatine phosphate increases the abundance and availability of free phosphates readily available for this reaction to take place. Bottom line: the more PCr you have the more work you can accomplish before fatigue sets in.

 

 

 

Myths:

There are more myths about creatine than I could possibly mention or would even care to entertain. Every week I hear a new myth, so here are just a few of the more commonly debated points about creatine. Note: throughout this article I will refer to creatine as “creatine”, however I am really referring to micronize creatine monohydrate. There are various types of creatine available on the market and without doubt the most beneficial, safest and most tested form of creatine is micronized creatine monohydrate. So if you are looking for a creatine, make sure it is micronized creatine monohydrate, I wouldn’t use anything else.

 

 

Creatine leads to weight gain and should only be used when “growing” or “bulking”

 

False. Creatine may cause and initial increase in weight anything from 0.5 to 3% of your bodyweight mass increase in a short space of time, however this is generally water weight and extra water being taken into the muscle cells, which for some people isn’t always a bad thing, even when cutting (1,10). Most importantly, even though there is an initial increase in water, it has been well documented that creatine supplementation along with resistance training results in lean body mass and a decrease in fat mass leading to an improvement in body composition (24-25). Is that not exactly what we want to achieve whilst cutting or getting lean?

 

 

Creatine causes kidney and liver damage

 

Just to clear it up before I delve a little deeper, here are a few facts:

 

  • Long-term supplementation with creatine has no effect on blood lipid profiles (5).

  • 12-week creatine supplementation has no effect on blood lipid profiles (5).

  • There has been no study to suggest that there are any significant changes in renal, hepatic, cardiac or muscle function due to the supplementation of creatine (6).

 

There is no truth behind the continual media frenzy that creatine has a negative affect on your health in particular your liver or your kidneys. However the confusion lies where elevated levels of creatinine (a marker used to diagnose kidney problems), which occurs following creatine supplementation. This “false positive” has no negative affects on your body and there has been no scientific evidence to suggest that even chronic supplementation with the recommended creatine dose has any adverse affects on kidney function (2), or how well the kidneys filter the blood (3,4).

 

 

Creatine may cause dehydration and cramping

 

This is just damn right false. If anything the contrary, as mentioned above creatine has been proposed to increase total body water, helping to maintain hydration status (7.8) Which makes perfect sense when you take into consideration what EXACTLY creatine is doing within the body. It has also been shown by researchers at San Diego State University that creatine can in fact prevent a rise in core temperature during an hour of intense exercise in the heat (11).

 

As for muscle cramping, research has indicated that creatine supplementation has no effect on muscle cramping whatsoever yet can still provide performance enhancements in hot and humid conditions (12.13)

 

 

Creatine needs to be taken pre/post workout

 

False. As we have seen above, the supplementation of creatine in essence, increases the body’s pool of creatine phosphate within the muscle cell and taking this at anytime of the day (3-5g for the average gym goer) will eventually saturate these phosphate stores. On saying this, the premise behind post workout creatine supplementation is that this is when the muscles are most receptive and the thought process here is that this is when the creatine will be absorbed into the muscle cell more efficiently. Although this may be somewhat true, the time it takes for your creatine store to be replenished post workout is irrelevant as you wont be training or using these creatine stores in your muscles for hours afterwards. Essentially this is splitting hairs. So when should you take your creatine? Answer: when it’s most convenient for you. For me, this is PRE workout in my 1UP NUTRITION Pure Rebuild.

 

 

It is essential to load with creatine before cycling it

 

False. It is not essential to load creatine before cycling it, however it is probably more beneficial. What do I mean by this? Loading with creatine will increase the creatine phosphate stores within the muscle over a shorter period of time and therefore will in general be more beneficial. Here we are talking about 4-5 days rather than a possible 1-2 weeks without loading. For this loading phase personally I might load with anything between 10-15g for a week before returning to 5-10g. For an average gym goer this will vary and 10g loading phase is sufficient. It is important to note however that the muscle mass you carry will hugely affect the amount of creatine you should be supplementing with, as it will take more creatine to saturate the muscle cells with creatine phosphate.

 

 

So, to summarize:

  • Creatine is a very useful tool for most gym goers and can most definitely be used whilst cutting or dieting and is not just a “growing” or “bulking” supplement.

 

  • There is to date no scientific data to suggest that creatine plays a role in kidney or liver damage in any way shape or form.

 

  • There is even less data to suggest that creatine plays a role in cramping or dehydration.

 

  • There is NO specific time to take creatine and if there is, you’re splitting hairs, so generally whenever is most convenient for you is ideal.

 

  • It is not essential to load creatine before using but for maximum effects I would recommend it. 

 

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REFERENCES

  1. Kutz MR, Gunter MJ. Creatine monohydrate supplementation on body weight and percent body fat. J Strength Cond Res. 2003;17 (4):817-821.

  2. Buford, T. W., Kreider, R. B., Stout, J. R., Greenwood, M., Campbell, B., Spano, M., ... & Antonio, J. (2007). International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: Creatine Supplementation and Exercise. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 4 (6), 6.

  3. Lugaresi R, Leme M, de Salles Painelli VT, et al. Does long-term creatine supplementation impair kidney function in resistance-trained individuals consuming a high-protein diet? Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2013;10 (1):1-1.

  4. Kim HJ, Kim CK, Carpentier A, Poortmans JR. Studies on the safety of creatine supplementation. Amino Acids. 2011;40(5):1409-1418.

  5. Volek JS, Duncan ND, Mazzetti SA, Putukian M, Gómez AL, Kraemer WJ. No effect of heavy resistance training and creatine supplementation on blood lipids. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2000;10 (2):144-156.

  6. Kreider, R. B., Melton, C., Rasmussen, C. J., Greenwood, M., Lancaster, S., Cantler, E. C., ... & Almada, A. L. (2003). Long-term creatine supplementation does not significantly affect clinical markers of health in athletes. In Guanidino Compounds in Biology and Medicine (pp. 95-104). Springer US.

  7. Sobolewski EJ, Thompson BJ, Smith AE, Ryan ED. The Physiological Effects of Creatine Supplementation on Hydration: A Review. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine. 2011;5(4):320-327.

  8. Lopez RM, Casa DJ, McDermott BP, Ganio MS, Armstrong LE, Maresh CM. Does creatine supplementation hinder exercise heat tolerance or hydration status? A systematic review with meta-analyses. J Athl Train. 2009;44(2):215-223.

  9. Bemben MG, Bemben DA, Loftiss DD, Knehans AW. Creatine supplementation during resistance training in college football athletes. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2001;33(10):1667-1673.

  10. Kern, M., Podewils, L., Vukovich, M., & Buono, M. (2001). Physiological response to exercise in the heat following creatine supplementation. JEP online.

  11. Volek, J. S., Mazzetti, S. A., Farquhar, W. B., Barnes, B. R., Gomez, A. L., & Kraemer, W. J. (2001). Physiological responses to short-term exercise in the heat after creatine loading. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 33(7), 1101-1108.

  12. Greenwood M, Kreider RB, Melton C, et al. Creatine supplementation during college football training does not increase the incidence of cramping or injury. Mol Cell Biochem. 2003;244(1-2):83-88.

  13. Antonio J, Ciccone V. The effects of pre versus post workout supplementation of creatine monohydrate on body composition and strength. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2013;10(1):36.

  14. Becque MD, Lochmann JD, Melrose DR. Effects of oral creatine supplementation on muscular strength and body composition. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2000;32(3):654-658.

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