What Is Creatine & What Does It Do?

Creatine is amongst some of the most researched supplements in the world. There are many misconceptions about the use of creatine supplements, with many falsely believing that it is a steroid. We are going to put these rumours to bed by telling you how creatine works, what it does, and how it should be taken safely.

What Does Creatine Do?

Creatine is a naturally occurring substance, produced in the body from amino acids, which primarily helps to enhance muscle. It also supports muscle recovery by helping muscles to recoup quicker after exercise.

Further, creatine is used to provide important bursts of strength when exercising, making it a helpful supplement for short-term exercise that takes maximum effort such as sprinting or lifting weights.

How Does It Work?

Creatine aids in the regeneration of a molecule named adenosine triphosphate (commonly referred to as ‘ATP’). ATP is the body’s main source of energy and it is responsible for driving almost every type of process in the body.

When ATP is used to perform a process, such as muscle contraction, it loses a phosphate and becomes adenosine diphosphate (ADP). ADP does not have much use in the body apart from converting back to ATP to provide more energy. This is where creatine comes in. Creatine provides ADP with phosphate to become ATP once again, therefore replenishing the body’s energy.

To fully allow creatine to work and to see the effects, it can take up to 3 – 4 weeks depending on the method of consumption.

When Should I Take Creatine?

Creatine should be taken every day, although the amount depends on whether you chose to load creatine or not.

Some experts recommend taking creatine before a workout because the supplement increases strength and provides much-needed energy boosts. In contrast, other specialists believe creatine should be taken after a workout in order to help with muscle repair.

Generally, the timing of when to take creatine will vary from person to person. Creatine does not tend to have an immediate effect. Instead, its effects are felt when the body is fully saturated with it therefore the timing of taking the supplement does not particularly matter.

How Should I Take It?

Creatine supplements are available as both powders and tablets, of which either can be taken depending on preference.

One top tip for taking creatine is to mix creatine powder with fruit juice. Since sugar in fruit juice already helps to raise insulin levels, in turn this can help increase creatine absorption in the muscle.
There are two methods commonly used for taking creatine: ‘loading’ and taking daily supplements.

Loading Creatine

The loading phase means taking an excessive amount of creatine for a short period of time in order to saturate your cells with it and increase your creatine phosphate stores. To load creatine, the recommended intake is 20 grams of creatine every day for 5 – 7 days. This should be taken by splitting the recommended intake into four 5-gram servings throughout each day.
Thereafter the loading period, 3 – 5 grams of creatine should be consumed each day in order to maintain higher levels of creatine.
It should take around 3 – 4 weeks for the creatine to fully saturate into your muscles and to see the effects.

Daily Supplements

Instead of opting for creatine loading, many people prefer to simply build up their creatine stores over time. This is done by consuming 3 – 5 grams of creatine each day.
Whilst using this method will produce the same results as loading, it typically takes more time. This method takes up to 3 – 4 weeks for the creatine to work in this manner and to boost creatine stores in the muscle.

Cycling Creatine

‘Cycling’ is a way of taking supplements whereby they are taken ‘on and off’ sequentially every couple of weeks. Many people who cycle creatine claim that this method maximises the effects of the supplements and is necessary in order to give the body a ‘break’.
There are varying opinions amongst fitness experts on the effectiveness of cycling creatine, however, for the most part, studies have shown there is little need to do so. Whilst your body’s own production of creatine could potentially slow down whilst taking the supplement, your body’s ability to produce creatine will return if creatine supplements are no longer consumed.

Benefits Of Creatine

Creatine is known to aid in muscle recovery and increase muscle mass, as well as providing increased energy. It is therefore beneficial to those who participate in the short term, high energy workouts such as HIIT, powerlifting, or sprinting.

In addition to its physical benefits, creatine also helps the brain and mind. Creatine can significantly boost brain power, improving both short term memory and intelligence.

Creatine can also aid in neuroprotection. Creatine has antioxidant properties that lessen age-related damage, reduce mental fatigue, and improve neurological disorders such as depression.

Foods High In Creatine

Similar to how our bodies produce creatine, it also naturally occurs in many animals. Creatine-rich foods include:

  • Beef
  • Pork
  • Salmon
  • Herring
  • Black pudding

Studies have shown that vegetarians often have lower amounts of creatine in their muscles, therefore creatine supplements are essential. However, vegetarian, or vegan sources of creatine can include:

  • Dairy products such as milk and cheese
  • Seeds
  • Seaweed
  • Spinach
  • Watercress
  • Quinoa

Side Effects & Safety

Creatine naturally occurs in the body; therefore, it is relatively safe to take. It is important to take creatine in accordance with the recommended dosage.

Short Term

For the most part, creatine supplements can be consumed by most adults without issues. In some circumstances, however, known side effects can include:

    • Weight gain
    • Anxiety
    • Breathing difficulties
    • Diarrhoea
    • Fatigue
    • Fever
    • Headaches
    • Nausea and vomiting
    • Rash

Long Term

Creatine has become a popular supplement in recent years, meaning there is still important research to be done into the long-term effects. Currently, specialists are unsure of the long-term effects of taking creatine, especially in regard to young people.

Safety Advice

Always talk to a doctor before taking creatine supplements. If you experience any adverse side effects, stop taking the supplement immediately and consult with a medical professional.
Creatine is not recommended for anyone with kidney problems, liver disease, or diabetes. The supplement should not be taken by anyone who takes medication or supplements affecting blood sugar, as creatine is known to affect blood sugar levels.

Final Thoughts

Creatine supplements are a perfect addition to workout routines and healthy diets. In addition to improvising physical performance and strength, creatine has many mental benefits as well that make it an all-round essential supplement.

Combined with exercise and a healthy diet, creatine supplement can help you reach your performance and strength goals.