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Creatine: The Secret Weapon for Muscle Gain and Mental Sharpness

When it comes to supplements, few have a reputation as strong as creatine. Often hailed as the king of supplements, creatine’s status is well-deserved, thanks to its profound impacts. It’s a naturally occurring compound that plays a pivotal role in our muscles and brains.

Derived primarily from our diet, creatine is not just a subject of research but a practical tool for many. Its ability to replenish energy stores during high-intensity activities is a game-changer for athletes and fitness enthusiasts, making it a must-have in their regimen.

Creatine’s benefits extend beyond muscle power, offering potential advantages for brain function, anti-ageing, and disease management. Today, we’ll look deeper at creatine, exploring its numerous benefits, safety profile, and optimal usage. This will provide you with a comprehensive understanding and empower you with knowledge of why this supplement has earned its stellar reputation.

What Is Creatine?

Creatine, from the Greek word ‘Kreas’, meaning meat, is a naturally occurring amino acid crucial for cellular energy production. Renowned neuroscientist Andrew Huberman calls it “The Michael Jordan of Supplements”1.

This organic compound is not just a supplement that can be consumed— it is naturally synthesised from the amino acids glycine, arginine, and methionine in the liver, kidneys, and pancreas. Interestingly, creatine is also found in the brain, highlighting its broader significance for our body.

Primarily sourced from fish and meat in our diet, creatine is the most extensively studied and popular supplement. However, it’s essential not to confuse creatine with creatinine, a byproduct of creatine digestion.

How does it work? Creatine fuels muscles during high-intensity activities by replenishing adenosine triphosphate (ATP) stores, the primary energy currency for cellular processes. ATP is the fuel for our body’s engine, and creatine is the key to keeping that engine running at full speed.

When a cell requires energy, ATP loses a phosphate group, becoming ADP (adenosine diphosphate). Creatine stores phosphate as phosphocreatine, donating it to ADP to regenerate ATP, especially during high-energy demands like intense physical training.

What Are The Benefits of Creatine?

Increased Muscle Mass and Strength:

  • When combined with resistance training, Creatine supplementation significantly increases lean muscle mass and enhances strength more than resistance training alone2 3.
  • A scoping review found creatine effective in augmenting muscle growth, particularly in healthy young individuals with adequate training4.

Improved Brain Function and Neuroprotection:

  • Studies suggest creatine may enhance healthy individuals’ short-term memory, intelligence, and reasoning abilities5.
  • Creatine supports brain energy metabolism and shows potential neuroprotective effects, reducing brain damage in animal models6.

Anti-Ageing and Disease Management:

  • Creatine supplementation may help maintain functional capacity and reduce the risk of chronic diseases as we age7.
  • Potential therapeutic applications are being explored for conditions like sarcopenia, osteoporosis, diabetes, cancer, and injury rehabilitation.

Safety and Efficacy:

  • Numerous studies have demonstrated the safety of creatine supplementation at recommended dosages8.
  • Creatine is one of the most extensively researched and scientifically supported supplements, with solid evidence backing its efficacy for various applications.

What Are the Risks of Creatine?

Gastrointestinal Issues: Some individuals may experience mild gastrointestinal discomforts, such as nausea, diarrhoea, or abdominal cramping when starting creatine supplementation. These effects are typically temporary and subside with continued use9.

Water Retention: Creatine can cause water retention or bloating, especially in the initial loading phase, due to increased intracellular water uptake10.

Kidney Function: Multiple long-term studies have found no adverse effects of creatine supplementation on kidney function markers like plasma urea levels or microalbuminuria. However, caution is advised for individuals with pre-existing kidney disease.11

Liver Function: Research indicates no significant concerns regarding liver function with long-term creatine use in healthy individuals12.

Muscle Cramps: Although muscle cramps are sometimes anecdotally reported, the evidence does not suggest creatine supplementation increases the risk of muscle cramps13.

Hair Loss: No scientific evidence links creatine supplementation to hair loss14.

A large placebo-controlled trial involving 175 participants taking 10g of creatine daily for an average of 310 days found no significant differences in adverse effects like nausea, gastrointestinal discomfort, or diarrhoea between the creatine and placebo groups15.

Overall, the indications are that long-term creatine supplementation at recommended doses (up to 10g/day) is safe and well-tolerated in healthy individuals, with few serious adverse effects reported in clinical studies. However, individual responses may vary, and caution is advised for those with pre-existing kidney or liver issues.

How To Use Creatine?

Most studies show benefits from a loading phase before transitioning to a maintenance dose. The loading protocol typically involves around 0.3 grams per kilogram of body weight per day, divided into four equal doses throughout the day for 5–7 days. This is followed by a daily maintenance dose of at least 0.03 g/kg of body weight16.

Several forms of exogenous creatine exist, but creatine monohydrate is the most widely studied and has shown excellent safety and efficacy17.

Be mindful that caffeine may reduce the performance benefits of creatine, although this finding is contested in some studies18 19. Pay attention to the timing of your coffee or the ingredients in any pre-workout supplements you use.

TLDR;

Creatine, a widely researched and popular supplement, enhances cell energy production, benefiting muscle and brain function. Its advantages include increased muscle mass and strength, improved cognitive function, and potential anti-ageing effects. Generally safe for most individuals, creatine may cause minor side effects like gastrointestinal discomfort and water retention, but long-term use is well-tolerated. For optimal results, follow a loading phase with a maintenance dose and be mindful of caffeine consumption.

References

  1. https://brainflow.co/2024/03/23/andrew-huberman-creatine ↩︎
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3407788 ↩︎
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3407788 ↩︎
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8949037 ↩︎
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6093191/ ↩︎
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7910963 ↩︎
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7910963 ↩︎
  8. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00726-011-0878-2 ↩︎
  9. https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-873/creatine ↩︎
  10. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/creatine-safety-and-side-effects ↩︎
  11. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10999421 ↩︎
  12. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10999421 ↩︎
  13. https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-873/creatine ↩︎
  14. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/creatine-safety-and-side-effects ↩︎
  15. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15795816 ↩︎
  16. https://examine.com/supplements/creatine/#dosage-information ↩︎
  17. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/36000773 ↩︎
  18. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8929583 ↩︎
  19. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26439785 ↩︎

[NB. All images created using MidJourney]

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