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Creatine 101 - What is Creatine and How Does it Work?

  • 5 min read

What is Creatine

Creatine by Definition: 

Creatine is an organic acid that helps to supply energy to cells, particularly to muscle and brain cells.

Creatine is the most extensively studied supplement in history. If you have any doubt or have asked yourself "should I take creatine?", there may be one or more reasons as to why you should!

Studies show it's used to increase cognitive performance, reduce the effects of aging, increases overall muscle health, and helps strengthen the immune system! (1, 2, 3, 4)

Additionally, it's provides a number of other health benefits, such as preventing neurological disease. (5, 6, 7, 8 )

Creatine has been tested extensively for any negative side effects and potential risk factors, none of which have been identified. Instead, creatine has an exemplary safety profile. (9, 10, 11, 12)

This article explains everything you need to know about creatine.

 What is Creatine
 
What Is Creatine?

Creatine is a combination of three different amino acids: glycine, arginine, and methionine. That's it—nothing more than a combination of amino acids. Creatine is also produced by the body and found in certain high-protein foods such as chicken, fish and red meat. It is not a lab synthesized compound, it is naturally produced by the pancreas, kidney, and liver which is ultimately used as energy within your exoskeleton and brain. (13, 14, 15)

There a multiple members of the creatine family and most findings are specifically related to creatine monohydrate. Chemically speaking, it shares many similarities with amino acids. Your body can produce it from the amino acids "glycine" and "arginine". 

When you supplement, you increase your stores of phosphocreatine. This is a form of stored energy in the cells, as it helps your body produce more of a high-energy molecule called ATP.

ATP is often called the body’s energy currency. When you have more ATP, your body can perform better during exercise and focus/memory engaging activity.

Creatine also alters several cellular processes that lead to increased muscle health, strength and recovery. The world of creatine benefits truly knows no bounds. (1617)

What Does Creatine Do?

Energy

Creatine (ATP and creatine phosphate) acts as an energy depot (i.e., a kind of battery). It helps bridge the time until the biodegradation of glucose (glycolysis), glycogen (glycogenolysis), and fat (lipolysis and fatty acid oxidation) release further energy into the body. You're probably wondering what is the bottom line... Is creatine good for you? In short yes, very!

  • Creatine increases energy production in your mitochondria (powerhouse of the cell). That extra energy enhances brain function, muscle strength, and your overall performance.
  • The second way that creatine improves mitochondrial function is by increasing adenosine monophosphate kinase (AMPK) signaling. When your energy drops, AMPK activates glucose and fatty acid uptake for energy. (18) If you’re in ketosis, this is the part where you burn lots of fat. One study showed that creatine activates AMPK and turns on genes that make new mitochondria, and also release enzymes that sweep away damaging free radicals. (19) Both processes protect your mitochondria from damage.

    What is Creatine

    Anti-Aging
    • Some of the anti-aging effects of creatine supplementation is to increase intracellular water content, keep mitochondria healthy, and by positively affecting emotional stability. Aging is associated with loss of intracellular water. Phosphocreatine has also been found to reduce leakage of cytoplasmic contents, such as intracellular enzymes. This may be attributed, in part, to phosphocreatine's ability to stabilize cellular membranes and prevent tissue damage.
    • The mitochondrial theory of aging, which is a variant of the free radical theory, maintains that mitochondrial DNA mutations and damage to mitochondria increase oxidative stress and impair energy production (which accelerates aging). This is another mechanism that appears to be beneficially modulated by creatine supplementation.
    • Exercise is well-established in improving brain health, including cognitive, mood and emotion-related functions. In particular, exercise is used as an effective strategy for stress management and treating depression, as well as its beneficial effects on body systems that can ameliorate the side effects of antidepressants side effects, such as nausea, increased appetite and weight gain, fatigue and drowsiness, sleep disturbance, suicide, and anxiety.

      What is Creatine

      Muscle Health

      Energy aside, creatine activates several muscle-specific cellular pathways that lead to increased muscle health:

      • Combined with weight training, creatine increases myonuclei, the nuclei in muscle fibers. More myonuclei mean more growth. The coolest part — you get to keep the extra myonuclei you make, even if you take a break from training and lose your strength. (20, 21)
      • Supplementing with creatine while resistance training increases insulin-like growth factor, which stimulates muscle growth. (22, 23)
      • Creatine activates protein kinases that assemble skeletal muscle-building proteins. (24)

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      Brain Function

      Your brain stores phosphocreatine and requires plenty of ATP for optimal function. 

      • Cells with greater energy requirements, like neurons, rely heavily on the creatine/phosphocreatine system's role in energy transport. (25) The system has also adapted to facilitate the energy requirements of different brain-cell types. (26) That's why the creatine/phosphocreatine system is found throughout the brain.

      • Recent study findings agree that the creatine/phosphocreatine system is physiologically important for an adult brain to function at optimal levels. Moreover, they found that relative levels of creatine and phosphocreatine in the brain are considered reliable indicators of mental performance. (27)

      These are the creatine monohydrate benefits for the brain or good creatine monohydrate side effects. In other words, the more creatine in your brain, the better your brain works!

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      How Much Creatine Should I be Taking?

      There is a simple formula used to account for total creatine pool saturation in men and females alike. So, how does creatine work? There is a passive and accelerated approach to loading the body's creatine pools to optimal saturation levels. The passive loading phase can take anywhere from 3 to 4 weeks depending on your weight/total creatine pools, whilst the accelerated method is 7-8 days. The formulas for both are as follows:

      Accelerated: 0.3g/kg bodyweight per day for 7-8 days

      Passive: 0.03g/kg bodyweight for 3-4 weeks

      Both of these methods yield the same results and for post-load maintenance you will want to continue consuming the "passive load" amount on a daily basis. No cycling of creatine or on-and-off periods are required.(28)

      Creatine Supplements

      The benefits of creatine in all forms eg: creatine powder, creatine pills, or even a creatine gummy are all good sources of creatine and have no difference in their raw form but may be formulated with other compounds and ingredients. Certain formulas are designed to spike insulin and increase the driving force in the body or are designed to help increase certain benefits such as the nootropics in mental/cognitive application and physical/exercise related in pre/intra-workout blends. Keep these key differences in mind when choosing a creatine supplement!

      Is Creatine Safe?
      Is creatine bad for you? At the end of the day determining whether or not creatine is good for you and what is creatine good for, there is something paramount to keep in mind! Creatine is one of the most effective and safest supplements you can take. The dangers of being on creatine and the side effects of creatine are slim to none even in theory.
       
      Summary
      Just about everyone can benefit from taking creatine in one way or more. Taking creatine supports quality of life at any age for general brain health and exercise performance. Vegans/Vegetarians — who may not obtain enough creatine from their diet — and older adults may find supplementing particularly useful. Creatine is making itself widely known as an all-in-one foundation for good health and is safe for you to start supplementing today!

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