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What Is Creatine & How Does It Work?

how does creatine workDo you want to know the REAL scoop on creatine?

Does it work? Will it make you big? Is it safe?

Most importantly? How the hell does it actually work? What does it actually do?

If you want to know, READ THIS ARTICLE.

Not only will you be clued in, but you’ll be able to set the salesperson straight at your local supplement store when they try to peddle some ridiculous claim about creatine (and there are a LOT of them).

What Is Creatine?

Creatine is a natural compound. It is already found in our body, so you are not putting something artificial in there. 95% of our creatine stores are contained in skeletal muscle. It’s used in the production of energy.

This energy is called Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) and it is important to understand that ATP is essentially the fuel that the human body recognizes.

Let’s delve a little deeper now…

Human Energy Systems

ATP is produced by our energy systems, which are:

  • Aerobic System
  • Lactate System
  • Phosphocreatine System

Now, there is only a very limited amount of ATP is storage at any one time, about 1 – 2 seconds worth. ATP therefore has to be continually synthesized.

Differing levels of activity place varying demands on ATP production and utilize different energy systems to get the job done.

How Does Creatine Work?

Working at lower intensities (60% of max effort or less) uses the aerobic system for ATP production. People who exercise at this low level of intensity will not benefit from creatine supplementation because there is sufficient oxygen to create ATP to meet the demand of this type of training.

Working at between 60% and 95% intensity will involve more of the lactate system (which is anaerobic) to produce ATP. We’ve all experienced this, when you get to rep 6 or so in a set, you start to ‘feel the burn’. What’s happening is that the lactate system is producing ATP, a by-product of which is lactic acid.

So, what happens when us Muscle Hackers train to failure and work to 100% intensity? Now the lactate system cannot keep up with the demand so the phosphocreatine system creates ATP by regenerating it from ADP (Adenosine Diphosphate). Let’s explain that…

ADP to ATPATP releases its energy by giving up one of its phosphate molecules (there are 3 of them at this point). ATP therefore becomes ADP (diphosphate or 2 phosphate molecules). ATP is simply regenerated by taking a phosphate molecule from creatine phosphate and converting ADP back to ATP.

Since we really want to stimulate our fast-twitch 2b fibers for maximum muscle growth, our training absolutely requires us to utilize the phosphocreatine system. Now, it should be obvious that increasing the availability of creatine phosphate will allow us to train with more intensity, stimulate more fibers, and produce more muscle growth stimulation.

Bodybuilders therefore try to maximize this availability by supplementing with creatine (typically an increase in creatine phosphate stores of 10-40%). The tried and tested method is to saturate the cells with creatine and then maintain it by loading for 5 days @ 20grams per day, then taking 5 grams everyday thereafter.

There is no definitive science regarding the efficacy of cycling creatine, but I like to come off it for a few weeks after 8 weeks of continuous use.

Enhancing Muscle Recovery

I’ve got my doubts about this one. As always, I look to science rather than ‘bodybuilding dogma’ or the label of a supplement bottle for information. 99% of creatine users will tell you that it speeds up recovery – if true, that would be very nice indeed!

While I’m not saying it isn’t possible, some studies indicate that at least indirect markers of muscle damage do NOT improve with creatine supplementation.

J Strength Cond Res. 2007 Nov;21(4):1208-13. Rawson ES, Conti MP, Miles MP.
J Strength Cond Res. 2001 May;15(2):178-84. Rawson ES, Gunn B, Clarkson PM.

However, 1 study on untrained individuals using eccentric-only workouts suggested that creatine supplementation DOES aid in recovery.

J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2009 Jun 2;6:13. Cooke MB, Rybalka E, Williams AD, Cribb PJ, Hayes A.

It may help, but don’t depend on it.

Volumizing With Creatine

Saturating cells with creatine has the effect of increasing water retention. Basically, you’ll look a little bigger and be a little heavier while supplementing with creatine.

This is a nice cosmetic effect of creatine supplementation, I think we’ll all agree.

Increasing Protein Synthesis

Some websites claim irrefutably that increased muscle creatine levels increases protein synthesis rates. I’m not completely sold on this but it certainly is possible. This first study below would be supportive, the latter suggesting that this is not the case, at least in the short-term post exercise period.

Recent Adv Stud Cardiac Struct Metab. 1975;8:467-81.
Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab 285: E1089-E1094, 2003

So Why Take Creatine?

From the above, I DEFINITELY recommend creatine supplementation because:

  • You’ll have an extra supply of energy to knock out some extra reps. More reps = more stimulation = more muscle growth!
  • Purely from a cosmetic viewpoint, you’ll look a little bigger
  • It may speed up the recovery process which means you’ll overcompensate (grow) sooner also
  • It may elevate protein synthesis rates

Not bad for a relatively cheap supplement, eh?

I can almost hear some of you saying, “But Is Creatine Safe?”. In short, YES it is – read this article. Here’s a quote from it:

There is no scientific evidence that the short or long-term use of creatine monohydrate has any detrimental effects on otherwise healthy individuals.

Some of you may be wondering what the best form of creatine is. I’ve previously blogged about the best form of creatine; it’s good old creatine monohydrate.

I am currently using a Creapure Micronized Creatine Monohydrate (UK & European Readers Should Get Their Creatine Here). If you won’t settle and want the best, then that’s what I suggest you go for.

If you’ve been supplementing with creatine for a few months (or years!) without a break, I suggest you come off it for about 2-3 weeks, grab some new creapure like this one and start the cycle over again. Creatine supplementation SHOULD result in a noticeable increase in strength, so don’t settle for second best.

Also, don’t buy supplements with creatine as just one of many ingredients – this means that anytime you want some creatine you have to consume some other unnecessary fillers too. Just get a good Creapure Micronized Creatine Monohydrate and you’re all set.

I hope this article helped settle some science and banish some myths for you. I also hope it helped some of you ‘on-the-fence’ guys finally decide to start your first creatine cycle!

To New Gains!

Mark McManus, trainer & author of the NEW fat-torching system “Total Six Pack Abs” & the BREAKTHROUGH Arm-Maximizer program “The Arms Blast Experiment Revealed!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Switch December 8, 2009, 8:35 pm

    awesome stuff dude! Thanks for the indepth analysis. I switched back to mono on your recco a while ago and haven’t looked back :)

  • Andrew Mast December 8, 2009, 9:08 pm

    My whole thing with Creatine is something I read recently about the quality of ingredients or better yet, the process by which it’s made. Here’s an example, but you can google “creatine china danger”

    Example quote:
    “Many companies creatine may be from China and there is no telling what you are actually buying. Many companies sell Chinese creatine re-packaged in their own United States label. Do not buy creatine, protein or glutamine with sugar and insulin included.”

  • Amr December 8, 2009, 11:23 pm

    Good information mark, but some doctors have warned me from using it, i don’t know why!!!

  • John Osborne December 8, 2009, 11:44 pm

    Hi Mark,

    My name is John Osborne, I am currently studying exercise science at uni and remembered a paper where the researchers extrapolated protein synthesis after creatine supplementation. I think it was this one:

    Kelly, Vincent G; Jenkins, David G. (1998) Effect of Oral Creatine Supplementation on Near-Maximal Strength and Repeated Sets of High-Intensity Bench Press Exercise

    Which can be found here:

    http://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Abstract/1998/05000/Effect_of_Oral_Creatine_Supplementation_on.10.aspx

    Hope this helps and keep up the informative articles (they’re great),

    Regards,
    John Osborne

  • Tom December 9, 2009, 3:52 am

    So when should you use creatine. While you work out, before, after, a combination thereof?

  • Sunil December 9, 2009, 3:54 am

    Hello Mark,

    But when to take creatine

    Before or after workout and how much quantity….

  • razor December 9, 2009, 5:57 am

    awesome info buddy, great job

  • Storm December 9, 2009, 10:56 am

    awesome information :) though I disagree with you on the monohydrate being the outright best. I have tried it and got decent results but now im on an EE creatine pill and getting awesome results from it, got from benching 180pounds for 6 reps to 8 reps.

  • Shay December 9, 2009, 12:31 pm

    Like with all supplements you want to go with a quality pharmaceutical grade creatine.

    Jarrow creatine and BIOCHEM Ultimate Creatine Monohydrate are high both high quality pharmaceutical grade.

    An interesting benefit of creatine supplementation and resistance training in women is a gain in lean mass as well as fat loss.
    http://www.hawaii.edu/hivandaids/Effect%20of%20Creatine%20Supplementation%20During%20Resistance%20Training%20in%20Women.pdf

  • John December 9, 2009, 4:14 pm

    Hi Mark,

    What’s ur opinion on http://www….
    I was considering taking it start of new year to aid in my training as its meant to provide you with more of a pump and extra bit of strength.

    Would like to hear your opinion on this
    Thanks,
    John

    P.S. good blog as always :)

  • mario December 9, 2009, 5:48 pm

    do you think creatine will affect the way you sprint? faster? more intense?

  • Mitch December 10, 2009, 1:09 am

    Marc, I used creatine a few years ago and saw some decent results with it. It, combined with a great routine and nutrition helped me put on over 15 lbs.

    Sunil, I found that following the directions on the bottle worked. They also coincide with what many websites say about when to take it. I took mine in the morning with some juice for breakfast and before a workout.

  • Kynan December 10, 2009, 6:54 am

    hi mark, what is your view on people that body build without any kind of supplements?

  • mace twoblades December 10, 2009, 8:00 am

    I’m a big fan of creatine and i cycle it 12 weeks on 2 weeks off not because i have been directed to but because i cycle all supplements to see if they work and to give the body a rest, I’m not however a big fan of monohydrate creatine as it bloats me and gives me cramps, i use an ethyl ester for faster delivery and less side effects, noteable energy increases and size i can vouch for. I would take it for the energy alone, i do notice i recover quickly after each set possibly part of the energy being supplied by the creatine. In short you wont be doing yourself any harm in taking creatine and best of all its cheap!! and works

  • Mark McManus December 10, 2009, 10:34 am

    @Andrew. I’ve been taking a Creapure brand creatine for almost a year now. I trust it. This is copied from another site…
    “Creatine was discovered in the first half of the 19th century as a component of beef tea and for quite some time Liebigs Fleischextrakt (a meat extract) was the only source. In the 1990′s chemical synthesis became more efficient and has been established in the large-scale industrial production. Degussa developed a synthetic route (cf. US patent 5,719,319) guaranteeing highest quality, purity and safety and is marketing this product under the Creapure brand.”

  • Mark McManus December 10, 2009, 10:50 am

    @Amr. I don’t know why either man. Ask him/her for an explanation.
    @John Osborne. Thanks for that, very interesting.
    @Tom & Sunil. You’ll hear many opinions on when is the best time to take creatine but I feel it is better to take it AFTER a workout. It’s after a workout that your body will want to replenish creatine phosphate stores. And the body is primed for nutrient uptake after a workout, not before.

  • Mark McManus December 10, 2009, 10:54 am

    @Storm & Mace. Take a look at my article on comparing different creatines. It’s not my opinion but the results of a comparative study that showed mono was most effective…
    http://www.musclehack.com/creatine-facts-what-is-the-best-creatine/

  • Mark McManus December 10, 2009, 11:36 am

    @John. I think you should opt for a pure creatine on its own. Also, that particular product isn’t mono.
    @mario. Any sport that requires sudden bursts of energy will benefit from creatine supplementation.
    @Kynan. I’m all for it man. Vast majority of bb supplements are expensive junk. I take protein, glutamine & cycle creatine, that’s it.

  • Amr December 10, 2009, 12:06 pm

    yes mark i asked them & they explained that it is precipitated in the kidney causing kidney stones.

  • Andy Medlam December 10, 2009, 10:44 pm

    Great info. . .

    I’ll be returning soon to check out other stuff soon

    Cheers

    Andy

  • Kynan December 12, 2009, 4:20 am

    that’s good to hear. I can’t afford to buy supplements and am trying to make it a point to not use any. but is there some sort of need to lower my expectations or perhaps change my diet? i understand that there is a factor of patience and balance in achieving results..but is there something natural that can boost my performance in the gym?

  • Upcoming December 12, 2009, 11:17 am

    well i don’t think it’s safe. Just google creatine side effects and you’ll come across some very disturbing references about liver damage. You can also ask a doctor. I’m sure he won’t be excited at all guys. Besides, getting bigger is really good but not at the cost of your long or short term health. I’ll pass. I prefer using whey protein. It takes much longer but it gives you a more natural and beautiful result.

  • Andrew Mast December 12, 2009, 12:00 pm

    Kynan,
    No need to lower your expectations. Plenty of people avoid supplements, even pre-digested proteins like whey which can be as cheap as chicken.

    The most ‘natural’ things I’ve read about would be
    1) Eating balanced meal no sooner than 1 hour before you workout (energy)
    2) Drinking lots of water (better circulation for oxygen and waste products from working out)
    3) Caffeine!
    4a) Consume a carbohyrdrate during your workout
    4b) Work your butt off!! Show no mercy.
    4c) Immediately consume 50-100 grams of quick digesting protein and maltodextrin. I like American Whey Collegiate Cookies and Cream.

    There might be more, but these are pretty well established. Some of them are controversial so I would expect responses to my message either confirming or dismissing these claims, but they are just things I’ve personally read that seem more backed up by research than other studies.

  • Andrew Mast December 12, 2009, 12:02 pm

    CORRECTION: Cyto Sport Muscle Milk Collegiate Cookies and Cream. I use a few different brands so I mis-matched the name.

  • Kynan December 13, 2009, 2:41 am

    ok that’s good to hear. so far i’ve been using stuff like 85% dark chocolate/ weak coffee/ tea to give myself a boost in the gym on the days that am feeling down and it does work. will probably try to up my milk intake as well to see what happens. i’m trying desperately to reduce this excess skin that makes me want to kill myself everytime i see it.

  • Andrew Mast December 13, 2009, 2:19 pm

    Kynan,

    Actually, I’ve read that coffee is not as effective for some reason. Try energy drink packets. At Walmart you can get a box of sugar free energy powders. The one I use has splenda as a sweetener and is pretty simple ingredients. Just drop a packet in water and drink it in the morning before your cardio. It costs a few bucks and should last you a 3 weeks.

    I completely understand the extra skin frustration. I had a 12.8% body fat a year ago and just in the last few weeks of binging on holiday foods I’m at 16%!!! A low carb diet is a great way to lose fat fast as long as when you come off of it, you slowly introduce carbs. I’ve lost as much as 2% BF in a month and kept it off! I may do a low carb cycle after xmas but for now I’m just sqeezing in cardio between workouts. I’ve lost about .5% BF in two weeks.

  • bharath January 10, 2010, 10:34 am

    its any sexual side effects?

  • Sunil January 12, 2010, 6:18 am

    Hello Mark,

    How much quantity of dextrose monohydrate and creatine we have to take..in grams?

    I take these with vitamin c and e and antoxyforte cap that contain spirulina..that contain 100 amino acids…no side effects na if we continue for long term?