I’m going to be tackling all common supplements, breaking down the safety, how to use them, what they’re for, when to use them and if they’re “healthy” or not. This time it is a personal favorite. Creatine gets a bad rap sometimes but is commonly misunderstood. This is why I’ve chosen to write the definitive guide to creatine benefits.
Creatine is one of the most studied and used supplements on the market for performance. But there are a TON of questions I get about creatine on a routine basis: what is it, what does it do, is it safe, should you be taking it, when should you be taking it and how much should you be taking? These are all excellent questions that we will be answering here in this article.
There is going to be a ton of useful, yet dense, information regarding potential issues of creatine supplementation in this article. Because of that, I have added (Human translations) in case you don’t care about all of the verbosity and just want to know the takeaways.
But of course, the most pressing issue, is creatine paleo or not paleo?
What is creatine and what does it do?
Creatine is a protein-like molecule that is found in abundance in animal protein sources. It is synthesized in the liver from three amino acids – arginine, glycine and methionine. When taken up through the bloodstream, creatine is bound to phosphate and makes a phosphocreatine group (PCr).
(Human translation: Creatine is kind of like a small molecule of protein, but not exactly.)
ATP (adenosinetriphosphate) is the body’s currency of energy. Energy is produced inside the by cleaving a phosphate molecule from ATP. After a phosphate group from ATP is cleaved and used for energy it only has two phosphate groups and is called ADP or adenosinediphosphate. To be able to create energy again, ADP must regain a phosphate group to become ATP again. What creatine does is readily donate the phosphate group back to the ADP so it can become ATP and provide your body with readily available energy stores.
(Human translation: Creatine allows you to regenerate your energy stores quicker.)
Supplementing with creatine effectively increases your body’s ability to buffer your energy stores. When your body has more energy, you can do more work. When you can do more work, you can perform better, become stronger, more powerful and increase muscle mass – some of the reasons why people take creatine supplementally.
(Human translation: More energy equals higher work capacity equals reaching goals faster.)
Creatine doesn’t simply just pack on the muscles by adding it to your protein shake. No need to worry ladies and don’t get too psyched up about it guys. Creatine just increases the potential for work output. Creatine is not directly responsible for building muscle or increasing performance, that would be your effort and intensity.
(Human translation: You still have to put in the work.)
Is creatine safe?
So now we know what creatine does – increases the rate of energy potential. Does that mean it is okay and safe to take?
The good news is that creatine is one of the most studied supplements on the market. It has been thoroughly studied in the long term, and no adverse effects have been reported. Initial reports and theorized mechanisms of renal (kidney) disturbance were feared upon in the 80s and 90s, but such reports and thoughts have been debunked.
(Human translation: Yes, creatine is safe to take.)
So, no need to worry, creatine will not kill you, ruin your kidneys, or mess up your liver. The question remains, however, should you even be taking it supplementally?
Should you be looking for creatine benefits?
If CrossFit, power, strength or any other high intensity exercise is your goal, then creatine should be highly considered as an effective supplement to add to your arsenal. Any sport or exercise where your goal is to increase explosive power, quick bursts, lean mass or strength, then creatine may result you in reaching your goals faster. As we’ve said before though, don’t expect a miracle. You still have to work at the end ranges of your comfort zone to adapt and make changes.
(Human translation: If you move heavy things or very quickly, then yes, you should take creatine.)
If you are long distance or endurance athlete, creatine supplementation is probably a waste of time and money for you. Energy turnover is gradual enough where you don’t need the specific buffer that creatine supplementation offers. The caveat is if you are an endurance athlete who sometimes needs sprints to complete portions of their sports (soccer, basketball, cycling). If you need short bursts of energy in your sport, then it would be wise to add creatine into your supplementation program.
(Human translation: If you move long distances slowly, you probably don’t need creatine.)
What type of creatine should you take?
As with anything else that you put into your body, the source you get creatine benefits from matters. An estimated 98% of all creatine is consumed in conjunction with artificial ingredients and flavored blends sold to the masses. Manufacturers and marketers will try to sell you on proprietary blends that increase the effectiveness of the creatine, but don’t buy it.
The bottom line is that proprietary blends are often bogus. Different esters or forms of creatine don’t help anything but the pocketbooks of the manufacturers. There are no differences in the forms of creatine and it’s effectiveness.
There are plenty of different options, but the cheapest and simplest choice is the best in this case. Bulk creatine monohydrate is the way to go if all you want is creatine. There is no secret transporter or form of creatine that makes it more effective. This is a myth.
(Human translation: Look for creatine monohydrate that is not mixed with a bunch of other things you can’t pronounce.)
How much creatine should you take?
Studies have shown time and time again there is no use to supplementing more than roughly 5 grams of creatine per day. The sweet spot for most individuals is somewhere in between 3 and 5 grams. If you are smaller, take less, if you are bigger, take more.
Some creatine manufacturers will attempt to sell you on a “loading phase”, where you take upwards of 20 grams of creatine supplements for up to a week to prime your tissues to take more in. This is just a fancy of way of them suggesting you take four times of what you need for a week so you have to buy more product sooner. Complete marketing gimmick.
(Human translation: Take between 3-5 grams/day. No need to take more.)
When should you supplement to get creatine benefits?
Timing of creatine isn’t completely critical. If you are already taking a pre/post workout drink or shake, go ahead and toss it in there. Studies have shown, however, that daily intake is recommended, so take it on your off days as well. Long term supplementation is nothing to worry about, but I recommend giving your body a break from both supplements AND foods that you are eating on a daily basis every now and then. This “cycling off” isn’t necessary by any means.
(Human translation: Whenever, daily.)
Is Creatine Natural?
My stance has been pretty firm on real foods and it rings true here. If your body can use something for benefit while minimizing or eliminating risk, then it is worth consuming. Creatine is a naturally occurring substance, and doesn’t change forms or isomers when it is synthesized in a lab so it is just the way as nature would it intend it to be when looking from your cells perspective. It is extremely beneficial and has not been shown to create any adverse effects when taken in the long term and in moderate dosages.
(Human translation: Yes.)
In my opinion – Yes, creatine is natural and healthy.
Again, supplements are named aptly and should be thought of as that – a supplement to proper nutrition. Get your nutrition dialed in 95% or more before you start toying with supplements. But wait! Cavemen didn’t have this stuff! Does that mean things like creatine should be avoided? Absolutely not. I’ve highlighted my thoughts how “paleo” should be approached before. Summarized, If your cells can process it a lifestyle action or something you intake and use it for your health or performance advantage, that’s MY type of paleo.
SUMMARY OF CREATINE BENEFITS
– Creatine increases the availability and reproduction of potential energy in the muscle
– Creatine is completely safe to supplement with
– Take between 3-5 g, whatever time, daily
– Use creatine monohydrate or check out pureWOD PRE
Okay, so now for the plug – I couldn’t find a product that I felt comfortable taking or recommending, so I made one. That would be a pre-workout formula I developed called pureWOD PRE that combines creatine with several other beneficial supplements that drive performance, build muscle and decrease fatigue. There are no fillers and no artificial ingredients. The true paleo way.