What’s the Deal With Creatine?

Creatine is a supplement that has held a spotlight in the fitness world for its popularity, but also as one of the more heavily debated supplements among athletes and fitness enthusiasts. Despite its widespread use and purported benefits, questions and concerns about its safety and efficacy persist. In this article, we plan to dive into the depths of science behind creatine supplementation, aiming to demystify its mechanisms and shed light on its potential advantages. By delving into the scientific evidence, we aim to empower you to make informed decisions about whether creatine supplementation aligns with your fitness goals and personal preferences.

What is Creatine?

Creatine is a compound synthesized in the body from two amino acids: glycine and arginine. Unlike essential nutrients, which must be obtained through diet, our bodies have the ability to produce creatine internally. The liver, kidneys and pancreas play key roles in the body’s production of creatine. 

While creatine synthesis occurs within the body, dietary intake of creatine can still be significant, especially for individuals who may have higher demands due to intense physical activity or specific health conditions. Foods rich in creatine, such as high-quality red meat and fish, can contribute to overall creatine intake and support the body’s energy metabolism.

Creatine is one of the most researched supplements in the fitness industry with numerous studies examining its safety and efficacy. A meta-analysis published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition concluded that short- and long-term creatine supplementation does not appear to have any detrimental effects on renal function in healthy individuals when taken within recommended dosages. Additionally, don’t forget that creatine is a non-essential nutrient, meaning we make it inside of our bodies! We would not make something that is harmful to us and let it circulate throughout the body. 

The Mechanism of Creatine Supplementation

One of the key mechanisms through which creatine enhances exercise performance is its role in ATP (adenosine triphosphate) production. Think of ATP as the primary energy currency of cells. It is essential for virtually all cellular processes, including muscle contraction during exercise. 

At the heart of creatine’s function is the creatine kinase enzyme. This enzyme facilitates the transfer of phosphate groups between ATP and creatine, forming creatine phosphate (or phosphocreatine). This reversible reaction allows the rapid regeneration of ATP from ADP (adenosine diphosphate) during periods of intense exercise. This mechanism works through a hydrolysis reaction, meaning it requires water for the reaction to take place. Because the reaction requires water to take place, you have to ensure that you are adequately hydrated while supplementing with creatine. If the body isn’t sufficiently hydrated, creatine attempts to pull the necessary water from wherever it can. This can lead to an imbalance where the cells retain too much water, resulting in a bloated or puffy appearance. Therefore, when taking creatine, it is crucial to ensure you drink plenty of water to support the hydrolysis process and maintain overall hydration, helping the supplement work effectively without adverse effects. 

When it comes to the ideal time to take creatine, the studies point to the fact that consuming creatine post-workout is superior to pre-workout consumption for eliciting the benefits creatine  offers (increased ATP production, increased lean muscle mass, strength, power, better recovery, etc.). However, while science offers us general guidelines, personal experience should never be overlooked. It’s crucial to tune into your body’s unique responses. Whether you find better results with pre- or post-workout creatine, the most effective strategy is always the one that is best tailored to your individual needs.

Maintaining Energy Production During Exercise and the Role of Creatine Supplementation

During exercise, muscle cells require large amounts of ATP to sustain contraction. However, high levels of ATP can inhibit key enzymes that work to produce more ATP. This is where creatine phosphate steps in as a buffer against metabolic inhibition, ensuring continuous ATP production.

By supplementing with creatine, individuals can increase the pool of creatine phosphate within muscle cells. This increase in creatine phosphate levels enhances the capacity to generate ATP, particularly during high-intensity activities such as powerlifting or sprinting. Refer to the figure below for a visual guide of this creatine energy buffering process.

A walk through on how creatine works

To better understand the function of creatine, consider this bank account analogy:

Say you have a checking account and a savings account. Your checking account can only hold up to $1,000 at a time. Now, say you earn $2,000 – where are you going to put your money? Your checking account can only hold $1,000. Are you going to deposit your $1,000 and waste the other $1,000? No – you are going to take the other $1,000 and put it in your savings account. Additionally, would you stop trying to make money, just because your checking account is maxed out? Probably not, you will just continue adding additional money into your savings account! This is how creatine functions for ATP production – it serves as a savings account for energy so that it’s not only available when you need it, but also so that the body doesn’t stop producing ATP because it thinks you have enough. 

Creatine supplementation offers athletes and fitness enthusiasts a scientifically-backed means of improving exercise performance. Understanding the science behind creatine can help you make informed decisions about whether or not it’s right for you. Everyone is different, and every supplement will affect each person differently. The important thing is that you find what works for you on your journey to health, and stay consistent in what does work for you. If creatine sounds like something that may benefit your training and you want to give it a try, check out our Supplement Dispensary for our creatine recommendation! If you want to talk about this further, reach out to your trainer for some assistance.

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Picture of Erica Moore

Erica Moore

NASM Certified Personal Trainer, Stick Mobility Level 1 Certified