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Choosing the Right Tools in Your Performance Toolbox: Creatine

1993. Paul Keating was Prime Minister in Australia and Bill Clinton was President in the United States. The world was watching the news as the World Trade Center in New York was attacked (the 1st time), a spectator stabbed a professional tennis player and a professional world-class sprinter was banned for life. 1993 was also the year that forever changed bodybuilding and sports nutrition. It was the year the first commercial Creatine supplements hit the market. And it was as if the Holy Grail was found. The Holy Grail of supplements if you will. It was expensive. It wasn’t uncommon for a 150-gram bottle (a 30 day supply) to sell for well over $100 US. And you had to completely change your meal planning, your training, your work, your school, your social life, your sleep, essentially your life to use it “properly.” You needed to “load it”. Five 5 gram servings every day for 10 days. We watched the clock all day anxiously waiting for our next spoon of this sacred white powder. You couldn’t use Caffeine as it was believed to counteract the Creatine. We walked around for weeks with pounding headaches from stopping our pot-of-coffee-a-day habits abruptly. We weighed ourselves obsessively waiting for that first gram of new weight to appear that we were promised. And every workout felt like our first again as we waited for the first strength gains to materialize like the test subjects were reporting in all of the bodybuilding magazines we read religiously in-between sets of squats and bench presses.

And as fast as Creatine exploded onto the market, it seems to have faded back into the dark corners of obscurity just as fast. The same way the squat racks of today’s gym have faded into disuse in exchange for the half-squat, peacock stance on the bosu ball with 14 different gauges of resistance bands wrapped around you like a rainbow mummy exercise-of-the-day by some semi-famous social media influencer claiming they have the key to the perfect physique.

So why exactly has Creatine fallen into the bottom of the performance toolbox as opposed to being the first tool we consider?  Well, let’s take a look at some of the most frequent myths we commonly hear people say today about Creatine…  “Creatine is scary, it’s made in an underground lab somewhere with no quality controls.” “I’m not a bodybuilder, why do I need Creatine?” “Creatine makes females bulk up.” “Creatine makes me have water retention.” “Creatine causes cramping.” “Creatine causes dehydration.” Water retention and dehydration? Hmmmm…. Seems to me I remember something about “The Law of Non-Competition?” Anyway… Let’s start at the beginning…

Creatine is made in the body and found in various food sources we eat as part of a balanced diet. Our bodies make around a gram of Creatine each day from the Amino Acids Arginine, Glycine, and Methionine. The process starts in the kidneys and is completed in the liver. The body uses these three Amino Acids to synthesize Creatine, which is then stored in skeletal muscle as Creatine Phosphate and used for energy. And if we eat a well-balanced diet and have no dietary restrictions or limitations we could be consuming upwards of another gram or so a day from sources such as Poultry, Fish, Pork and Beef. A typical serving of Chicken or Beef contains around 200 milligrams of Creatine.  Vegetarians can consume a variety of protein sources throughout the day in order to take in recommended amounts of Amino Acids that the body needs to make Creatine. Arginine is found in Peanuts, Walnuts, Coconuts, Soybeans, Chickpeas, and Oats. Glycine is found in Spinach, Soy and Sesame Seeds. Methionine is found in Brazil Nuts, Oats, and Sunflower Seeds.

Before Understanding Creatine, which has been the subject of over 300 published studies and over 100 published human studies, you need to understand energy production in the body.  Every cell needs energy to function. Muscle cells need Energy to contract. This energy is in the form of a molecule called ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate). Energy is produced when one of the phosphate groups is removed from the ATP molecule. Once the one phosphate group is removed, only two remain. The molecule is now called ADP (Adenosine Diphosphate). This “recycling” process requires energy and the replacement of the third phosphate.

This brings us back to Creatine. When we consume Creatine the body converts Creatine (as a supplement Creatine Monohydrate is the most widely researched) to Creatine Phosphate. Creatine Phosphate donates its phosphate group to ADP, thus making ATP.

So what does this all mean? A standard dose of 3-5g Creatine monohydrate per day will have the same desired effect as loading, which is the act of taking 5 g of Creatine (4 times per day) to achieve muscle Creatine saturation relatively quickly. Muscle Creatine stores can be maintained by regularly consuming 3 g of Creatine per day.

Taking 5g of Creatine a day (both training and non-training days) over time (at least a month) combined with high-intensity activities helps support performance and muscle recovery, when taken over time with regular resistance training. As such, Creatine can support athletes whose sport requires strength, power and explosive movements.

A few final things in respect to Creatine to consider? As Creatine works chronically over time and not acutely, loading Creatine is not necessary. Once muscle Creatine levels are maxed, you are not going significantly increase levels further. As such, you don’t need to consume large amounts of sugar or anything else to “increase absorption.” And time of day for consumption is less important as well against consistency so you can consume whenever is most convenient for you. Recommend taking Creatine on training and non-training days again whenever it’s convenient for you. And no you don’t need to avoid Caffeine. Creatine can be added into anything you enjoy eating or drinking.

So if your goals include anything around strength, power or explosiveness, why would you not want to be using this tool in your performance toolbox?