Creatine, the amino acid your muscles need

Amino acids are organic compounds that combine with each other to form the human body’s various proteins.  Their main function is structural, i.e. for the construction and repair of the  body’s structures, although they also play roles in reproduction and immunity (1).

Amino acids are classified as essential (we are not able to manufacture them so they must be ingested through food or supplementation) and non-essential (there is some endogenous synthesis but some dietary intake is also necessary). Of these twenty amino acids, three of them must be combined for the endogenous synthesis of creatine, specifically glycine, arginine (non-essential) and methionine (essential) (2).

What is creatine and how do we source it?

Creatine is such an important nutrient that it is found naturally in the food best designed by Mother Nature herself, breast milk (3). It is also present in animal muscle, and its best food-based sources are fish and meat. An omnivorous person (i.e. a person with a diet that includes both food of animal and vegetable origin) ingests 0.25-1 g of creatine through their diet, on average. It is estimated that the average needs of a sedentary adult are around 2 g. Therefore, the remaining nutritional needs should be synthesized by the body from three amino acids: glycine, arginine and methionine, demand  for which will increase with sports practice (4). The majority of creatine is found in skeletal muscle (approximately 95%), particularly in fast twitch fibres. Two thirds of this creatine is phosphorylated (in the form of phosphocreatine) and the rest is free creatine. The 5% remaining creatine is found in small quantities in the brain and testicles (5). 

But average dietary intake may not be sufficient in people who practice sport, especially high-intensity, short duration sports where the demand for amino acids increases and therefore a high quality creatine supplement can make the difference. 

Application of creatine in sport

The function of creatine is to temporarily donate energy-rich phosphate groups to muscle tissue. During muscle contractions, creatine phosphate is capable of rapidly supplying phosphate groups for the resynthesis of ATP, although only for a few seconds, which will be useful only in high-intensity, short duration sports (6). Studies with creatine have shown that this nutritional supplement is an authentic ergogenic aid. Many sports supplements have sought to enter the Olympus of supplements classed as effective, but scientific evidence has only awarded a few this category. Creatine is one of them. Creatine has proven effective in improving sports performance, not only in professional sports (studies with athletes) but also in recreational sports, by increasing the concentration of phosphocreatine in the muscle, a higher rate of ATP regeneration, a consequent delay in the onset of muscle fatigue, and facilitating recovery after repeated high-intensity exercises (7)(8)(9)(10).

The ergogenic potential of creatine is due to possible mechanisms of action that have been evaluated. Oral supplementation with creatine stimulates the proper functioning of the creatine kinase/phosphocreatine enzyme system and it is suggested that this supplementation may have a beneficial impact on both muscle protein and glycogen synthesis. Studies show that the dose put forward as effective for creatine supplementation should be assessed in each athlete by a sports nutrition professional. However, in studies the supplements are 0.3 g/kg weight/day for 5 to 7 days, followed by maintenance dosing at 0.03 g/kg weight/day (11) to increase concentrations of phosphocreatine and promote the metabolism of phosphates, helping to improve performance in high-intensity exercises and training adaptation (12)(13), as well as increasing ATP synthesis through the phosphagen energy pathway (14). 

The scientific evidence for creatine is overwhelming; hundreds of studies with this amino acid have shown that creatine (especially when administered in the form of creatine monohydrate) is a nutritional supplement that increases performance and muscle power in short duration, high-intensity resistance exercises (15) (16). Notably, creatine supplementation increases both intramuscular concentration and free creatine, which allows greater training adaptations as well as potentially enhancing post-exercise recovery, thermoregulation and injury prevention, according to the position stand of the International Society for Sports Nutrition (ISSN) (17).

Creatine is useful in specific types of sport

But the truth is that creatine does not present evidence in all types of sports. For example, creatine supplementation has not demonstrated any improvement in aerobic performance, although there is no doubt that creatine supplementation shows significant effects in anaerobic performance tests (in the absence of oxygen), such as in repeated sprinting and in explosive actions (14)(17)(18)(19). One study of mixed sport football players who received a loading dose of 20-30 g of creatine for 6 to 7 days, followed by supplementation with 5 g daily for 9 weeks or with a low dose of 3 mg/kg weight/day for 14 days, presented positive effects on physical performance tests related to anaerobic metabolism (20).

According to studies, creatine is recommended for simple acceleration sports (sprinting, swimming, cycling) or multiple acceleration sports (team sports such as football), as well as for bodybuilding, improving tone and muscle mass development. However, it does not seem to offer many advantages in endurance sports (such as a marathon). 

Such is the evidence that even the EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) has granted health claims for creatine, confirming that it increases physical performance during the practice of short duration intense exercise (21). In 2016, this same European entity also claimed that there is a cause and effect relationship between consuming at least 3 g of creatine in combination with regular resistance training (at least three times per week) and improved muscle strength in adults over 55 years (22). 

So there seems to be no room for speculation: creatine is considered to improve muscle tone and strength, and this is certainly a beneficial physiological effect on your locomotive apparatus. 

But you’ll be happy to know that creatine’s safety profile also benefits from strong support and minimal risk of adverse health effects at the doses studied, and that recent research even opens up new avenues of research into the possibility that creatine also offers cognitive benefits and neurodegenerative prevention (23)(24)(25). This would turn this nutritional supplement into an invaluable aid, beyond sports practice. 

Which creatine to choose, and how to consume it

When looking for high quality products, make sure that they offer the highest purity, are GMO-free, and that they work with creatine monohydrate, because since it was marketed in the 1990s, some companies have looked for different presentation and solubility formats (phosphate or creatine citrate). However, the majority of the scientific literature refers to its creatine monohydrate form and it is accepted that this is the one with the most extensively demonstrated and studied benefit (26). Also remember that it is best to mix your supplement powder with plenty of liquid because, along with creatine, water facilitates protein synthesis and muscle mass. 

Discover Abs monohydrate creatine, guaranteed purity at min. 99.9% (Creapure®). Our boxes are guaranteed BPA free (bisphenol A). Our products are developed and packaged by a laboratory in accordance with HACCP standards.

Note: If you are taking medication and have a specific medical condition, consult a specialist beforehand. 

Bibliography

(1) Functional amino acids in nutrition and health, Wu G. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23595206

(2) Amino acids: metabolism, functions, and nutrition. Wu G. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19301095

(3) Creatine and guanidinoacetate content of human milk and infant formulas: implications for creatine deficiency syndromes and amino acid metabolism.
Edison EE, Brosnan ME, Aziz K, Brosnan JT. 
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23388580

(4) Creatine: the nutritional supplement for exercise - current concepts. Mendes RR, Tirapegui J. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12184144

(5) Muscle creatine loading in men. Hultman E, Söderlund K, Timmons JA, Cederblad G, Greenhaff PL. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8828669

(6) Creatine and Phosphocreatine: A Review of Their Use in Exercise and Sport Joseph F. Clark, PhD, ATC https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1319235/

(7) Creatine supplementation as an ergogenic aid for sports performance in highly trained athletes: a critical review.
Mujika I, Padilla S. 
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9414070

(8) Ergogenic aids in sport, Santesteban Moriones V, Ibáñez Santos J. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28244793

(9) Dietary supplements and team-sport performance. Bishop D. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21058748

(10) ERGOGENIC SPORT SUPPLEMENTS FOR ATHLETES Arieli R, Lahav Y. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27544991

(11) Creatine supplementation. Hall M, Trojian TH. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23851411

(12) Effect of creatine and weight training on muscle creatine and performance in vegetarians.
Burke DG, Chilibeck PD, Parise G, Candow DG, Mahoney D, Tarnopolsky M. 
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14600563

(13) Effect of low dose, short-term creatine supplementation on muscle power output in elite youth soccer players.
Yáñez-Silva A, Buzzachera CF, Piçarro IDC, Januario RSB, Ferreira LHB, McAnulty SR, Utter AC, Souza-Junior TP. 
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28190980

(14) Creatine Supplementation Improves Phosphagen Energy Pathway During Supramaximal Effort, but Does Not Improve Anaerobic Capacity or Performance, Poli RAB, Roncada LH, Malta ES, Artioli GG, Bertuzzi R, Zagatto AM. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31024332

(15) Creatine supplementation. Hall M, Trojian TH. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23851411

(16) Short-term creatine supplementation improves maximum quadriceps contraction in women. Kambis KW, Pizzedaz SK. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12660408

(17) International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine.
Kreider RB, Kalman DS, Antonio J, Ziegenfuss TN, Wildman R, Collins R, Candow DG, Kleiner SM, Almada AL, Lopez HL. 
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28615996 

(17) Effects of in-season low-volume high-intensity plyometric training on explosive actions and endurance of young soccer players.
Ramírez-Campillo R, Meylan C, Alvarez C, Henríquez-Olguín C, Martínez C, Cañas-Jamett R, Andrade DC, Izquierdo M. 
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24751658

(18) Effects of plyometric training and creatine supplementation on maximal-intensity exercise and endurance in female soccer players.
Ramírez-Campillo R, González-Jurado JA, Martínez C, Nakamura FY, Peñailillo L, Meylan CM, Caniuqueo A, Cañas-Jamet R, Moran J, Alonso-Martínez AM, Izquierdo M. 
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26778661

(19) Acute creatine supplementation and performance during a field test simulating match play in elite female soccer players.
Cox G, Mujika I, Tumilty D, Burke L. 
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11993621

(20) Effects of Creatine Supplementation on Athletic Performance in Soccer Players: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.
Mielgo-Ayuso J, Calleja-Gonzalez J, Marqués-Jiménez D, Caballero-García A, Córdova A, Fernández-Lázaro D. 
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30935142

(21) Scientific Opinion on the substantiation of health claims related to creatine and increase in physical performance during short-term, high intensity, repeated exercise bouts (ID 739, 1520, 1521, 1522, 1523, 1525, 1526, 1531, 1532, 1533, 1534, 1922, 1923, 1924), increase in endurance capacity (ID 1527, 1535), and increase in endurance performance (ID 1521, 1963) pursuant to Article 13(1) of Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006, EFSA http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/efsajournal/pub/2303

(22) Creatine in combination with resistance training and improvement in muscle strength: evaluation of a health claim pursuant to Article 13(5) of Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006, EFSA, https://efsa.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.2903/j.efsa.2016.4400

(23) Creatine and its potential therapeutic value for targeting cellular energy impairment in neurodegenerative diseases.
Adhihetty PJ, Beal MF. 
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19005780

(24) Safety of Creatine Supplementation in Active Adolescents and Youth: A Brief Review.
Jagim AR, Stecker RA, Harty PS, Erickson JL, Kerksick CM. 
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30547033

(25) Potential benefits of creatine monohydrate supplementation in the elderly.
Tarnopolsky MA. 
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11085837

(26) Analysis of the efficacy, safety, and regulatory status of novel forms of creatine
Ralf Jäger, Martin Purpura, Andrew Shao, Toshitada Inoue and Richard B. Kreider 
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3080578/