To start, let’s dispel some of the most common myths tarnishing creatine’s reputation. These creatine myths have caused a fair amount of confusion and uncertainty around this supplement’s benefits.
Myth #1: Creatine will cause water retention and make you look “puffy”
The notion that Creatine causes water retention is the most prevalent of the "creatine myths.”
Creatine does not cause water retention. Creatine increases intracellular hydration of muscle cells by facilitating greater fluid uptake into the muscle cells.
Extracellular (outside of our cells) water retention is what we’re experiencing when we’re feeling “puffy” or feeling that uncomfortable “whole-body bloat” sensation.
Creatine is increasing intracellular (inside of our cells) hydration of our muscle cells. Hydrated muscle cells are happy muscle cells. These hydrated muscle cells have more energy, can work harder and recover faster.
From Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition:
“The purported myth of creatine supplementation increasing body water is likely due to early research which showed that creatine supplementation at 20 g/day for six days was associated with water retention. It does appear that the most common adverse effect of creatine supplementation is water retention in the early stages (first several days). For example, studies have shown that three days of creatine supplementation increased TBW and extracellular body water and intracellular water. Unfortunately, based on these short-term responses, this notion that creatine increases water retention over the long-term has been widely accepted.”
This quote is referring to the practice of employing a “loading phase” where athletes will take high doses (20+ grams) of creatine every day for 6 days to speed up creatine uptake into cells. This practice has merit for top level athletes and does cause a minor and transient increase in water weight in some people. This does not though hold true for the daily dose of 5 grams.
Myth #2: Creatine Causes Kidney Problems
This is another long-standing, yet false creatine myth. Creatine supplementation has been rigorously tested and has been shown be safe for any duration of time.
Numerous studies have conducted on creatine supplementation, all of which concluded long-term creatine use does not have any negative side effects on the liver or kidneys.
Some of the confusion around creatine being harmful for the kidneys comes from elevated levels of creatinine (a marker used to diagnose kidney problems), which can occur temporarily following supplementation with creatine. This though is a "false positive" and is in no way harmful to your body.
From: Effects of creatine supplementation on renal function
“Creatine supplements may transitorily rise serum creatinine levels and mimic a kidney disease…Creatine supplements are safe and do not cause renal disease.”
Effects of creatine supplementation on renal function
Myth #3: Creatine won’t work unless loaded
This creatine loading myth has been circulating the fitness space for decades. This notion that a loading phase protocol is essential to get the benefits of creatine is untrue. You do not need to go through a “loading phase” to reap the many benefits of creatine.
To be clear, a creatine loading phase that can be beneficial, but studies have shown that single daily doses of 5g can be just as effective. A daily supplementation protocol using a single dose of 3 -6 grams produces similar effects.
Basically, if you do a “loading phase” of 20 grams a day spread out through the day, each day for a week you will start reaping the benefits quicker. If you go with the ”non-loading” protocol of around 5 grams as day it will take around 3 weeks of daily uses to start reaping the benefits.
Us? We love adding a 5g scoop to our morning coffee or our favorite smoothie. Whatever your morning ritual, it’s quick and easy to add creatine to your day.
Now that we’ve dispelled those pesky myths, what exactly IS Creatine?
Creatine is an amino acid located primarily in your muscles as well as in your brain. It's one of your body's natural sources of energy for muscle contraction and is also crucial for brain health. Creatine gets its name from the Greek word for meat.
About half of your body’s creatine supply comes should be coming from your diet and about half is produced in the liver, kidneys and pancreas. It’s then delivered to the skeletal muscles for use.
About 95% of your body’s creatine is stored in the skeletal muscle and is used during physical activity. Creatine also plays key roles in the brain including protecting energy supply, improving mitochondrial efficiency, and acting as an antioxidant and neuroprotectant.
“Creatine is one of the most popular nutritional ergogenic aids for athletes. Studies have consistently shown that creatine supplementation increases intramuscular creatine concentrations which may help explain the observed improvements in high intensity exercise performance leading to greater training adaptations. In addition to athletic and exercise improvement, research has shown that creatine supplementation may enhance post-exercise recovery, injury prevention, thermoregulation, rehabilitation, and concussion and/or spinal cord neuroprotection. Additionally, a number of clinical applications of creatine supplementation have been studied involving neurodegenerative diseases (e.g., muscular dystrophy, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s disease), diabetes, osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, aging, brain and heart ischemia, adolescent depression, and pregnancy.”
From Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition
Where does Creatine come from?
The body naturally synthesizes 1-3 grams of creatine a day via the liver, pancreas, and kidneys, but the amount produced by our bodies is not sufficient. The body relies on dietaryintake of creatine rich foods to get optimal amounts.
Seafood and red meat are the top dietary sources of Creatine. Because of this, those following a plant-based diet find great value in supplementation with creatine. Vegans and vegetarians tend to have lower baseline muscle creatine levels.
If you’re following a plant-based diet strategy – don’t fret! Studies have shown that those on plant-based diets respond even better to creatine supplementation than omnivores.
What does Creatine do?
- Increased Energy: Creatine helps muscle cells produce more energy so you can get MORE out of each workout. It does this by increasing production of ATP for enhanced cellular energy production.
- Increased Muscle Growth: Creatine speeds muscle growth by increasing muscle cell volume (bigger muscles over time!) When combined with strength training, creatine has been shown to greatly increase strength and lean muscle gains.
- Improved Brain Health: Creatine intake can improve brain function. Adequate brain creatine levels are associated with improved memory and reduced mental fatigue. Supplemental creatine has been shown to improve short-term memory and reasoning ability. Higher Creatine levels have been shown to enhance performance in cognitive tasks such as recognition and memory.
“There is a potential for creatine supplementation to improve cognitive processing, especially in conditions characterized by brain creatine deficits, which could be induced by acute stressors (e.g., exercise, sleep deprivation) or chronic, pathologic conditions (e.g., creatine synthesis enzyme deficiencies, mild traumatic brain injury, aging, Alzheimer’s disease, depression).”
From Creating Supplementation and Brain Health
- Creatine won’t make you puffy.
- You don’t need a loading phase to benefit from Creatine.
- Creatine is excellent for brain health and cognitive function.
- Creatine will help you work out longer, harder and recover quicker.
- Creatine is not bad for your kidneys.
- 5 grams is a perfect daily dose.
Now that you’re a well-versed aspiring expert on what creatine is, what it isn’t and what it does…what next?
If you’re anything like we are, you’re now excited to add creatine to your own daily wellness routine. Here are a few tips.
- Always be sure you’re purchasing Creatine Monohydrate.
- Unless you’re a professional athlete or aspiring power-lifter, one 5 gram scoop a day is sufficient to reap the benefits.
- If you’re plant-based or vegan, creatine supplementation is a must, as the primary dietary sources of creatine are seafood and red meat.
- Try adding it to your morning coffee or tea for additional clarity and focus. It has very little flavor…you likely won’t even know it’s in there!
- Start adding it to your favorite smoothies when you visit Earthbar!