Creatine for better performance and health benefits?
Creatine is a commonly used dietary supplement used by professional athletes and everyday gym-goers alike.
It’s rare for supplements to have a positive impact on your health, after all, they are meant to improve performance at any cost. But you can say creatine is different from other supplements, it’s actually pretty good for your health.
Here we talk about some of the positive effects of creatine on our bodies.
1. How creatine works
Working out requires a lot of energy. Our muscles are particularly good at using up a large amount of energy in the form of ATP.
Muscle cells always keep a store of energy in case they use up all of their ATP. This store is in the form of phosphocreatine.
Whenever our muscles get low on ATP, they use phosphocreatine to refuel, and the main component of phosphocreatine (you guessed it!) is creatine.
Creatine supplements aid in boosting up your phosphocreatine stores, so your muscles can work harder and longer during high-intensity exercise.
2. Creatine boosts muscle growth
Research has shown numerous mechanisms by which creatine increases muscle mass. Like we said last time, it increases your ability to exercise for longer. But it also has a couple of effects on your hormones.
Insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) is an anabolic hormone which naturally occurs in the human body and boosts muscle growth. Numerous studies have linked creatine supplementation to increased levels of IGF-1.
Another hormone key to muscle growth is myostatin. Its effects are opposite to IGF-1, high levels of this hormone stop muscle growth. Recent studies show a decrease in myostatin levels in persons taking carnitine.
On another note, creatine causes muscle cells to retain more water, this is called cell volumization and, while not as important as the hormonal changes, can make your muscles look larger.
Overall creatine is widely regarded as one of the safest and most effective supplements to increase both muscle mass and performance.
3. Creatine improves performance
There have been studies done on the effects of creatine during high-intensity exercise. Athletes taking creatine showed up to 15% improvement in overall performance, including different physical aspects like:
- Upper and lower body strength
- Spring ability and speed
- Muscle recovery time
- Brain performance
Even though these studies mainly targeted athletes, others have shown significant improvement in non-athletes as well. The bottom line being that creatine can help you no matter your fitness level.
4. Creatine can increase lean body mass
We already talked about increasing muscle mass and size but creatine can also boost overall health by building lean body mass.
This effect kicks in quickly by increasing muscle water content in as little as a week. However, this effect is still temporary, stable changes to muscle mass may take longer to achieve.
Studies of two groups of athletes on similar training regiments showed a significantly larger increase in lean body mass and muscle mass in the group using creatine supplements.
The same studies document the effect of creatine vs other supplements. Noting that the efficacy and safety of creatine is literally unmatched.
5. Controversial claims about creatine
Like with all supplements, it’s important not to view creatine as a “miracle drug”. There has been controversy surrounding this supplement when it comes to persons with neurological disease.
A study demonstrated that mice with simulated Parkinson’s disease who are given creatine have a slower decline in health and higher dopamine levels (Parkinson’s disease causes low dopamine levels). But this study was never replicated in humans and trying to treat Parkinson’s with creatine alone is quite foolish to say the least.
On another note, physical activity and routine exercise DO in fact aid patients with Parkinson’s disease. And these people would actually see a benefit from creatine due to its performance-enhancing effects. The thoughts on this are split, and scientific data is also conflicting.
6. Creatine and neurological disease
Similar to our muscles, our brain also uses phosphocreatine as a store of energy. Numerous neurological diseases are associated with decreased levels of phosphocreatine in the brain. Logic dictates that creatine supplementation would be effective in these patients.
Studies in mice have shown promising effects in Huntington’s disease, improving motor function and preventing brain cell death by a significant degree.
Other animal studies have shown improvements with creatine supplementation in neurological diseases such as:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Ischemic stroke
- Brain/spinal cord injury
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
More studies are needed, and there have been no studies done in humans, but creatine shows promise and we might see it used together with conventional medicine in the future.
7. Creatine might help to control blood sugar levels
A group of people were selected to observe the effects of creatine supplementation on blood sugar levels. These people were split into two groups, one which exercised regularly and another which exercised regularly and used creatine supplements. Over a span of 12 weeks these patients measured their blood sugar levels after each meal.
A significant benefit was observed in the group using creatine supplementation. Specifically, their short-term blood glucose (sugar) levels were lower. Since post-meal glucose levels are a risk factor for diabetes and metabolic syndrome this showed creatine might be able to help prevent these diseases.
It is important to note that further research is necessary to come to concrete conclusions but regular exercise and creatine supplementation seem to be beneficial to blood sugar control and health overall.
8. Creatine has been shown to enhance brain activity and reduce fatigue
Creatine is a vital nutrient for the everyday functioning of our brains. We can get a larger amount of creatine with supplements or we can try to consume a more meat/dairy rich diet.
Recently a study was conducted in a group of vegetarians. Since they don’t consume any creatine-rich food they naturally have lower creatine levels than the general population. Supplementation in this population yielded 20-50% higher scores in memory and cognition tests compared to their baseline.
For older individuals, creatine supplementation seems to improve memory and guard against common neurological diseases. Notable improvement in mental functioning has been described as soon as 2 weeks after starting creatine.
Dizziness, fatigue and nausea are common in people who have experienced traumatic brain injury. Creatine has improved quality of life and reduced dizziness in the patients as well as reducing fatigue in those who are sleep deprived.
Overall, we can say that due to its effects on energy metabolism within our bodies creatine may have effects we have still yet to discover, but even with current knowledge, there seems to be no harm and even benefit to using creatine supplements.
9. The final verdict
With over two centuries of trials and research, and long-term follow-up with patients taking the supplements for over 5 years, we have yet to see any harmful effects from creatine supplementation.
Now, with creatine readily available in numerous supplement products, it’s easier than ever to supplement effectively with as little as 3-5 grams of creatine monohydrate powder a day. Overall, creatine has proven to be a cheap, easy to use, safe and effective supplement for athletes and non-athletes alike.