Creatine 101: Exactly What Need To Know About This Trending Peptide Supplement
If you’re an athlete, you’ve probably wondered if there was a secret weapon that could take your performance to the next level. Whether you are a weekend gym warrior, a professional athlete, or somewhere in between, you may have heard whisperings about creatine, the latest supplement promising increased gains and enhanced energy. As a functional medicine expert, it’s my job to help uncover the truth and debunk any myths around the current trending wellness topics - supplements included. So is creatine worth adding to your pre-gym routine? Let’s dive in to find out (and see how it can help improve your health in more ways than just athletic performance)!
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What is creatine?
Creatine, a nitrogenous organic acid, is a naturally occurring substance primarily stored in muscles and produced by the body from amino acids like glycine, arginine, and methionine. It is considered a type of peptide and serves as a crucial component in the energy production process, aiding in the formation of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) - your body's primary energy currency.
Your body naturally produces some creatine but not enough to fulfill your total needs. The rest of your creatine supply must therefore come from your diet in the form of animal-based protein like wild-caught fish, grass-fed beef, and grass-fed dairy products. While most people get enough creatine through diet, if you are vegan or are physically active, creatine supplements can be extremely beneficial.
What are creatine supplements?
Creatine supplements are designed to increase your body's creatine stores and have become popular amongst athletes looking to increase their performance. You can find creatine supplements as capsules, liquids, powders, and tablets and generally come in a few different forms, including:
- Creatine Monohydrate: This is the most common and well-researched (1) form of creatine. It consists of creatine molecules bound to a water molecule. Creatine monohydrate is highly soluble and easily absorbed by the body.
- Creatine Ethyl Ester: Marketed as a more soluble form of creatine, creatine ethyl ester is claimed to have better absorption. However, scientific evidence supporting its superiority over creatine monohydrate is limited.
- Creatine Hydrochloride: This form is touted to be more soluble and easier on the digestive system. It's marketed as a potential option for individuals who experience gastrointestinal issues with creatine monohydrate. However, research comparing its efficacy to creatine monohydrate remains inconclusive.
- Buffered Creatine: Also known as Kre-Alkalyn, buffered creatine is said to have a higher pH level, potentially making it more stable in liquids and less likely to convert into creatinine (a waste product) before being absorbed. However, research on its effectiveness compared to creatine monohydrate is limited.
- Creatine Blends: Some supplements combine creatine with other ingredients like carbohydrates, amino acids, or vitamins, purportedly to enhance absorption or improve overall athletic performance.
Creatine health benefits
Although creatin’s main claim to fame is its ability to take your athletic performance to the next level, there are so many more ways that it can enhance your health for the better.
1. Enhances physical performance
Among its most recognized attributes, creatine's ability to enhance physical performance is well-documented. By augmenting the body's capacity for quick energy production during high-intensity, short-duration activities, creatine empowers athletes and fitness enthusiasts to push their limits, leading to improvements in strength, power, and muscle endurance.
Research has consistently shown the positive impact of creatine supplementation on sports performance, particularly in activities requiring explosive bursts of energy, such as sprinting and weightlifting, by fueling your cell’s energy production for enhanced endurance, strength, and quicker recovery. (1)
2. Boosts brain function
Beyond its influence on physical gains, studies have shown that creatine can boost cognitive function and overall brain health by improving working memory (2) and alleviating symptoms of depression and traumatic brain injury (3) due to its role in brain energy metabolism and neurotransmitter synthesis.
3. Supports mitochondrial health + energy metabolism
The cells of our body are often referred to as the ‘’building blocks of life.’’ You have over 200 different types of cells that, when combined together, make up the different areas of your body including your muscles, bones, and organs. They are responsible for taking in and converting nutrients to energy and keeping your body functioning properly. Needless to say, healthy cells are extremely important if you want to be healthy and thriving.
Mitochondria, the powerhouse of your cells, relies heavily on ATP for energy production and maintaining cellular energy levels for optimal cellular health. Creatine supplements have been shown (4) to support mitochondrial function by contributing to ATP production.
4. Improves degenerative diseases
Studies suggest (5) that creatine supplementation may aid in mitigating muscle wasting conditions, by supporting muscle strength and function in individuals with certain neuromuscular disorders like Muscular Dystrophy. Additionally, initial research (6) has started to look at creatine’s potential therapeutic role in alleviating neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease. Although more research is needed to understand the mechanisms behind creatine and its ability to help with these conditions along with its long-term effects, this early research is extremely promising for those struggling with these chronic conditions.
Who shouldn’t take creatine?
In general, creatine doesn’t have a lot of side effects. But with that said, studies are limited surrounding its effects on pregnancy and people with kidney and liver problems. Also, if you are diagnosed with bipolar disorder, it’s best to avoid creatine supplements as they have been linked to an increased risk of mania. As with any other supplement, talk with your doctor before taking creatine, especially if you are on any medications or have one of these health problems.
Needless to say, you can’t deny creatine’s role in athletic performance. If you are physically active, it is definitely a supplement that I would recommend keeping at the front of your medicine cabinet or inside your gym bag. But even if you aren’t engaging in intense physical activity, from enhanced brain health to healthier cells, creatine is definitely worth considering and in my opinion, worth all the hype.
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- Wax, Benjamin et al. “Creatine for Exercise and Sports Performance, with Recovery Considerations for Healthy Populations.” Nutrients vol. 13,6 1915. 2 Jun. 2021, doi:10.3390/nu13061915
- Prokopidis, Konstantinos et al. “Effects of creatine supplementation on memory in healthy individuals: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.” Nutrition reviews vol. 81,4 (2023): 416-427. doi:10.1093/nutrit/nuac064
- Forbes, Scott C et al. “Effects of Creatine Supplementation on Brain Function and Health.” Nutrients vol. 14,5 921. 22 Feb. 2022, doi:10.3390/nu14050921
- Saito, Suguru et al. “Creatine supplementation enhances immunological function of neutrophils by increasing cellular adenosine triphosphate.” Bioscience of microbiota, food and health vol. 41,4 (2022): 185-194. doi:10.12938/bmfh.2022-018
- Kley, Rudolf A et al. “Creatine for treating muscle disorders.” The Cochrane database of systematic reviews vol. 2013,6 CD004760. 5 Jun. 2013, doi:10.1002/14651858.CD004760.pub4
- Smith, Aaron N et al. “Creatine as a Therapeutic Target in Alzheimer's Disease.” Current developments in nutrition vol. 7,11 102011. 29 Sep. 2023, doi:10.1016/j.cdnut.2023.102011
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BY DR. WILL COLE
Dr. Will Cole, DNM, IFMCP, DC is a leading functional medicine expert who consults people around the globe, starting one of the first functional medicine telehealth centers in the world. Named one of the top 50 functional and integrative doctors in the nation, Dr. Will Cole provides a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. He is the host of the popular The Art Of Being Well podcast and the New York Times bestselling author of Intuitive Fasting, Ketotarian, The Inflammation Spectrum and the brand new book Gut Feelings: Healing the Shame-Fueled Relationship Between What You Eat and How You Feel.
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