What is this strange white powder?
If you’re a human being who lifts weights, or a human being interested in health, this is everything you’ll ever need to know about creatine.
Is that a big claim? Yes.
But the only way you’ll be able to prove me wrong is by listening…
Welcome back to the Bite Me Nutrition podcast.
Today I'm going to be talking about something called creatine.
You may have heard about it. It's a fairly common supplement. It's probably one of the topics, if not the topic, that I've had the most questions about over the years. And so my goal with today, this episode is by the end of the episode, I'm going to try and get through every question I can remember that I've ever been asked about creatine. And so you should have all of the information that you need to make the decision around, is this something I need to be interested in or not?But first, just for a bit of background, I'm going to explain what it is and what it does, at least on where we started with it.
So creatine is an amino acid that you can get from your diet and you can also supplement with it. When you supplement with creatine or when you eat, consume foods high in creatine, you increase your stores of something called phospho-creatine. Remember that word? When we're exercising during muscle contraction and things, we use up something called ATP, adenosine, triphosphate, don't stress, there will not be a quiz at the end. But as we exercise, we use up more and more ATP. When we run out of ATP, that's kind of when we're tired and we can't perform another rep, we can't do another muscle contraction.
Now, we can re synthesize ATP, so we can remake it, and we can remake it while we're exercising. But while we exercise, we use it up quicker than we can remake it. So eventually that gets an imbalance and we have to rest, stop the exercise to allow ourselves, I guess, the ATP resynthesis to catch up. Now, we resynthesize ATP using something called phospho-creatine. Remember, creatine increases your stores of phospho-creatine. And so while you're exercising, your body is rapidly using phospho-creatine to try and keep up with the demands of the amount of ATP you need. And so if you've been supplementing with creatine and you have higher stores of phosphocreatine, you can potentially resynthesize ATP a bit quicker than you otherwise would be able to, which should mean that you can maintain that muscle contraction or that performance for a little bit longer. And this allows you to get out a little bit more work per set.
So what I mean by set is, let's say that you've got let's do a bicep curl. Everyone knows what that looks like. You're doing a bicep curl. And if you didn't supplement with creatine, you'd get eight reps before you got tired and had to stop. But because you've been supplementing with Creatine, you can do potentially nine reps before you get tired and stop. It is not that guaranteed. It is not that specific. But that's generally, I guess, the mechanism that we're working with, right? It is, like I said, just an amino acid. It's nothing more sinister than that, even though it does kind of look like a very dodgy white powder.
But it is very similar to supplementing with something like a protein powder, right? So if you resistance training, I don't know why you wouldn't take it, to be honest. It's really cheap, it's really easy to take. We'll go through those specifics a little bit later and it is pretty hard to get the same amount of Creatine from your food that you could get by otherwise supplementing with it. So if you do some form of resistance training, I would suggest adding Creatine to your diet as a supplement. Look, our major dietary sources of Creatine are meat and fish. If you're on a vegetarian or a vegan diet, you have potential to get an even bigger benefit out of it because your baseline stores of Creatine may be a little bit lower. So if you resistance training and you're in that population, even more reason to have it.
There's a few other health benefits around potential bone health, brain health, sleep deprivation. I won't go into those. Now, those are definitely sort of newer areas of research, but for my money, that kind of gives it a little bit more support as to like, look, why wouldn't I take it? One thing that comes up a lot is, is creatine going to make me bald. That's basically due to there was one study where something called DHT. Increased DHT is linked with male pattern baldness. But the thing is, the increase in DHT did not go outside what we would consider the normal range. Right. Hasn't been replicated in any other studies.I absolutely see no reason as to why supplementing with Creatine could make you go bald.
In terms of supplementing with it when you're pregnant or breastfeeding, it's the same level of risk that you would get supplementing with something like Protein. The risk itself is not the Creatine. The risk is the potential for supplemental contamination. So you can lower that risk by looking for a Creatine that's independently tested by a third party. That's something my favourite two brands are there's the Coles Elite Creatine. Yeah, I know. Coles, the supermarket who would have thunk it, or True Protein has a hashtag certified one as well. I am not recommending that you can take it if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. That is absolutely an individual discussion that you should have with your healthcare practitioner.
Similarly, for people under the age of 18, even though it is safe, it's not something that I would necessarily recommend because in those developmental years, we really want to be growing their food literacy and their focus on nutrition rather than supplements. But again, that's a discussion to have with your individual health care provider. Don't you love the caveats?
So in terms of how we take it, like I said, it's a little white powder dissolved in almost anything. I've had it in my oats. I've had it in yoghurt. I've had it in smoothies, I've had it straight in water. I've never dry scooped it. I'm not that hardcore. It's probably fine. So any oral route is good.
Look, there's a whole bunch of new shiny types of creatine. The most common one you're going to see, though, is creatine monohydrate. That's the only one you need to worry about. It's also surprise, the cheapest. When does that ever happen? The best one is the cheapest one. It's the one that all of the research has been done in. So all of the other designer creations that are far more expensive will either be as good or not as good. They can't be more good. I'm so sorry. They can't be better. Because creatine monohydrate 100% saturates your cells. With the level of phosphocreatine, you can't go above 100%. Right. A designer creatine blend is not going to give you 110% cell saturation. That's not how percentages work. So creatine monohydrate is the original and best, you want to be taking about 0-3 grams/kg of body weight and you want to be taking it every day. If you're missing a few days here and there, don't stress.Just aim for every day. It absolutely does not matter when at all.
When you take it, take it on the days you train, take it on the days you don't train. Doesn't matter when you take it around training, please. It does not matter. Just take it every day. You can do something called a loading phase. Now, this is where you kind of speed up or accelerate getting through to completely saturating your cells with phosphocreatine. If you do that, you want to be taking 0- 3 grams, not 0,0,3. So the loading phase is 0- 3 grams/kg of body weight for about a week, and that will get you to self saturation. That dose in one go could give you a bit of an upset stomach, so I'd recommend splitting that up into maybe two or three doses throughout the day. You don't need to do a loading phase. If you don't do a loading phase, you reach cell saturation in like, three to four weeks. So really, the loading phase gets you there like two weeks quicker. And given that Creatine is a supplement that I'd recommend, sort of taking forever, I don't really see the benefit of getting there two weeks quicker if I'm looking at taking this thing for the next 50 years.
So what else do I need to talk about? Yes, when you supplement, a couple of things might happen. First of all, you might gain a little bit of weight. It's not body fat. If you're gaining body fat, I'm sorry, but it is not the creatine. It is something else that is going on in your diet. What is potentially likely to be happening is creatine can cause you to hold more intracellular water so that's water inside your cells just by the way that it works. Water weighs right, water has weight. So if you increase your stores of water, you're going to increase your body weight. That's just kind of physics and gravity. So if the scale weight goes up a little bit, don't panic if you feeling like you've gained body fat. Firstly, that could just be a head thing. Secondly, if you have actually gained body fat, not the Creatine. Some dietary stuff that we probably need to consider.
Another important thing that I often find gets overlooked is its potential impact on something called your Creatinine levels. So I know we've talked about phosphocreatine, creatine and creatinine. They're all different.
Creatinine is a marker that you'll see in a routine blood test and it's used to kind of measure kidney function, because if your kidneys are healthy, they'll be filtering out creatinine. Creatinine is like a byproduct of muscle breakdown. And so healthy kidneys get your Creatinine levels to sit at a normal level. So that doesn't mean that high Creatinine levels are dangerous, it just means that sometimes if they're high, that can signal that the kidneys aren't doing their job. And you'd want to investigate well, not you, probably your doctor would want to investigate that further. Now, just like resistance training can do this as well, just standard weight training. But Creatine supplementation can also increase your natural levels of Creatinine. So, to kind of put this in perspective, let's say that your healthy kidneys clear 100 units of Creatinine a day and your body makes 150 units of Creatinine a day. That means you are left with 50 units of Creatinine a day. Great, that's normal, that's healthy. Now, let's say that you start supplementing with Creatine and all of a sudden you've got 250 of Creatinine units per day to clear out. Your kidneys are still filtering out 100 units.
So they're still perfectly healthy, they're still absolutely doing their job. But when your doctor looks at your blood test, they look and go, oh, actually, your Creatinine levels are at 150 units, not the 50 that we were expecting. We're a bit worried about your kidneys.
It would be at this point that you would say, cool, let's investigate that further. Just letting you know, I am doing resistance training a few days per week and I am supplementing with Creatine. Hopefully your doctor would then go, OK, and take that into consideration and they would judge whether that test needs to be taken further. So this is not me saying, hey, don't worry about it, it's all sweet, I don't know your history, but it may absolutely be kidney things you need to look into. But Creatine itself is perfectly safe for the kidneys and Creatine can increase your Creatinine levels.
What I've done with clients in the past, if it is something you're concerned about, is I've had them stop supplementing for about four to six weeks, because that's another question. That's how long it takes for Creatine to, quote, unquote, wash out. So for your levels to return to baseline. So take four to six weeks of creatine supplementation and take a week off the gym and then get another blood test. That should give you a more accurate picture of your kidneys impact on your creatinine levels. I hope that all makes sense. I know it's a bit in depth. If you've got more questions about that, please let me know. But again, don't ignore your doctor's advice based on a podcast. Don't ever do that, actually. But also in this scenario. So I think I've talked about how to take it. I've talked about who should be wary around taking it with pregnancy, breastfeeding and people under the age of 18. I've talked through the different dosages. 0-3 grams every day, zero 3 grams. If you want to load. Probably don't need to load.
I guess the last thing is that you don't need to take it. I'm pretty positive about creatine because when I'm weighing up, like, the cost benefit, looks like there's quite a few benefits out there, and the cost, both in terms of financially and also just the burden on taking it. Like it doesn't have a taste. You can take it at any time, you can mix it in with other stuff. So because of all of those things, I'm pretty pro Creatine, but at the end of the day, it is still a nutritional supplement. Supplements are the one percenters. Maybe creatine is a two percenters, but that's about it, right? The biggest benefits on your health and performance are always going to be coming from the food, right? But if you want to add Creatine to the mix, hopefully I have answered all of your questions in that little rant for that little bunch of information above and you can make an informed decision.
Thank you once again for hanging out for I don't know what's been 13.14 minutes. I can't believe one person listens to this and more than one person does listen to this. So that's pretty wild. So if you have listened to this and you've enjoyed it, I'd love for you to throw it up on your social media or send it to a friend who's had questions about creatine, or send it to your mum who's worried that you're taking steroids. Get them to listen to this episode and so we can share the love and share the information. Thank you.
Episode Links & References
- Effect of creatine supplementation on body composition and performance: a meta-analysis
- International Society of Sports nutrition position stand: safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport and medicine
- Beyond muscle: the effects of creatine supplementation on brain creatine, cognitive processing, and traumatic brain injury
- Three weeks of creatine monohydrate supplementation affects dihydrotestosterone to testosterone ration in college-aged rugby players
- Muscle creatine loading in men
- Effects of creatine and resistance training on bone health in postmenopausal women