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Creatine: The Undisputed King Of Supplements

Creatine exploded onto the scene in the late 1990s as athletes from every power-based sporting code clamoured to get this new “wonder” supplement. There was no doubting its effects as increases in size, strength, recovery and endurance were guaranteed from a product available from store shelves.

Nowadays creatine is no longer as revered, but it should still be a staple in every serious gym-goer’s and athlete’s supplement plan, because it works. The supplement has also undergone an evolution, evolving from the basic monohydrate and phosphagen products of old with a number of different forms now available that claim to be more effective.

What it does…

Creatine, a naturally occurring organic acid, is naturally produced in the kidneys from the amino acids glycine, L-arginine, and L-methionine, which means it is not an essential nutrient. These substances are mainly derived from meat and are then synthesised into creatine. It’s main role is energy production through our primary Adenosine Triphosphate-Phosphocreatine (ATP-PCr) energy system, which happens in the mitochondria of cells, most commonly muscle cells. This source of concentrated energy fuels the intense and powerful muscle contractions that last only a few seconds. Anything longer than 10 seconds and the body reverts to glycogen as it’s main fuel fuel source.

The energy is produced through a cyclical process – energy is released when ATP loses a phosphate  and is converted into Adenosine Diphosphate (ADP). The ATP/PCr system then rapidly resynthesises ATP from ADP by adding a phosphate molecule taken from the phosphocreatine from the creatine stored in muscle cells. This allows the reactions that release energy to continue. There is, of course, a limited amount of diet-derived creatine stored in muscle cells, which is where creatine supplementation delivers its benefit. Supplementing with creatine increases muscle stores by up to 20% according to available studies.

This increases the muscle’s ability to resynthesize ATP from ADP, which increases endurance and produces more forceful contractions, ultimately increasing strength and power. This allows you to lift heavier weights with higher volume, which boosts the anabolic adaptive response to training. This is the reason why creatine is said to aid muscle gain, rather than having any direct effect on muscle tissue.

Types of creatine to consider:

Monohydrate:

The most common form of creatine available. It is still considered by many to be the most effective. It’s basically creatine (88%) bound with water (12%).

Ester:

Generally considered to have higher absorption rates as it’s able to permeate the cell membrane more effectively. It also has a longer serum half-life than monohydrate and is less likely to result in bloat and water retention. It’s either esterified with alcohol methanol to form creatine methyl ester or ethanol to form creatine ethyl ester. Creatine non-responders tend to have more success with this type of supplement.

Citrate:

Delivers a more water soluble form of creatine, which dissolves easily in a solution. Only offers 400mg/g of creatine, whereas monohydrate offers 880mg.

Phosphate:

Designed to deliver the exact form of creatine required by the ATP-PCr energy system. Delivers 623mg/g of creatine.

Malate:

Formed when one malic acid molecule binds to three creatine monohydrate molecules to create a greater water-binding affinity to limit the rate at which it’s converted into creatine and excreted by the kidneys. Generally the most expensive form of creatine.

Hydrochloride:

Reportedly 59 times more soluble in water than creatine monohydrate, which means that lower doses are required to achieve the same concentrations.

There are various ways to take creatine. This includes the common powder form, which is mixed into a drink, ideally a high-GI carbohydrate source to improve absorption, into a water solution, or as a capsule.