Creatine is a Health Supplement
Everyone should take creatine, even if their goal isn’t to build mountains of muscle. Here’s why and how to use it.
Millions of people take multivitamins daily, despite mountains of evidence showing they don’t improve health very much. Most would be better off taking creatine monohydrate.
Yes, creatine is a health supplement. Most people, around 69%, are actually creatine deficient. Even if they never lifted a barbell, they’d still benefit from creatine supplementation. Here’s why.
1. Creatine and Longevity
There are several known mitochondria-friendly compounds. Among them are Coenzyme Q10, acetyl-l-carnitine, NAD, and PQQ. All of them, to one degree or another, help mitochondria produce ATP.
That leads to more energy, but it also makes for happier mitochondria, whose overall health determines not only how long a particular cell lives and thrives but also how long the organ that the cell belongs to lives and thrives. You get enough unhappy and unhealthy mitochondria and you start experiencing organ failure. If enough organs fail, well, you die.
Creatine is also a mitochondria-nurturing supplement. In fact, it seems to be more effective than any of them in raising ATP levels.
Creatine leads to increased production of ATP, the body’s energy currency. Heart cells are among the types of cells that rely on adequate levels of ATP, but these levels are invariably low in people with heart failure. This is typified by low energy levels and tiring quickly.
But when researchers give creatine to heart patients, they get stronger. Their energy increases.
While studies haven’t shown creatine to affect the ejection fraction (how well blood pumps out of the heart) of patients, creatine appears to be a cheap, easy way to make the lives of heart patients better and maybe, just maybe, a little longer.
Sarcopenia is the loss of muscle tissue, part of the natural aging process. Muscles wither, and the ability to do simple tasks vanishes. It’s when old people truly become infants.
Resistance training is an obvious answer, but as anyone who’s ever had an aging relative can attest, convincing them to lift weights after a lifetime of inactivity is likely met by grandma refusing to make you lemon bars. However, a few studies found that creatine supplementation alone – without resistance training – was enough to reverse sarcopenia to some degree.
Obviously, this creatine-induced reversal of muscle wasting worked a lot better when used in conjunction with resistance training, but the fact that it worked to any degree by itself is pretty remarkable.
- Creatine can lower blood sugar, particularly when combined with exercise. This suggests it may have a nutrient-partitioning effect, i.e., it may help preferentially store carbs in muscle as opposed to fat.
- Creatine can increase the formation of osteoblasts (cells that make bone), which help with bone formation, bone repair, and even osteoarthritis formation.
- Creatine helps reduce fat accumulation in the liver for people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
- Creatine helps people with fibromyalgia (who have chronically low creatine phosphate levels and, ipso facto, low ATP levels).
- Low creatine levels seem to play a role in depression. In one study, depression was 42% more prevalent in the lowest quartile of creatine consumption (0 to 0.26 grams a day).
There are several creatine-loading schemes, but the best one is also one of the oldest:
- Multiply your body weight in kilograms by 0.3 grams. Take this amount and divide it into four equal doses and take 1 of these doses 4 times a day for 5 to 7 days.
- Once you’ve loaded up, you only need to take 3 to 5 grams a day to maintain full capacity.
Too inconvenient for you? Just take about 5 grams a day, every day. In 30 days, you reach maximum cellular storage capacity, at which point you can just continue with taking 3 to 5 grams a day.
Just make sure you use micronized creatine where the grains are absorbed better than versions from the big box stores.
As long as your cells are saturated with creatine (after the loading protocol or after 30 days of taking 5 grams per day), it probably doesn’t matter when you take it.
However, there was a study involving 19 lifters split into two groups. Both groups did the same workout five days a week for 4 weeks. One group took 5 grams of creatine before their workout and one group took 5 grams of creatine after.
After a month, the men in the after-workout creatine group gained TWICE as much lean body mass as the pre-workout creatine group. The after-workout group also lost about 2 pounds more fat than the pre-workout group, in addition to being able to bench a couple of pounds more than the pre-workout group.
The researchers thought that maybe the workout somehow sensitized the cells to creatine uptake, or maybe the post-workout meal led to an insulin surge that also facilitated creatine uptake. Whatever the reason, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to take creatine after training. On non-training days, just take it anytime.
- Persky AM et al. Clinical pharmacology of the dietary supplement creatine monohydrate. Pharmacological Reviews. 2001 Jun;53 2)161-176.
- Gualano B et al. Effects of creatine supplementation on glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity in sedentary healthy males undergoing aerobic training. Amino Acids. 2008 Feb;34(2):245-50.
- Antonio J et al. The effects of pre versus post workout supplementation of creatine monohydrate on body composition and strength. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2013 Aug 6;10:36.