This article is based on creatine monohydrate, which we recommend as the creatine to supplement with for a variety of reasons. Creatine monohydrate is one of the few supplements out there that’s scientifically proven to work (unlike a massive number of other supplements advertised to consumers). It is also relatively cheap, and many supplement companies produce it. In my opinion, you can buy any brand of creatine monohydrate, and it will provide the same benefits. Therefore, if you’re on a budget, you can rest assured that buying the cheapest isn’t going to limit your ‘gains’.
Below is our overview of the top five benefits you can receive when supplementing with creatine:
1. Improvement in recovery
In recent years creatine has been studied for its post-exercise muscle regeneration properties. Findings have been very promising. In 2004, Santos and colleagues examined the effects of creatine supplementation on muscle cell damage in endurance athletes running a 30-kilometre race.
Several markers of cell damage (including lactate dehydrogenase, prostaglandin-E, creatine kinase, and tumor necrosis factor-alpha) were thoroughly monitored in their sample of 18 male athletes. Researchers found that subjects who used 20 grams of creatine monohydrate per day for five days (mixed with 60 grams of maltodextrin) had reduced levels of these markers after the race, compared to 16 control subjects, who only took the maltodextrin.
It was concluded in the study that the creatine supplementation seemed to reduce muscle cell damage and inflammation, following the exhaustive activity. Thus, creatine helps to promote complete recovery from intensive exercise.
2. An increase in high-intensity work
Creatine increases the body's capacity to perform at high-intensity, which helps your performance and can lead to gains in muscle size.
Creatine phosphate (the high-energy molecule form of creatine, stored within cells) is used to supply the type 11b muscle fibres (fast-twitch high-glycolytic; the ones that get largest in size) with instant energy, which stops your muscles from prematurely fatiguing.
In lamens terms, supplementing with creatine allows your muscles to store more of this high-energy molecule, which then provides greater gains in both muscle size and strength.
3. Improvement of muscle volumization
Creatine has muscle volumizing effect for users that supplement with it. Creatine causes muscle cells to inflate, which gives a more heavily muscled appearance, and, more importantly, works as a stimulus for protein synthesis.
Users commonly report gaining up to three kilograms in the early stages when supplementing creatine. However, a lot of this weight gain will be through water retention.
4. Enhancement of brain function
While being known for its muscle-building benefits, creatine may also play a role in enhancing brain functionality. Researchers Wyss and Schulze looked at the widespread health implications of creatine as they tried to ascertain its value in treating numerous neurodegenerative, vascular and muscular disorders.
Their findings, which were published in Neuroscience, showed creatine to be a critical neuroprotectant (an agent that's capable of preserving brain function and structure).
Energy metabolism and the production of Reactive Oxygen Species (tiny molecules that may result in severe damage to cell structures, including oxygen ions, free radicals and peroxides) are deemed to underpin several neurodegenerative disorders. Creatine is thought to enhance the brain's ability to sustain the metabolic and physical trauma associated with these conditions.
Wyss and colleagues found that those with neurodegenerative disorders related to creatine deficiencies (inborn errors in creatine production and storage) may need supplemental creatine, for it to be delivered more efficiently to the central nervous system (CNS).
Additionally, a study conducted at the University of Sydney found creatine to improve brain function (specifically short-term memory) in healthy subjects. In a double-blind placebo-controlled cross-over study, 45 vegetarian and vegan subjects - chosen as their creatine intake was deemed to be low - took five grams of creatine per day for six weeks.
After the designated period, non-verbal intelligence and verbal memory capacity assessments were held on the subjects. Researchers found that subjects who took creatine, rather than the placebo, displayed improvement in short-term memory. They were also better able to problem solve under time constraints.
5. Improvement of anaerobic capacity
A study performed on NCAA Division 1 athletes found that loading creatine over a three day period greatly improved their muscle volume and cycle sprint performance.
The study involved ten male and ten female athletes. The participants were assigned to either creatine or placebo group. Participants were then examined before and after the three-day creatine supplementation period, in which they were evaluated on repeated sprint performance and thigh muscle volume. The creatine group was administered 0.35 grams of creatine per kilogram of fat-free mass, and all participants completed a total of six maximal ten-second cycle sprints, with a 60 second recovery period in between.
Researchers found that over the three-day period, participants in the creatine group, on average, experienced an increase in total body mass of 0.9 kilograms, a 6.6% increase in thigh volume, and improvement in performance in all six sprints. It was clear that their anaerobic capacity had improved with the supplementation of creatine when compared to the control subjects who were only taking the maltodextrin.
Overall, I'd recommend supplementing with creatine if you're looking to maximise gains in strength and muscle mass. There are differing opinions on how to take creatine (whether to cycle, loading phase, etc.), personally I take 5g per day when using creatine, and I'll tend to cycle it by using it daily for a month or so and then having a two-week period off it.
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