Creatine. It’s the most well known, as well as the most studied supplement in the business right behind whey. There are studies going back decades with pretty conclusive evidence that points to creatine being extremely safe. My opinion is that the majority of opposition is due to a lack of understanding. Average people don’t understand creatine. When a 12 year old boy wants to begin lifting weights and tells their mom they would like to buy a magical powder that will make him big and strong, his mom is absolutely correct to worry. After all, something that makes you build muscle and strength is most likely a steroid, right? Possibly. But that is not what creatine does.
Is Creatine a Steroid?
The short answer: Absolutely not. To understand why creatine isn’t a steroid, you must first understand what a steroid actually is.
What are Steroids?
Why is it that men are nearly always more muscular than females? Why can a man naturally be 200 lbs of muscle, but a woman will not naturally reach that degree of muscularity? To put it simply, men naturally produce a hormone called testosterone. You have probably heard of it. Testosterone is what makes a man a man. It’s what causes his deep voice, body hair, facial hair, strength, and what we think of as masculine instincts. It’s what causes men to fight over females, in individual social settings and in nature. A performance enhancing steroid is basically artificial testosterone, or other synthesized hormones which are actually more anabolic than testosterone. Some steroids aren’t even found in nature. Steroids can take some nasty side effects and a great deal of health risks later on in life.
So now that we have a fundamental comprehension of what steroids are, what is creatine?
Creatine is found in almost every animal, including humans. We get it from meat and we obviously synthesize it. Creatine is a completely natural organic acid that offers mobile energy to your cells. It is found in the highest concentrations in muscle cells. Creatine and steroids can’t even be compared. One functions hormonally, one works inside of your cells naturally. Creatine will not make you superhuman like steroids. Steroids can push your body beyond physiological limits. With years of training and a perfect diet might be able to be a little over 200 lbs of lean muscle naturally. With steroids you can put on a different 20-50 lbs. If you are pushing your body past a natural limit, you’re putting multiple organs under intense stress, especially your heart. Creatine does no such thing. Creatine will indirectly help you add mass and strength by allowing your muscle cells to work just somewhat harder.
If you were awake for high school biology, you probably heard about mobile energy. Adenosine triphosphate (ATP), glucose, cellular respiration, and all of that fun stuff. Otherwise, I will give you the short rundown.
You cells have a bit of a molecule called adenosine triphosphate. You cell generates energy by breaking a phosphate bond in the mitochondria. The adenosine triphosphate subsequently becomes adenosine diphosphate (ADP), and needs to find another phosphate atom to bond with so that it can split it in the mitochondria. Creatine bond with phosphate and becomes more phosphocreatine, which is stored in the cells. Phosphocreatine can rapidly turn ADP into much needed ATP. That ATP can then go break another bond for mobile energy.
The ATP represents a worker that has a shovel full of coal, while the ADP signifies a worker with a vacant shovel. Creatine would represent a supply of coal at the exact same car as the flame. The ADP worker would need to walk a few feet instead of to another car over to get the much needed coal, which represents phosphate. Creatine is already working in your body keeping your cells alive and energized.
So Why Supplement More?
The concentrations of phosphocreatine in your cells isn’t even near the maximum. Your entire body can use about 5 grams of creatine. The concentration in your cells varies, but it is a lot lower. There comes a point in time during high exertion activities where your muscle cell’s phosphocreatine levels will come close to zero. That means your cells will have to rely on ineffective glycolysis for energy. That process is slow, generates very little energy, and causes more lactic acid buildup, which causes the burn you feel in your muscles. When you supplement with extra creatine, your phosphocreatine levels will remain higher for longer. This does not turn you into a superhuman and it will not add 50 pounds to your bench. The additional phosphocreatine will provide you a small, but noticeable increase in your workouts. You might have the ability to lift a few pounds more, or the exact same weight for a couple extra reps. This might not sound like much, but overtime if you are doing an extra 1-3 reps, you will build muscle and gain strength faster. However, creatine WILL cause you to gain weight straight away. Gaining 5 pounds isn’t unheard of. This isn’t hard muscle gain however, that is extra water weight the phosphocreatine increases your muscle cells.
Why Do People Think Creatine Is Bad?
Creatine CAN cause some minor difficulties should you not take it the right way. It can lead to cramping, and minor stomach difficulties. Those are both due to dehydration. Should you supplement creatine, your muscle tissues are using more water, so you really need to increase your water consumption. Increasing your water intake will also result in benefits in other areas of your life as well. Some people also say it is bad for your kidneys. The only slight possibility of that is from extreme dehydration. However, for that to actually happen, you would need to be very dehydrated before beginning your supplementation. Additionally, there are a small handful of people that will tell you creatine is bad for your heart. This is because those people haven’t taken the time to research and learn that it’s NOT a steroid.
The majority of these will work just as well, but they’re much more expensive. The very best and cheapest way to go is with normal creatine monohydrate. I favor Optimum Nutrition Creatine Powder. Optimum Nutrition is one of the first brands in the supplement sport. They create very pure and safe supplements to get a great deal. This particular product is also the best seller in creatine.
Some people will tell you about a “loading phase”, which is a way you take about 20 g for your first week, then reduce to 5 grams every day. I am not a huge believer in the loading stage, but you are more than welcome to try it and let me know what you thought. I start with 5 grams daily and keep it like that. It may take a day or two longer to take effect, but you’re saving money.