The mission: Find the best creatine

You’ve just spent your hard earned cash on a new supply of what you believe is the best creatine, but just how sure are you that you’re not getting ripped off?

If there’s even a little doubt in your mind then this article is for you!  I’ll be discussing the science behind creatine, who’s using it and the differences between a good and bad creatine source.  And as if that wasn’t enough, I’ll be explaining exactly how and when to take creatine in order to maximise your results.  Sit back, get reading and prepare to supercharge your power output!

The science behind creatine

Let’s start with a quick look at what creatine actually is.  Creatine is a naturally occurring nitrogenous organic acid that is used to provide energy to all cells in the body, particularly muscle.  It is not a steroid as some people have been led to believe.  In fact, 50% of the creatine found in the human body comes from food sources, primarily meat.  The rest is manufactured in the kidney and liver from amino acids.

Creatine works as part of the phosphocreatine system, often labelled as PCr.  This Pcr system helps to support Adenosine Tri-Phosphate system (ATP) found within cells.  Without getting too bogged down in the details, ATP is the body’s energy currency.  When your body is placed under stress, for example when you are lifting a heavy weight, your body uses this ATP.  When an ATP is used it is left as an ADP, otherwise known as Adenosine Di-Phosphate, which just isn’t quite as useful.  This is where creatine comes in.  Creatine Phospate has a spare phosphate to donate, which it does (it’s nice like that!) so ADP + that spare P can form a brand new energy giving ATP.

So what does all this mean?  In short, more creatine in your system means more available energy for high intensity contractions, which means more power for sprinters, weightlifters, wrestlers and anyone else whose sport relies on short, high intensity bursts of energy.

energy-system-durations-creatine

Creatine and its side effects?

This is where creatine gets even better.  There are very few, if any, proven side effects associated with the supplement.  In 2004 the European Food Safety Authority stated that supplementing with 3g of pure creatine per day over a long term is risk free.  A separate 2004 study published in the Journal of Sports Medicine similarly found that supplementing with 5-20g of creatine per day was risk free.  For more information check out:

Bizzarini E, De Angelis L; De Angelis (December 2004). “Is the use of oral creatine supplementation safe?”. The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness 44 (4): 411–6.

One or two anecdotal claims regarding negative impacts of creatine on the liver and kidneys have been made, but these have largely been unsubstantiated.  In fact a 2007 study found that creatine supplementation resulted in no abnormal hepatic, cardiac, renal or muscle functions.  For more information have a look at:

Persky, A. M.; Rawson, E. S. (2007). “Safety of creatine supplementation”. Sub-cellular biochemistry. Subcellular Biochemistry 46: 275–289.

If you want to play it safe, maybe stay away from creatine if you have a liver or kidney condition.  But this would be much more a peace of mind choice than a choice based on any scientific findings.

Who should use Creatine?

Whether or not creatine is useful for you depends mainly on the type of activity you take part in.  If you’re a bodybuilder, weightlifter or powerlifter then creatine is definitely for you.  Similarly if you’re a wrestler, sprinter, fighter, baseball or football player then creatine may also be beneficial to you.  There’s no denying the fact that 65 robust studies (including plenty with double blinds) came to the conclusion that creatine supplementation has a positive and noticeable impact on Power Output

If one the other hand you’re a long distance runner or cyclist, then creatine won’t particularly benefit you.  Remember what we said up in the science section.  Creatine helps with ATP synthesis for high intensity exercise.  Lower intensity exercise relies mainly on the aerobic system to regenerate ATP, so all those extra phosphates just won’t be that useful.

It’s also worth noting that different people will have different responses depending on genetic make-up and diet.  If you already eat lots of red meat then you’ll notice less of a change as you already have quite a bit of creatine in your muscles.  If you’re a vegetarian on the other hand you will likely notice a much bigger change because your creatine levels would have been much lower.  Additionally you’ll notice a bigger change if you have more fast-twitch muscle fibres, whereas if you happen to have more slow-twitch fibres (for example you’re the type of slender person built for long distance running) then you’ll notice a bit less of an impact.  There are also a few people who are ‘non-responders’ to creatine supplementation, but it’s pretty rare.

Who is using Creatine?

For starters, Major League Baseball players including Eric Karros, Brett Butler, Mark McGwire, Gary Sheffield, Dante Bichette, Mike Piazza and Ryan Kelesko are all known to supplement with creatine.

Then there’s 100m sprinter Tyson Gay who takes creatine alongside BCAA’s.

And these are just some of the top results from Google! The reality is that most professional bodybuilders and weightlifters will use creatine, and it has been estimated that around 50% of professional football players have used or are currently using the supplement.

The differences between the worst and the best creatine

creatine-typesAt this point you’re probably thinking about getting yourself some creatine.  Hold your horses one moment.  Before you part with your hard earned cash let’s take a minute to look at what makes the difference between a good and a bad creatine source.

Purity/Contents: You want to be aiming good, pure creatine.  Try to avoid products with a huge list of secondary ingredients.  The best way to do this is simply by looking on the packet or product information.  Don’t just trust the packet or name.  Some products being sold as ‘pure’ creatine are full of contaminants.

Type: Bodybuilding.com lists no less than six creatine variants all claiming to be better than the original.  These include Creatine Micronized, Creatine HCL, Creatine Ethyl Ester, Creatine Malate and Creatine Magnesium Chelate.  The truth is that the claims are all nonsense.  The reality is that the original Creatine Monohydrate (which is also the cheapest by the way!) is the best.  Studies have shown it to have better bioavailability than its variants.  Plus there is much more research proving that monohydrate works and is non-harmful.  The other variants do not have this research, and the limited amount that has been conducted actually shows them to be inferior to the basic monohydrate.

Don’t believe me? Then here are the views of two editors from Examine.com, a website dedicated to analysing nutrition and supplementation:

Gregory Lopez: “5g a day of the cheap monohydrate powder (no need for anything fancy) seems great for anyone who’s looking to increase power output.”

Kurtis Frank: “It’s safe, it’s healthy, it’s cheap, and for most people, it just works. Get some Creatine Monohydrate, take 5g a day, and you’re good to go.”

For more information on Creatine have a read through examine.com.  Be warned, though, it’s not light reading.  Those guys like their science and they’ve written around 10000 words on the topic!

Overview and Price: You should buy a basic creatine monohydrate powder in as pure a form as possible.  An entire kilogram of the stuff will cost you less than $40.  Assuming you take 3g per day this will last you for an entire year.  So if anyone asks you to pay $100 for three to six months’ supply, you have my permission to tell them where to stick it!

How you should take creatine to maximize results

creatine-chart-article-best-creatineAmount: 3-5 grams per day.  Studies have shown that this amount gives noticeable performance increases without any side effects.

Time of day: Honestly, there’s no secret ingredient when it comes to creatine supplementation.  It works by saturating the muscle cells with extra phosphates and can take up to three weeks to have any noticeable effect.  With this in mind it really doesn’t matter what time in the day you take it.

Loading: Some people try to ‘load’ the level of creatine in the muscles by consuming more creatine in the first few weeks of supplementation.  There have not been many studies done on this making it pretty much a matter of personal choice.  I would just stick to waiting the three weeks and building up your creatine levels using the recommended 3-5 grams per day.

 

The Top 5 – closing in on the best creatine

Here’s a quick list of the Top 5 best creatine supplements that you can buy.  They’re pure, they’re monohydrate and their all reasonably priced.  Check them out.

 True Nutrition’s Creatine Monohydrate: A reliable company that offers good quality monohydrate at around $1.50 per 100g, meaning around $11.50 for an entire kilogram.  These guys also have one of the best and most scientific info pages on the web.  Rather than using ridiculous claims and sales jargon they give you solid information on the product they sell.  Double thumbs up from me!
 MyProtein.com’s Creatine Monohydrate Powder: This is as basic as it gets.  A nice, pure product and a one kilogram pouch costs around $15.  It comes unflavoured but is also available in plenty of flavours should you want them.  The website has a good standing in the industry with plenty of positive customer reviews.
Optimum Nutrition Micronized Creatine Powder: I know what you’re thinking, didn’t you say don’t go for any fancy variations.  True as that generally is, the micronized bit just means that it mixes a little better.  The creatine used is still good old monohydrate.  Plus it’s 99.9% pure and the brand has a solid reputation.  You can get your hands on 1000g of this for around $40.
 USN Creatine Monohydrate Strength & Size Powder: This creatine option in 99% pure, micronized for easy solubility and comes from a reliable company with good customer reviews.  It’s also fairly cheap with a 500g tub costing you around $23.
 Bodybuilding.com Micronized Creatine: Part of Bodybuilding.com’s own supplement ‘foundation series’.  It costs around $20 for an entire kilogram and contains nothing but good old fashioned creatine monohydrate in its most soluble form.

My Recommendation

There’s literally nothing between these products in regards to content.  They all contain good quality, pure creatine so it’s pretty much a matter of personal choice.  I tend to favour True Nutrition simply because it’s cheap and the company doesn’t over-sell.  In the world of supplements it can be refreshing to see a company trying to be more honest and scientific.

Let’s wrap this up

If you’re training a high intensity activity and looking to maximise your power output, grab yourself some basic, pure creatine monohydrate.  Take 3-5g per day and wait a few weeks to see the results. And that, my friends, is that! We’ve covered pretty much all you need to know to get you started on your muscle building journey.  All that’s left is for you to go out, supercharge your power output and get training harder than you ever have before. Good Luck!

And remember, make sure you do your research and use the information I’ve given you before you go to your local supplement store and get ripped off!  Listen to the science and to ignore the crappy sales claims! How about you, any experiences using creatine or thoughts about the article?  Maybe you’ve got a favourite product that wasn’t mentioned in the list? Let me know in the comments section.