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Is Creatine Worth The Hype?

As someone who practices and promotes a holistic approach to health and wellness, I cannot emphasize enough how essential regular physical activity is to our well-being. Prioritizing exercise throughout the day fuels our bodies and calms the anxious chatter in our minds—especially when we discover forms of exercise we genuinely enjoy. For me, that looks like soaking in the sun on a brisk morning walk and feeling peacefully grounded during a yoga sesh. But the beauty of fitness is that exercise may look different for you, which is totally okay and something I actually encourage. The main goal is to explore what works for our unique needs so we can incorporate it into a healthy lifestyle. And for some of you, that might entail higher-intensity activity, like heavy weightlifting or circuit training.

If you’re someone who does a lot of physical activity or regularly engages in some of the more intense exercises mentioned above, then you’re probably aware of the hype around creatine. Creatine has become a popular supplement in the fitness community for its effects on exercise performance, but it’s also been shown to provide potential health benefits outside of the gym. The creatine curiosity is real, so let’s break down the research together to empower you to make informed health choices about the supplement.

What is Creatine?

Creatine is a compound our bodies naturally create; it’s synthesized in the liver, kidney, and pancreas from amino acids (protein building blocks) and then stored primarily in muscle tissue. Creatine is essential because it contributes to the production of adenosine triphosphate, or ATP. ATP is our cells’ energy currency, providing the necessary stamina for muscle contractions during everyday activities to high-intensity activities, such as weightlifting, sprinting, and jumping. 

Creatine is created within the body, but it is also supplemented in the diet with the most potent sources being red meat and seafood. So, those of us who prefer a more plant-based lifestyle tend to have lower levels of creatine in the body, making supplementation worth considering.

Different Forms of Creatine

When exploring creatine supplements, it’s important to recognize that there are different forms of creatine to ensure you supply your body with safe, high-quality, evidence-based products. The most common form of creatine is creatine monohydrate, as it’s the most researched and widely used form. Creatine monohydrate is known for its effectiveness in enhancing sports performance and muscle growth because it’s easily absorbed by the body.

However, other forms of creatine exist on the market: creatine ethyl ester, creatine hydrochloride, and buffered creatine. While some studies have revealed that these forms may be more easily absorbed in the body or may be formulated at a more favorable pH level, the overall findings are inconclusive and warrant further research.

How Creatine Works

Creatine increases the availability of phosphocreatine in the muscles, which serves as a rapid source of energy during high-intensity exercise. Our muscles require ATP for energy during these short bursts of intense exercise, and creatine helps regenerate ATP more quickly. This process allows our bodies to sustain high-intensity efforts for longer, gradually enhancing muscle performance and growth.

Additionally, creatine supplementation often increases muscle size by allowing water to enter our muscles via osmosis, which is a key stimulus for cell growth. However, this water retention in muscles makes it extra important to drink plenty of water for optimal hydration within the rest of the body if you are supplementing with creatine.

Health Benefits of Creatine

1. Enhances Exercise Performance: The most praised benefit of creatine has to be its effect on physical performance. Studies have demonstrated that creatine supplementation can improve strength, power, and muscle mass in athletes and resistance-trained individuals. By increasing phosphocreatine stores, creatine enables athletes to train at higher intensities and recover faster.

Creatine stores tend to be lower in women than in men. Research indicates that creatine supplementation may especially improve strength and exercise performance during menses, pregnancy, postpartum, and postmenopause.

2. Boosts Cognitive Function: Creatine has also been shown to support brain health. Research suggests that creatine supplementation may improve memory, attention, executive function, and mood disorders.

3. Supports Energy Metabolism: Creatine plays a vital role in mitochondrial function (mitochondria are the powerhouses of the cell). By supporting mitochondrial health and energy metabolism by producing ATP, creatine may help enhance overall cellular function and energy production, helping you feel your best inside and out.

4. May Improve Degenerative Diseases: Some studies suggest that creatine supplementation may have neuroprotective effects and could potentially benefit individuals with neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. However, more research is needed to fully understand the mechanisms and potential therapeutic applications of creatine in age-related neurological disorders.

Potential Side Effects of Creatine

While creatine is generally considered safe for most individuals when used as directed, some potential side effects may occur, including dehydration, bloating, muscle cramps, and upset stomach. Most individuals tolerate creatine supplementation well, but you should always talk to your healthcare practitioner before starting a new supplement.

My Recommendations for Creatine Supplementation

While creatine supplementation is not necessary for everyone, it can be a valuable tool for those looking to optimize their physical performance and achieve their health and fitness goals. If you’re considering a creatine supplement but don’t know where to begin, I recommend opting for clean brands like Thorne to ensure a high-quality product. Regarding dosage, research suggests that three to five grams of creatine monohydrate per day is safe and sufficient to increase muscle creatine stores and enhance performance, though I like to meet with clients before discussing any dosages. I also recommend keeping a journal to track how you feel using creatine; this can help determine its effectiveness for your specific needs and goals. 

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Physical activity is non-negotiable when it comes to becoming the healthiest versions of ourselves, and the support for adding creatine to a physical activity routine is evident: Creatine can improve physical performance and potentially enhances other key aspects of our health. However, I always want to emphasize that we are all unique, meaning our bodies thrive off different nutrients and supplements. My holistic approach to health is always personalized to my clients’ individual needs, so while creatine may be great for one person, I may not recommend it to another. If you’d like to book a one-on-one session, I’d be happy to assess your health history and status to help determine if a creatine supplement may be right for you.

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