Creatine is often categorized as a steroid because of its muscle-building potential. However, creatine is not a steroid. Creatine is made naturally in the body, and traces present in organs like the liver, pancreas, and kidneys. The surplus is stored in the brain, testes, and muscles.
To increase your creatine levels, introduce foods like seafood and red meat into your diet. In addition, there are creatine supplements available in the market commonly used by athletes.
What is Creatine and How Does It Work?
Creatine or methyl guanidine-acetic acid is a natural element resulting from the reactions involving three elements that are; glycine, methionine, and amino acids arginine. Creatine is converted into creatine phosphate or phosphocreatine before storing it in the muscles.
According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), creatine is popular among athletes and bodybuilders. Americans spend approximately $14 million annually on creatine supplements. Over the years, more research has been ongoing on creatine and its effects on injury recovery, enhancing performance, exercise tolerance, and rehabilitation.
A healthy adult weighing about 70 kg has a total creatine of approximately 120g. The standard dietary intake is 1g daily. The endogenous production of creatine in the liver, pancreas, and kidneys down-regulates the regular exogenous creatine supplementation.
If you discontinue the supplementation, the endogenous production returns to baseline.
How does creatine work?
The initial endogenous synthesis of creatine begins in the kidneys with the combination of amino acids glycine and arginine. The elements then travel to the livers, and a methyl group from methionine is added. At this point, creatine is formed. The creatine circulates the body via the cell membrane, and the cell deposits it in the skeletal muscles.
The uptake of creatine is dependent on factors like:
- Exercise intensity
- Insulin growth factors
Creatine works by increasing the amount of creatine phosphate stored in your muscles which in return aids in producing more adenosine triphosphate (ATP). As you work out your muscles, the body breaks off the ATP’s phosphate, which results in adenosine diphosphate (ADP). Within the cell, creatine undergoes phosphorylation to form phosphocreatine, and creatine kinase facilitates this reversible reaction.
ADP is not helpful in this state, and the body utilizes the creatine phosphate to donate the extra phosphate to create ATP. ATP provides the energy you need to keep working out and building lean tissue mass. Creatine’s effects benefit football, rugby, and tennis players. In addition, bodybuilders, weight trainers, high-intensity trainers, and other athletes enjoy the benefits of creatine.
Is Creatine a Steroid?
First, we have to answer the question, is creatine a steroid? Creatine and steroids are two different things. However, anabolic and steroidal elements mimic the effects of creatine. Creatine helps increase endurance, muscle mass, strength, and protein synthesis. Taking creatine supplements does increase ATP, which translates to more energy production. The extra energy is a boost during heavy anaerobically-related exercise.
The effects of creatine supplementation and steroids are similar in their mechanism of action. However, anabolic steroids have a different chemical structure compared to creatine. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates anabolic steroids. In addition, it is illegal to administer and possess anabolic steroids without a doctor’s prescription. No legal measures are taken if you possess or take creatine.
Legal steroids are a manufactured version of the hormone testosterone. Bodybuilders and athletes use steroids to boost performance and build muscle strength. Some of the legal steroids include the following:
- Matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) is a blend of betaine, dendrobium, and creatine.
- Dimethylamylamine (DMAA)
- D-Bal Max (Dianabol alternative)
- DEKABULK (Deca-Durabolin alternative)
- Clenbutrol (Clenbuterol alternative)
- TBULK(Trenbolone alternative)
The Benefits of Taking Creatine
Here are several uses of taking creatine:
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
Research shows that people with COPD who take creatine have better improvements than those who don’t. Creatine helps increase muscle strength, endurance, and muscle mass. However, more research is essential on the matter.
Intake of creatine helps athletes gain strength for high-intensity workouts and lean muscle mass. Creatine has no direct ties to improved performance, but it does improve endurance, making the athlete perform better. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) prohibits using creatine but hasn’t banned athletes from using it.
Preliminary studies suggest that creatine intake helps lower triglyceride levels in both men and women. It also lowers homocysteine levels associated with heart disease and stroke. In addition, creatine helps improve muscle strength and muscle mass. The studies, however, need verification.
Muscular dystrophy is a genetic disorder that leads to muscle weakness and loss of muscle mass. People who have muscular dystrophy have low creatine levels. Intake of creatine supplements helps improve muscle strength.
Persons with Parkinson’s disease have increased fatigue and decreased muscle mass and strength. Intake of creatine has shown an increase in exercise tolerance and endurance.
Potential Side Effects of Creatine Use
Despite ongoing research on the intake of creatine supplements, safety issues are a concern. Some of the possible side effects include the following:
- Muscle cramps
- Kidney stones
- Liver damage
- Kidney damage
- High blood pressure
- Irregular periods
- Compartment syndrome
- Stomach upset
- Increase in blood sugar levels
- Unexplained weight gain
Common Creatine Myths Debunked
Below are some of the common myths about creatine addressed in detail. They include the following:
Does creatine cause baldness?
People on creatine supplements for a while have increased serum dihydrotestosterone (DHT). An increase in DHT hormone has been linked to baldness. There is a relationship between creatine supplement intake and hair loss. The results aren’t specific as they may differ from one person to the other. Studies are still ongoing on the issue.
Is creatine harmful to children and young teens?
The recommended loading dose for adults ages 19 and above is 5g four times daily for 2-5 days maximum. The maintenance dose is 2g daily. Creatine supplements are not recommended for children and adolescents unless otherwise.
It is best to take creatine supplements with carbohydrates, fruits, and fruit juices to improve absorption.
Is creatine beneficial to older adults?
Older adults are susceptible to a variety of clinical conditions. Most of the conditions include the following:
- Decreased muscle mass
- Decreased muscle strength
- Low muscle functionality
- Physical disability
Incorporating dietary intake of creatine supplements improves functionality and makes daily routine bearable. There are minimal studies on the relationship between creatine supplementation and aging bones.
Creatine is only beneficial to males
Creatine levels and utilization in males and females do differ significantly. Females have a higher intramuscular creatine concentration than males due to increased intramuscular creatine concentrations.
Creatine kinase synthesis is influenced by estrogen and progesterone. Creatine supplementation may benefit women during pregnancy, post-partum, menses, pre-menopause, and post-menopause.
The Best Types of Creatine to Use
There are several forms of creatine supplements available in the market. They include the following:
Creatine Ethyl Ester
Creatine ethyl ester, or CEE, is a chemical compound sold to enhance athletic performance and muscle building. Some studies argue that CEE increases creatine content in the blood and muscles. The legal steroid alternative like D-Bal Max isn’t absorbed better than creatine monohydrate; hence not recommended for use.
Creatine hydrochloride (HCI) is an alternative supplement popular with some manufacturers. It has better water solubility and minimal side effects like stomach upset. However, all the evidence is theoretical, and no published research on the effects of HCI in humans.
Creatine Magnesium Chelate
Creatine magnesium chelate is a supplement with a magnesium molecule attached to the creatine. Evidence suggests that creatine magnesium chelate is as effective as the monohydrate form.
Liquid creatine comes in ready-to-drink versions or as a powder to dissolve in water. Creatine in liquid form tends to break down and become ineffective. However, mixing the powder in water is recommended for consuming creatine supplements.
Buffered creatine is an improved version of creatine supplements that is stable in the stomach. It has reduced side effects like bloating and stomach cramps. You create the buffer by adding an alkaline powder to the creatine.
Creatine monohydrate is the superior of the supplements. Studies show that creatine monohydrate improves exercise tolerance by building upper and lower body strength.
Final Thoughts on Creatine and Its Effects
Creatine supplement has gained popularity since the early 1990s. There still are controversies and myths surrounding the use of creatine supplements. In addition, extensive research is necessary to have straightforward answers to some concerns.
Creatine is a naturally occurring compound in foods like red meat and fish. Creatine is made in the liver, pancreas, and kidneys and then stored in the skeletal muscles. The stored creatine donates the phosphate element to ADP for ATP formation. ATP helps increase muscle strength, muscle bulk, and exercise tolerance.
There are creatine supplement alternatives in the market, like legal and anabolic steroids. Both steroids aim at delivering similar effects as creatine. Check out a legal steroid made with natural elements because anabolic steroids are synthetic.
Creatine is one of the most natural and effective supplements available in the market. Besides its numerous benefits in increasing muscle bulk and strength, it is also affordable.