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Creatine Myths & Facts | OriGym

Creatine is one of the most popular sports nutrition supplements on the market today and is utilised by both recreational gym goers and seasoned athletes.

But many individuals do not fully understand how creatine actually works or how it affects the body. With large volumes of conflicting or misleading information online in conjunction with some questionable marketing by some supplement companies, it can be confusing minefield.

In this article we will debunk some of the biggest creatine myths and highlight the true facts and information about creatine so that you know how this supplement affects performance and adaptation. 

Who Discovered Creatine?

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First, we need to venture back in time and see the history of creatine, how it was discovered, so we can see where these myths have derived from. Then we can jump into addressing the some of the major myths about creatine and provide some true facts about how it works and how it benefits the body and human performance.  

Creatine, which is derived from the Greek word for flesh, was actually first discovered as an organic compound within meat in 1832 by a French scientist, called Michel Eugene Chevreul.

It was found that there was an accumulation of creatine within muscle tissue of animals, which had been highly active prior to extraction.  In around the same time, a substance called creatinine (Crn) was detected in urine. Researchers determined that Crn was a by-product of the breakdown of creatine.

Shortly after this discovery was made, two researches decided to consume large quantities of creatine to evaluate the effect (as you do).

What they found helped shape how we utilise creatine, even to this day. The two scientists discovered that a percentage of the creatine they had consumed could not be accounted for in their urine meaning, quite simply, that we're capable of storing creatine within muscle tissue and later found that it played an incredibly important role in energy production and transfer, which we will touch upon later in this article.

Since this discovery, countless studies on the use of creatine within a physical performance context have been published. The vast majority of this research supports creatines efficacy as an ergogenic aid and a useful compliment to therapeutic approaches. 

Creatine lay largely dormant until the mid 1990s until the Atlanta Olympics, where two gold medallists attributed aspects of their success down to use of the supplement. Within a very short time frame, creatine has been harnessed by athletes, bodybuilders and recreational gym goers to improve performance and physique. This in turn, with the simultaneous boom of the mainstream supplement market and prevalence of the internet has generated some inaccurate or "creatine myths" around the supplement. 

Before we jump into our top 10 myths and creatine facts, take a moment to jump across to our award winning personal training courses and sports nutrition certification or download our free course prospectus for more information

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Creatine Facts: The Science Behind How it actually works

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At a cellular level, our body requires adenosine triphosphate (ATP) to carry out all bodily functions. ATP provides the energy that drives cellular processes, and each process requires a certain amount of ATP. To provide this free energy for metabolic activity, ATP is broken down into adenosine diphosphate (ADP). It is the energy released from this chemical reaction which fuels metabolic activities.

The role of creatine is to restore ADP to ATP so that it can be used to provide energy again. The difference between an ATP molecule is that it has three phosphate groups attached whereas ADP has two phosphate groups attached. Creatine can bind to a loose phosphate which it then donates to an ADP molecule, thus resynthesizing it into an ATP. It is this ability to “recycle” energy in this capacity as to why it is so highly valued as a performance enhancing supplement by athletes and trainers.

Available ATP is critically important in sports and exercise, with creatine supplementation showing to vastly enhance performance in particular of activities of short-duration and or high-intensity, such as sprinting, weight training or powerlifting. 

Despite the large body of research surrounding creatine, it’s safety and its potential for benefit in many applications, there exists a number of creatine myths around the compound. These have likely stemmed from its widespread use within the health and fitness industry as many consumers may be unsure of how it works and or been exposed to misinformation.

In this article we’ll be discussing the top 10 myths surrounding creatine and providing clarity and truth on the subject matter.

Top 10 Creatine Myths

The large volume of myths about creatine, as well as exaggerated facts harnessed by some supplement companies to boost sales has caused some uncertainty around this supplement’s true effects. So, keep reading to see the top 10 creatine myths and facts below:

10. Creatine Myth: It causes Increases in bodyfat

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Kicking off our list of creatine myths, is that it "can causes increase in your body fat percentage". Arguably one of the most ridiculous myths on this list, yet this rumour still circulates on online forums and within fitness groups.

The fact about creatine is that users will typically note a gain in weight during the initial stages of supplementation. This gain in weight can be attributed to mild, intracellular water retention and decreased urinary volume. Therefore, creatine does cause water retention on a very small scale, but it does not cause an increase in body fat percentage.

When creatine was first commercially mass-produced, companies believed that consumers would not use the product due to the flavourless taste of the powder and "yes" back then it was horrid.

Many of the first iterations of creatine supplements were mixed with large servings of maltodextrin, a form of sweet carbohydrate to increase palatability.

It is also known that insulin, which is elevated in the presence of increased blood glucose, can promote creatine uptake. It is likely that these daily servings of maltodextrin, perhaps even multiple servings if you are loading, could have led to some of the reported bodyfat gain as opposed to the creatine itself. 

Most products nowadays will contain only creatine, but this should be something to check prior to purchase.

9. Creatine Causes Kidney Problems

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One of the long-standing creatine myths is that "creatine causes kidney problems" and can be responsible for kidney stones.

Creatine metabolism products, creatinine and creatine is removed from the body almost exclusively by your kidneys. Due to this, creatinine is used as the best endogenous marker of estimating glomerular filtration rate, "how well your kidneys are functioning".

Creatine sceptics have claimed there are indications and potential for creatine to overwhelm kidney function, possibly leading to health complications. 

However, a large-scale meta-analysis study aimed to investigate creatine supplementation and their possible renal function side effects found creatine supplementation, both short and long-term, in a range of dosages, had no effect on serum creatinine levels, which is a marker of kidney function and damage.

Creatine supplementation has been rigorously tested and appears to be safe in recommended dosages for any period of time on your kidneys.

8. Creatine Loading Myth: You need to gulp down multiple shakes of creatine a day to load it

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This creatine loading myth has been circulating gyms for decades and probably will continue to do so!

To be clear, the creatine loading phase is a beneficial fact. What we're addressing is the myth about creatine during the loading phase being needed to be consumed through multiple doses, spread out through the day.

Whilst some protocols suggest splitting up your loading phase into multiple shakes per day, there is no necessity to actually follow this approach.

Studies have shown that single daily dosages can be just as effective as multi-day dosages as long as it still equates to the same daily total.

If you find it easier or have time restrictions to only have one shake a day, then go with that approach as long as you match the same daily total within that shake.

It is suggested to have multiple smaller dosages a day when loading so as to avoid gastrointestinal distress, such as bloating, nausea and cramping, not to increase performance or your bodies utilisation of the supplement. 

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7. Creatine Myth: Creatine won’t work unless loaded

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From one creatine loading phase myth to another!

The necessity of the loading protocol has long been overblown and emphasis that without loading creatine appropriately will cause the supplement to be ineffective is untrue.

In fact, supplementation protocols using a daily single dose of around 3 – 6 g or between 0.03 to 0.1 g/kg/d still produce a similar ergogenic effect.

The difference between this approach, and one incorporating a loading phase, is simply that the non-loading approach takes longer before you’ll start to reap the benefits of creatine supplementation, normally between 21 – 28 days approximately.

By completing the loading phase, you will see results far quicker as you increase your creatine stores at a faster rate (up to 40%) with an initial burst and then the smaller daily dosage will sustain those stores. Studies suggest that the loading phase by comparison can take a week or less for the benefits to be harnessed, but the effectiveness of the loading phase is purely an issue of speed not effectiveness. 

6. Creatine causes water retention & makes me look “puffy”!

Creatine causes water retention is one of the most common "creatine myths" levelled at this supplement. 

Although, as we touched upon earlier in this article, creatine does cause some minor water retention, this is intracellular. An individual perceiving themselves as looking “puffy” would suggest subcutaneous water retention or a state of dehydration.

Creatine supplementation has often been associated with the concern that it can promote dehydration as it facilitates greater fluid uptake into muscle cells.

However, facts about creatine causing high levels of water retention have yet to come to fruition and one study led by Eric J. Sobolewski at the Department of Health and Human Performance at Oklahoma State University conducted a study on "Physiological Effects of Creatine Supplementation on Hydration" and found no evidence to back this claim either.

We previously mentioned the facts of creatine supplements being sweetened with a large serving of maltodextrin and other sweetened refined carbohydrate. This large bolus of carbohydrate can result in a rapid spike in blood glucose and subsequently blood insulin levels.

High insulin levels lead to greater reabsorption of sodium in the kidneys. This effect can disrupt the regulation of fluids in the body and may have been why individuals in the past supplementing with creatine experienced a feeling of “puffiness”.

5. Creatine Fact or Myth: The more expensive forms of creatine are better?

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In many markets, generally speaking of course, the more expensive an item or service tends to be, generally the better quality the product or service....but not always of course.

There are a variety of types of creatine supplementation on the market appearing in various different forms, with a range of associated claims.

Some of these creatine "health facts" and statements are questionable to say the least, from “no water retention”, which defeats some of the beneficial purpose of creatine to “no loading phase required”. 

With big money in the supplement market, more forms of creatine are popping up every year, including:

  • Creatine Monohydrate 
  • Micronized creatine monohydrate
  • Creatine Ethyl Ester 
  • Creatine Hydrochloride (HCI)  
  • Creatine Malate 
  • Creatine Magnesium Chelate (MCC) 

The most extensively studied of all the creatine supplement forms is creatine monohydrate.

Contrary to some claims made on the part of other forms of creatine, creatine monohydrate is not degraded during digestion and virtually all of that consumed is taken up by muscle or excreted in urine.

Manufacturers have also stated that their alternative options of creatine supplementation have better physical and chemical properties, bioavailability, efficacy, and/or safety profiles than creatine monohydrate.

There is little to no evidence to support any of these claims by recognised studies, particularly on safety and efficacy when compared to creatine monohydrate. Until empirical studies have been conducted to backup these "creatine nutritional facts" claimed by these new forms of creatine, this will remain a contentious issue.

4. Creatine and Hair Loss: Myth or Fact?

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A very common "fact" about creatine supplementation that circles gym floors is that it may lead to hair loss. 

The belief that creatine supplementation can contribute to accelerated hair loss stems from one study which observed increased levels of the hormone dihydrotestosterone (DHT) following creatine supplementation. 

You may be genetically predisposed to hair loss if you inherit fair follicles sensitive to DHT. This can lead to androgenetic alopecia, better known as male pattern baldness and female pattern hair loss.

Whilst this study may be concerning, it should be noted that researchers did not observe any hair loss amongst its participants.

There is currently not enough data to support the "creatine supplementation causes hair loss" claim, or that it can contribute to it, however those who may be predisposed to male / female pattern baldness may want to consult a healthcare professional prior to taking the supplement.

3. Creatine Myth: It is an anabolic steroid

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Thankfully the myth about creatine being an anabolic steroid is not very widespread, but it does come up time to time.

The fact about Creatine is that it is most certainly not an anabolic steroid nor is it as remotely effective or work in the same capacity as an anabolic steroid.

It bears no relation to or has anything in common with a steroid in structure according to scientific definitions. Its structure and function make it more in common with a vitamin or mineral, which we positively associate with, than it does with any steroid.

The World anti-doping agency does not feature creatine on its banned substances list either for professional athletes.

2. Creatine is only for athletic performance

The consensus stand on creatine is that it is a supplement which is beneficial purely in the realm of exercise performance.

But more and more frequently, creatine is being utilised by recreational weight trainers as an aid to increase lean body mass. Creatine can be utilised in this way, as in order to enhance performance, often improvements in body composition and muscular adaptation are bifactors in this process.  Therefore, an increase in lean muscle mass would be achieved vicariously by improving performance.

Additionally, there is some data to suggest that creatine has the potential to increase protein synthesis via cell swelling as well as mediating increases in muscle mass through other pathways, such as myogenesis.

Whilst creatine may not directly increase the amount of energy we expend, it may do passively. Increases in performance will likely be of greater energetic demand for our bodies, both during the exercise session itself and after with increased recovery demands. Additionally, as creatine appears to promote increases in lean muscle mass, we could also expect an increase in energy expenditure. Muscle tissue is the most metabolically active tissue and thus our total energy expenditure would increase in tandem with increases in muscle mass. This has been reflected in studies evaluating the relationship between creatine supplementation, muscle mass and energy expenditure.

1. Women shouldn’t use creatine

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Another myth about creatine is that women should not use it. Like most sweeping statements surrounding both gender and supplements, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

A number of studies have investigated the use of creatine in female groups. When comparing one group of women supplementing with creatine to one that isn’t, the group supplementing have experienced significant increases in muscle mass and performance

When comparisons have been made between genders similar increases in performance have been found. Whilst men appear to gain more lean body mass, this may be due to the greater amount of total muscle mass and the impact of intracellular water retention, as opposed to their being a significant difference between rates of muscle gain between genders when supplementing creatine.

The International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) states either gender of athlete would benefit from supplementation of creatine and it should be considered as part of an athlete’s performance related strategies.

There may be other unique benefits of creatine supplementation unique to females. Increased bone mass density during menopause and the promotion of neural development and reduction in complications resulting from birth asphyxia during pregnancy to name a few.

One major creatine fact is that regardless of your gender, you will see increased performance where creatine is the variable by contrast to if you do not harness this supplement.

Before we jump into the conclusion, why not take your passion for fitness and nutrition onto a new level and enquire about our Level 2 Fitness instructing course in gym or our online level 3 Personal Training diploma or feel free to download our free course prospectus here.

Conclusion

The fact about creatine is that it’s one of, if not the, most well studied ergogenic aid on the market today. Its efficacy, safety and dosing strategy are all well-defined. The ISSN believe it to be one of the most clinically validated performance supplements commercially available. Not only is it effective for performance but may also have benefits in improving body composition and other health applications. It appears to be beneficial across all age groups and genders. In relation to which form of creatine supplement to use, creatine monohydrate appears to be the superior option based off the data available to us.

As more data and studies become available over time, creatine myths and facts may alter, and there is no such thing as "concrete facts" just evidence supporting one theory or analysis over another.

Written by Luke Hughes

CEO and Co-Founder

Join Luke on Facebook at the OriGym Facebook Group

Luke is the CEO and Co-Founder of OriGym. Holding a first-class degree in Sport and Exercise and an MSc in Sport and Nutrition, he is also qualified as a Level 4 Personal Trainer with various specialist credentials covering the entire spectrum of health, fitness and business. Luke has contributed to a variety of major industry publications, including Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, Metro, Cosmopolitan, The Mirror, The Sun, The Standard and more.

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