Magazine, Molecules

What is creatine?

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If you ask in the gym which supplement you should take in addition to sports, one answer comes up quite often: creatine. The molecule with an extensive research background not only brings advantages in (strength) sports, but is also able to influence cognitive performance. Even astronauts are recommended this endogenous substance for space missions. In this article you will learn what benefits creatine brings you, how you can take it and how longevity research evaluates the molecule.

Where is creatine found in the body?

First of all, we need to clarify the question of what creatine is in the first place. To do this, let's take a closer look at the molecule. Creatine consists of three amino acids: arginine, glycine and methionine. Our body produces the molecule itself from these three building blocks. The place of origin is mainly in the liver. In smaller quantities it is also produced in the kidneys and in the pancreas.

Creatine is then transported from the liver to its main site of action: The muscles. There it serves as an energy store in the form of creatine phosphate. You can think of the whole thing as a short-acting but very powerful battery. If we want to move our muscles, for example in the gym during a bench press, our muscles consume a large amount of energy in the form of ATP. After a few seconds, the ATP stores are empty and our muscle could not contract any further.

This is where creatine comes in, donating its phosphate groups and regenerating ADP (two phosphate groups) back into ATP (three phosphate groups). Without this "battery boost," we would not be able to lift heavy weights or sprint fast over short distances as effectively. If creatine phosphate is now used up, creatinine is produced as a "waste product".

Did you know? The amino acid glycine is a true all-rounder in the human body. It is involved in many important metabolic processes. Some of them also have an effect on longevity. For example, glycine can act as a methyl group donor for better DNA repair, or in combination with NAC it can strengthen your mitochondria. The combination GlyNAC is also available as a supplement. If you combine glycine with Hyaluron the molecule can also contribute to better skin health.

Creatine, creatinine, creatine monohydrate or creatine citrate - what is the difference?

Admittedly, there are many similar-sounding names and these can cause confusion. Therefore, we will give you a brief overview of the most important molecules. This will also help us later with the question of whether creatine is harmful to the kidney.

But everything in order:

  • Creatine is our starting molecule. We can take this in through food, supplement it and the body can produce it itself from the building blocks.
  • Creatinine is the breakdown product of creatine. It is excreted through the kidney
  • Creatine monohydrate: There are several options for supplementation. The best researched and most effective is creatine monohydrate. Here, the creatine molecules are combined with a water molecule. This combination is so well suited for supplementation because the bioavailability is over 99%.
  • Creatine Citrate: Is another option for creatine supplementation. Unlike monohydrate, the creatine molecules are combined with citric acid (citrate). However, the creatine content is lower as a result and there are fewer studies.
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The myth of kidney damage

Even a long-term intake of creatine could not be associated with kidney damage in the studies. But why does this question still come up very often?

This is because the breakdown product, creatinine, is used in medicine to measure kidney function. The supplementation of creatine leads to an increase in the level of creatinine in the blood. This raised concerns that renal function may be impaired. However, several studies(R,R,R) have shown that there is no kidney damage. Therefore, the creatinine level is elevated, but not due to kidney problems.

Power for your muscles - the supplement for more strength

The main effect of creatine as a supplement is seen in sports. In particular, the molecule can help during fast, power-intensive sessions, as in the studies the strength increased in comparison with placebos. In addition, the intake of creatine lowers the body fat percentage in athletes.

The molecule is also able to increase the water content in the body. This "side effect" is especially desirable in weight training, since this water is mainly stored in the muscle. With regular use, one should expect to gain about 1-2 kilograms in weight.

While the data is clear for strength sports, it is somewhat more mixed for endurance sports. In sprints, the developed strength increased, but in longer runs creatine seems to have at least no directly measurable effect. Nevertheless, it may make sense to supplement even as an endurance athlete, because taking it after the training session supported a shorter recovery phase.

Did you know. Creatine is the most common and best studied supplement among athletes. In addition, there are other molecules that promote longevity in addition to your performance. One of them is alpha-ketoglutarate (AKG).

In addition to research on animals, human studies showed that taking AKG in the form of calcium alphaketoglutarate supports muscle renewal. In addition to this very interesting effect for athletes, this study was able to make another exciting discovery. After 7 months of taking a preparation containing AKG, the biological age of the test subjects was reduced by a whole 8 years!

More than just pure power - creatine can help you not only in training

In addition to muscle cells, our brain cells require a lot of the energy they produce every day in the form of ATP. Due to the close connection between creatine and ATP, it is reasonable to hypothesize that it could also improve cognitive performance. In fact, this has also been proven by studies. The greatest effects were observed in older people whose endogenous creatine production was reduced. In fact, as we age, synthesis performance decreases, leading some to believe that supplementation may be particularly useful in old age. Many well-known faces from the longevity scene, such as Dr. Peter Attia, Dr. Mark Hyman or Bryan Johnson also take creatine daily.

Another area that is still being researched is the interaction with the immune system. It is now known from model studies that creatine can dampen pro-inflammatory processes in the body. For this reason, it has been suggested that the molecule could curb the so-called cytokine storm following a Covid-19 infection. However, larger studies on the subject have not yet appeared, and here we will certainly have to wait a bit until we have more data.

Does creatine promote muscle growth? No. It increases the water content in muscle cells, and some studies suggest that the molecule dampens inflammatory processes in the muscle after a hard workout. Creatine therefore makes the muscle look plumper due to the water retention - but more muscle mass in the form of fibers is not directly generated by it.

In addition, there is another molecule that acts on the muscle. Betaine, also a derivative of the amino acid glycine, stimulates protein build-up and the formation of new muscle cells. In addition, betaine increases the biosynthesis and availability of creatine. Betaine and creatine are therefore ideal partners for strength building!

Here you can learn more about betaine (TMG).

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Creatine in food - is it enough?

Creatine is mainly found in meat products. Here are a few data for the creatine content of different foods:

  • Beef meat: approx. 4.5g per kilogram
  • Chicken: approx. 3.4g per kilogram
  • Pork hearts: approx. 1.5g per kilogram

Creatine is almost not found in vegetarian products. But the amino acids that our body needs for the production of the molecule. In total, our creatine stores in the body have a capacity of about 120g.

We lose about 1.6-1.7% of it daily in the form of creatinine. This means that we need to recreate around 2g of creatine daily to compensate for this loss. Much of it is synthesized by our body itself, but the output decreases firstly with age and secondly the loss can be even greater during sports. A pure compensation through food is difficult due to the limited food, which is why a need-based supplementation is quite useful.

Creatine supplementation - not only useful for men

Most studies with creatine were conducted on men - especially male athletes, whose main goal was to improve athletic performance, were studied more closely. As is so often the case in medicine, this results in a rather one-sided picture.

In this study, however, women were explicitly examined. Here, in addition to the already known benefits, it was shown that especially post-menopausal women had improved bone mineralization through the combination of creatine and strength training. Falls and bone fractures in old age are common and can often have serious consequences for those affected. Here, the intake of creatine can help preventively.

Bones Minerals Creatine
Bone fractures are common in old age and therefore a significant factor affecting quality of life. A trained musculature can prevent corresponding injuries.

Correct intake - preloading or not after all?

There are dozens of intake recommendations and protocols on the Internet. Some experts advise a "loading" phase, where you take large amounts of creatine for a short period of time and then consume lower doses later in the "maintenance" phase. Let's take a look at the studies:

First of all, do you need a loading phase? The answer is no. It is true that with the short-term high-dose intake you reach the desired level in the muscles faster, but after four weeks this is also possible with the "normal" dose. Very high amounts not infrequently lead to diarrhea. Therefore, it is up to each person whether they want to do a loading phase or not.

But how much creatine do I need now? We have seen before that we lose about 2g per day. So the minimum amount per day would be 2g. The usual recommendations for daily creatine supplementation are 3-5g.

What else is there to consider?

  • If you want to do a "loading" phase, you can follow this formula: 0.3g per kilogram of body weight for 5-7 days. At 70kg, this would correspond to the very high dose of 21g creatine per day.
  • After the "Loading" phase, a minimum amount of 0.03g per kilogram of body weight is recommended. In our example, this means that you now take at least 2.1g of creatine per day.
  • Up to 10g per day over a longer period of time is considered safe. Anything above that is also safe and studied for shorter periods of time, but there is little data for these high amounts in the long term.
  • If you don't want to do the math, you can follow our recommended intake of 5g of creatine per day. This is sufficient for most people.
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Creatine and Longevity - what does the research say?

In addition to its role in sports, studies have shown that creatine may be helpful in depression. In one study, taking creatine alone led to a reduction in depressive symptoms, while in the other study it increased the uptake/effect of antidepressants. Since a stable psyche is important for longevity, creatine could offer an advantage here. However, one should not expect too great effects.

Another area of research is neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease. In mouse studies, researchers observed that daily creatine intake protected against the development of neurodegenerative diseases. In addition, this study examined a larger number of older mice. Here, one group was given the molecule daily and the mice in this population lived a median of 9% longer. They also showed improved brain function and their cells contained less lipofuscin, which is also known as "age pigment."

These promising results have not yet been reproduced in human studies. So it remains exciting to see what the future holds. We hope you now know more about this exciting molecule. Whether as a supplement to exercise or for better cognitive performance, creatine is an ideal and, most importantly, evidence-based everyday companion.

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