For some odd reason, creatine has a ton of misconceptions. If you scroll through a Reddit forum on creatine, you’ll find that creatine…
Causes hair loss
Induces kidney failure
Is only for “gym bros” and “bodybuilders”
Leads to weight gain
Only useful for gaining muscle
Has exogenous hormones
Are these claims true? The short answer is no. In fact, creatine is perhaps the safest and most effective supplement that all swimmers should be taking. So in this blog, let’s find out why. After reading this blog, you should know…
What creatine is and how it works
Why creatine is the safest and most effective supplement for athletes
The muscular, cognitive, and recovery benefits of creatine
The proper form of creatine and how you should take it
Let’s dive in.
What is Creatine and how does it work?
Creatine is a high energy phosphate donor. ATP stands for adenosine triphosphate. Meaning, ATP is composed of three phosphate molecules. All cells need ATP for cellular processes. When we exercise, ATP breaks down into ADP (meaning it loses a phosphate) because that breaking apart of the phosphate creates free energy.
So, in summary, ATP is the body’s energy currency. Just like we need goggles to swim in a race, our cells need ATP to carry out its functions. When we need to drive muscular contractions, ATP donates a free phosphate to create free energy. Here is a helpful graphic that depicts this process.
Now, where does creatine come in?
Creatine acts as a phosphate donor by pulling water into the muscle tissue. By pulling in more water, the cell is better hydrated. A more hydrated cell is better able to carry out its functions to clear metabolic waste and recruit fuel to burn for exercise. Moreover, when a cell is more hydrated, the cell is also more anabolic. Anabolic hormones are responsible for tissue growth and repair.
So, in summary…
Creatine is an energy phosphate donor, pulling in more water into the cell
A more hydrated cell better clears waste and recruits fuel for exercise
The better hydrated the cell, the better your muscle tissue grows and repairs itself
Okay, enough science. Why should you take creatine?
Why Creatine is safe and effective?
Dr. Peter Attia, renowned longevity expert and author of Outlive, says, “Creatine is the supplement that I feel most confident recommending with patients…this is a supplement worth taking.”
Attia also notes that it passes two important tests. First, it is safe. Creatine has been examined in over 500 scientific studies (see study here) and has failed to pose any serious health risks. Secondly, creatine has efficacy, meaning the intervention (i.e. creatine) performs well in experimental settings. Furthermore, Attia mentions that it is relatively inexpensive compared to other supplements and is the lowest hanging fruit of all supplements.
Nowadays, athletes are always looking for that leg-up, the next “thing” that can boost their performance. Creatine, far and away, is the most tried and true supplement on the market.
There are also claims that creatine is not safe for adolescents and children…this is FALSE. A meta analysis from Frontier's Nutrition (see study here) found, “Multiple studies have assessed and reported that creatine supplementation has no adverse impact on clinical health markers in competitive athletes (13–17), non-athletic populations (18–25), and in clinical populations (26–29).”
Moreover, another scientific journal, Nutrients, published a meta analysis in 2021 showing no adverse side effects from creatine consumption amongst adolescents.
Okay, so we’ve discussed how creatine works and why it is safe and effective, now let’s get to the good stuff…the actual benefits.
Let’s first establish that creatine is NOT a steroid. Creatine is also NOT a muscle building supplement; rather, it is an energy creating supplement. Creatine helps your body create more energy. Like we alluded to before, creatine aids in ATP production, the energy currency for our cells. It is also important to note that creatine does not increase muscle fiber size by itself; rather, it requires a stimulus to increase muscle fiber size.
Creatine is a natural substance that is found in red meat and certain fishes (i.e. salmon). Because our diets have changed over time, a large majority of the population is creatine deficient. People that eat an omnivorous diet (both plants and animals) average .75-1.0 g of creatine per day. The average person requires at least 2-3 g of creatine per day. A person with increased muscle size should consume 4-7 g of creatine per day.
So, for general health, everybody should supplement with 2-3 g of creatine each day.
BUT, you guys are not normal people. You guys are athletes. And not just athletes, you are swimmers. Swimming being one of the more grueling, energy-demanding, and dynamic sports known to mankind. Therefore, we recommend that swimmers supplement with 5 g of creatine per day.
Because swimming not only requires incredible endurance, but also requires strength, agility, mobility, and most of all, sheer grit.
And guess what? Creatine helps in all of these areas.
There was a meta analysis performed that found that just 2 weeks of creatine supplementation lead to increases in strength over an 8 week period (see study here).
In Dr. James Dinicalantonio’s book, Win: Achieve Peak Athletic Performance, Optimize Recovery, and Become a Champion, he writes, “Short-term creatine monohydrate supplementation improves maximal strength and power by 5-15% (see study here).
We talked earlier about how you need a stimulus for creatine to work its magic in boosting muscle size. A study that illustrates this phenomenon looked at Brazilian soccer players and American rowers. The study found that even just low-dose of creatine supplementation (2-3 g) increased muscle power within 7 weeks in both the soccer players and rowers.
But here’s where it gets interesting.
The muscle power only increased in the muscles that the athletes use for their specific sports. So, for the soccer players, their lower limbs, specifically quads and hamstrings boosted in muscle while the rowers increased in bicep and back muscle power. This study demonstrates the energy creating effect of creatine specific to your sport.
Let’s keep rolling with these creatine benefits.
Recovery: In this study amongst ironman triathletes, creatine supplementation led to a reduction in inflammatory markers which drives injury and muscle fatigue. This is because your body needs antioxidants to help your body recover, and creatine increases antioxidant production.
Endurance: Creatine increases the amount of carbohydrate glycogen in your muscle cells, allowing you to train harder and for longer periods.
Cognitive: Our brains also need energy to function; therefore, creatine also helps boost cognitive function. In a systematic review of randomized controlled trials, creatine showed to increase short term memory and intelligence (see study here). For swimmers, creatine can help with things like motor learning and general skill development.
Sleep: Our co-founder, Todd Anderson, has made it abundantly clear that sleep is paramount for performance. Swimmers need at least 7-9 hours of sleep per night, and this remains a necessary element for recovery. However, creatine also reduces the need for sleep. In a recent study of sleep-deprived athletes found that creatine had the same effect on energy levels as caffeine (see study here). Creatine is especially effective after nights of poor sleep, aiding in brain restoration and sleep homeostasis (see study here).
Swimming: If you need further proof of creatine’s benefits, take a look at the meta analysis we mentioned earlier from the scientific journal, Nutrients. In 9 studies, where 5 of them were studying swimmers specifically, they found that creatine supplementation leads to incredible boosts in performance (see study here).
How should I take creatine?
The best form of creatine is creatine monohydrate. Other forms of creatine are sometimes laced with other supplements, and creatine monohydrate is the most effective and efficacious form of creatine.
There’s a couple different options of how to take it. The most common form of consumption is in powder form. You can mix and shake it with any liquid and simply drink it. You can also put it into shakes and protein drinks. I, personally, sometimes mix it with yogurt or oatmeal each day. Creatine is unflavored so it doesn’t really impact the taste of whatever you are eating or drinking. Bottom line – make sure the creatine is mixed into whatever you’re consuming.
The new, trendy way to consume creatine is in gummy form. Enter the company, Create. Create gummies each have 1 g of creatine. Not only are they tasty and easy for consumption, but they’re also easy to travel with. 80% of users notice positive body composition changes within the first 6 weeks of taking it. Trust me, it’s a great way to consume creatine. Use code TODD42 for 20% off.
Creatine is simply the best supplement to take to improve your performance. It’s relatively inexpensive, easy to take, and has a variety of benefits. At Synergy Dryland, we recommend that all of our swimmers take creatine (preferably 5 g a day), so we can all reach our full potential.