If you are an athlete, weightlifter or bodybuilder, you are probably already familiar with the supplement creatine and its benefits. Otherwise, you may be surprised to learn that this amino acid has several effects beyond building muscle. Vegans and vegetarians especially can stand to benefit from taking this supplement, and vegan creatine monohydrate supplements are easy to find. Read on to learn what creatine is, what its health effects are, and how it can help you both inside and outside the gym.
Creatine stores the energy that your muscles need.
Creatine is an amino acid produced in the urine and tissues of vertebrates, including humans. In the human body, it occurs in the form of creatine phosphate, which is used for energy storage. In the human body, 95% of creatine is stored in the skeletal muscle tissue, where it supplies energy for muscle contractions.
To understand how creatine works, first you will need to understand the process of energy transfer in the body. The basic reaction of energy transfer is the conversion of adenosine diphosphate (ADP) to adenosine triphosphate (ATP) by gaining a phosphate group. When creatine phosphate is present, it donates its phosphate group to ADP so that it is converted to ATP, which provides energy to muscles (1).
In the human body, creatine is synthesized using three different amino acids, mainly in the liver. Since all vertebrates produce creatine and store it in their muscles, people who eat meat obtain additional creatine through their diet. Because creatine is synthesized in the body, it is considered a non-essential amino acid, meaning that it is not necessary to include it in your diet. Low creatine levels have not been linked to any health problems.
However, supplementing with creatine has benefits for certain people, especially vegans and vegetarians who don’t obtain it naturally through their diet. Creatine supplements come in some different molecular forms, but the most common and most widely studied form is creatine monohydrate, so that is the form I will be discussing here. After it is ingested, creatine monohydrate is converted to creatine phosphate, the form which can be used by the body.
Creatine: the go-to supplement for athletes.
Creatine supplements are widely used and trusted by athletes of all levels, but there are many myths and rumors surrounding the safety, efficacy, and legality of creatine. These misconceptions are thoroughly addressed in a 2007 statement by the International Society of Sports Nutrition. The ISSN supports the use of creatine on the basis that hundreds of scientific studies have shown it to be safe and effective. Creatine has been shown to increase lean mass and high-intensity exercise capacity in athletes during training and is supported by more evidence than any other dietary supplement for athletes.
Claims of health risks are unfounded.
Further, decades of studies have found that no short-term or long-term detrimental side effects are associated with the supplement. The only significant side effect that has been found is weight gain due to increase in muscle mass, which may be desirable for some athletes. Creatine may even help to protect against injuries and be used to manage certain medical conditions. Most of the rumors regarding dangerous side effects such as dehydration and muscle cramping are derived from unreliable anecdotes. There have been other rumors that creatine is banned by athletic governing bodies such as the NCAA, but this is also false. The concluding position of the ISSN is that “the use of creatine as a nutritional supplement within established guidelines is safe, effective, and ethical”(2).
Creatine may improve brain functioning in vegetarians.
The benefit of creatine supplementation for athletes has been established. But a lesser known and studied aspect of creatine is its possible enhancement of brain functioning. Creatine works in the brain similarly to how it works in muscles, by increasing the availability of energy that is usable by cells. A 2003 study tested the hypothesis that creatine would improve cognitive functioning in young adult vegetarians. The 45 subjects were given 5 g of creatine per day for six weeks. At the beginning and end of the trial, they took two tests that measure working memory and intelligence and require processing speed. The results showed a significant improvement in both tests after the six weeks of supplementation (3).
A more recent study contrasted the effects of creatine supplementation on cognitive performance in vegetarians and omnivores. The subjects of the study were 121 young female undergraduates who were separated into two groups of omnivores and vegans or vegetarians. They took a series of tests measuring intelligence before and after five days of taking 20 g of creatine daily. The results showed improvement in the memories of vegetarians, but no improvement in other measures of brain functioning. Omnivores showed no improvement in any of the tests (4).
There have not been many studies conducted on the effects of creatine on brain functioning, but the studies described here show very promising results. If you are a vegan or vegetarian looking for an extra boost in your memory and intelligence, creatine supplements may turn out to be what you are looking for.
How to take creatine for best results.
Depending on your goals, creatine may be just the supplement for you to improve athletic or cognitive performance. Since vegans and vegetarians can especially benefit from this supplement, you will be glad to know that creatine supplements are produced synthetically and are not derived from animals. You will still want to check the label for other animal-derived ingredients, though.
To increase creatine stores in muscles, the ISSN recommends taking ~0.3 grams/kg/day of creatine monohydrate powder for at least three days followed by 3-5 g/day to maintain stores (2). There is no accepted dosage for brain functioning, but based on the studies described above 5 g/day is effective.
As always, it is very important to verify the purity and quality of your supplements. Checking ingredients is especially important for competing athletes who may have to undergo drug testing. If you want to see what creatine can do for you, a safe choice would be BulkSupplements 99.99% Pure Creatine Monohydrate Powder, which has no added ingredients and a five-star rating on Amazon. Or, if you are skeptical about the effectiveness of creatine and want to try it completely risk-free, this Raw Barrel Pure Creatine Monohydrate Powder comes with a money-back guarantee, no questions asked.
Try a vegan creatine monohydrate supplement today, and you may be surprised by the difference that you feel. When taken properly, creatine can be a great way to enhance your physical and mental performance and get you closer to your goals.
1. National Center for Biotechnology Information. PubChem Compound Database; CID=586, https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/586 (accessed Aug. 15, 2018).
2. Buford, T. W., Kreider, R. B., Stout, J. R., Greenwood, M., Campbell, B., Spano, M., . . . Antonio, J. (2007). International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: Creatine supplementation and exercise. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 4(1), 6. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-4-6
3. Caroline Rae, Alison L. Digney, Sally R. McEwan, Timothy C. Bates. Oral creatine monohydrate supplementation improves brain performance: a double–blind, placebo–controlled, cross–over trial. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B 2003 270 2147-2150; 10.1098/rspb.2003.2492. Published 22 October 2003.
4. Benton, D., & Donohoe, R. (2011). The influence of creatine supplementation on the cognitive functioning of vegetarians and omnivores. British Journal of Nutrition, 105(7), 1100-1105. doi:10.1017/S0007114510004733