What Really Matters About Creatine

There’s one supplement second in popularity only to protein, called α-methyl guanidine-acetic acid.
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As many of you know, this is just a fancy word for creatine. This year I will have been using creatine for 20 years. Creatine supplementation is well known for imparting significant performance benefits as well as supporting muscle growth and strength gains. This is in addition to many other beneficial health effects.

Over the years, creatine has become something of a commodity, being widely available in bulk quantities. This forces supplement marketers to try to come up with ways to differentiate their version of creatine from the competition’s, sometimes successfully and sometimes not (e.g., cee).

One such variation on the creatine theme is polyethylene glycosylated creatine (pgc). First introduced in the 1970s but not in wide use until the 1990s, polyethylene glycol (peg) is a water-soluble polymer that functions as a delivery system to enhance the absorption of medications and various other substances, including creatine. peg also improves the half-life of substances by reducing renal clearance and enzymatic degradation. This allows less of the active substance to be used to achieve the same effect.

The data for peg-creatine is on par with other creatine research. Some studies show good effects, while others come up short. In the end, it’s at least as good as creatine monohydrate. But does the fancy chemistry of these new creatines justify the cost?

For any form of creatine to have an ergogenic effect, it must be transported from the blood into muscle tissue. Once in the blood, creatine is transported into tissues against a concentration gradient through a sodium-dependent transporter. Creatine supplementation does down-regulate the creatine transporter, thus limiting the amount of creatine stored in muscle tissue with chronic supplementation. This is a likely explanation for the differences seen between eaters of meat (a natural source of creatine) and vegetarians in their response to creatine supplementation.

Why is knowing this important? Because efforts to improve creatine absorption from  the intestines will not necessarily overcome the issue of diminishing returns at the cell membrane, due to creatine transporter down regulation. It’s true that creatine monohydrate isn’t very water soluble, is poorly absorbed, and leaves grains of creatine in the bottom of the glass when you drink it. It’s true that you can increase the solubility of creatine through various chemical changes, such as using a hydrochloride form, chelating it, or, as we began, using PEG.

Nevertheless, all of this will have little if any impact on the total amount of creatine that your muscle tissue will hold on to, and thus the degree of ergogenic effect you experience. Some efforts have been made to overcome this by taking advantage of ligandgated cation channels, yet definitive evidence of ergogenic superiority over regular creatine monohydrate are still wanting.

In practical terms, this means that if you don’t have the money to buy fancy creatine, don’t worry too much about it. you’ll still get the same benefit from the monohydrate form. The one thing you do want to insist on, however, is quality. Stick to brands you trust. - FLEX

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