When a white legal powder started landing on the shores of Sweden and England, it took the world by storm. This naturally-occurring small molecule — the magic molecule of meat that is also produced in the body form amino acids — became the hot topic of gym gossip. As is usually the case with gossip, however, truth became distorted by misinformation, hyperbole and even disinformation (intentional misinformation). So, let us now get to business and separate the hype from real science.
Myth 1: Creatine is Toxic to the Kidneys When Broken Down
Not anywhere close. If actor Cuba Gooding Jr. had been a biochemist in the movie Jerry Maguire, he would have yelled, “Show me the research!”. But there is none behind this widely held myth, which is believed even by some doctors, nurses and athletic trainers of amateur and pro sports teams. There are no scientific studies in animals or humans showing that creatinine, the breakdown product of creatine, damages the kidneys or caused any purported side effects associated with creatine ingestion. Creatinine is a normal inhabitant of the blood and kidneys — even strict vegetarians, who consume no creatine in their diets, have creatinine in their blood and urine. Creatinine is even produced during intense exercise when creatine is used for fuel.
Because the kidneys filter creatinine (and creatine) from the blood, it appears in the urine. Yet, when kidney function is impaired — just like a partially clogged drain — creatinine will build up in the blood. This happens because something else is impeding the ability of the kidneys to excrete the creatinine. Thus, the culprit here is not creatinine but some other agent, disease or condition, such as diabetes or hypertension.
More importantly, no published studies to date have shown adverse side effects from creatine supplements, even though many studies have lasted as long as three months.
Myth 2: Creatine Causes Water Retention
No scientific studies have shown or proven this theory. Take any snowflake weaklings with a pretty face and put them under the militaristic direction of a fanatical personal trainer for eight weeks, or simply follow the body mass changes in school-age athletes in the throes of puberty. All these people will gain weight and muscle mass. All of them will also gain water, which is an integral part of muscle tissue. Does this mean that they are retaining water?
Water retention refers to an excessive or abnormal gain of water beyond that associated with the normal water balance in the body. Water retention is a common side effect of all steroid hormones — adrenal, testicular or ovarian in origin — and is a monthly recurrence for many menstruating women. The body prefers to maintain a certain percentage of its weight as water; gain weight and you gain water, regardless of your supplementation regimen.
Within the muscle tissue of young adults, about 75% of the weight is water. if we look at the published human studies in which body water has been measured in subjects taking creatine-containing supplements, the vast majority show no excessive water gains. In the studies whereby creatine supplementation produced increases in fat-free mass or total body weight, these gains were accompanied by proportional increases in water.
What is challenging to resolve are comments from real-world, outside-the-laboratory creatine users who claim they get “puffy” or “hold water” when they are on creatine. This may be due to the impurities found in some creatine products, but it is more likely due to the extra calories they eat while training on creatine, including the sugar consumed in some creatine-transport drinks. The resulting puffy layer may actually be body fat, so creatine may be getting a bum rap.
Myth 3: Other Forms of Creatine Are Better Absorbed Than Creatine Monohydrate
There is no validity to these claims. Studies have shown that creatine monohydrate is almost completely absorbed, even when taken in the low-tech manner of stirring it into a glass of water or a cup of coffee. No other form of creatine — creatine citrate, creatine pyruvate, creatine phosphate — has been shown in any published study to be better absorbed or better utilised than creatine monohydrate.
The “designer” types of creatine, such as effervescent creatine, are almost always creatine monohydrate. While they do offer the advantage of being easier to take and are better tasting than the traditional powdered creatine monohydrate, that is where it stops. So far, no published studies have shown that they are better absorbed or any more effective than the old standard.
Myth 4: Adding Insulin Potentiators Boosts Creatine Uptake in Muscle
Yet again, no research to substantiate this hearsay. No published studies have shown that combining creatine with lipoic acid, vanadyl sulphate, taurine, chromium complexes or any other insulin potentiators or sensitizer produces greater muscle creatine uptake or whole-body retention, increases in fat-free mass and/or performance than simple creatine monohydrate.