Commonly used by gym rats and fitness fanatics, creatine is undoubtedly the king of all nutritional supplements, and for the right reasons. It is well-researched to support the body’s energy needs safely and effectively. And how can we forget its effects on making your muscles bulkier?
However, as scientists continue to expand the research horizons, another noticeable effect of creatine has recently surfaced: cognitive support. As we add this to the list of benefits creatine provides, let’s explore a bit about what a natural chemical is and understand its precise effects on the brain.
Creatine for Health
If you love stocking your pantry with dietary supplements like collagen powders and whey protein shakes, you might have noticed another bottle on the shelves: creatine. Commonly available as liquid or powder, creatine can be rightfully considered a staple in the bodybuilding community. Why? Because of its extraordinary ability to help you exercise longer and harder while packing on muscles.
Creatine is an amino acid primarily involved in the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is an energy-carrying molecule that stores the energy from the breakdown of food and releases it to fuel other chemical processes. To extract energy, our body has to break down ATP into another compound called adenosine diphosphate (ADP). For this ADP molecule to reenter the energy cycle, and become ATP, a phosphate molecule is required which is donated by creatine. Once the transfer is complete, ADP converts into ATP once again and is ready to supply energy. In other words, creatine quickly replenishes the body’s ATP stores to provide a quick burst of energy that can manifest as added strength and improved performance.
Additionally, creatine also acts as an antioxidant to protect you from signs of aging. It has also been attributed to balancing sugar levels and speeding up muscle recovery.
Creatine for Brain Health
The brain ranks second on the list of the highest energy consumers in the body, just after our muscles. The difference between the two is that while our muscles get sufficient time to rest, the brain is running 24/7. Despite taking up only 2% of the body weight, it routinely consumes up to 20% of our calorie intake, and just like the muscles, it is prone to performance issues and recovery problems when we overuse it without providing adequate nutrients and energy.
Scientists have; therefore, been in search of an optimal supplement to boost brain performance, especially in situations with heavy cognitive load, and creatine has been successful in leaving its mark. Adequate creatine stores have been linked with energy surges, enough to support brain health and cognition. The effect is comparable to its long-studied effects on physical performance and endurance.
As we age, the natural creatine stores in the body tend to plummet, explaining the possible cognitive decline and physical difficulties commonly observed in the elderly. And just like we reap the benefits of creatine supplementation in muscles, experiencing similar impacts on cognition is also highly expected.
Benefits of Creatine for Brain Health
Unlike the association between creatine and muscle performance that has been under investigation for years, its benefits on brain health are considered an emerging area of research. So far, scientists have been able to pinpoint the following benefits of creatine on brain health:
- Decreased impact of fatigue on the brain, especially during sleep deprivation
- Improved throwing accuracy in athletes
- Faster and better restoration of brain functions after brain injury
- Better recognition memory
- Overall cognitive boost
- Short-term boost in intelligence
The above-mentioned effects are likely to be more pronounced in people with suboptimal levels of creatine. Moreover, these benefits are likely to vary, taking into account different variables like age, activity, diet, and genetic makeup.
Types of Creatine for Brain Health
As for creatine supplements, different options are available, and they are certainly not equal. The following formulations of supplemental creatine are currently available for use:
As the most commonly used form of creatine, creatine monohydrate comprises a single creatine particle tagged with a molecule of water. It has various versions, such as the anhydrous version that provides 100% creatine per dose, and the micronized version that offers better absorbability. Nevertheless, each of these versions is most likely to possess equal efficacy in the same doses.
Creatine Ethyl Ester
Creatine ethyl ester has been compared to the monohydrate variant in multiple studies. While some indicate it as a better alternative in terms of absorbability and muscle uptake rates, others have found it to be worse. So using it is generally not recommended.
Creatine hydrochloride became the subject of interest due to its higher solubility and better safety profile. However, more comparative studies are needed to deem it better than the monohydrate formula.
This buffered formulation includes creatine mixed with an alkaline powder to enhance potency while decreasing side effects.
Not a fan of making your own creatine drink? You can now get it in a premade drink form. While this type is definitely more convenient for use, the good old powdered supplements are still considered superior in efficacy.
Creatine Magnesium Chelate
This chelated formula includes a creatine molecule attached to magnesium. Some evidence has labeled it as effective as the monohydrate form, but not superior to it.
To sum up, creatine monohydrate remains a winner among all six formulations with better efficacy, absorbability, and safety profile.
Side Effects of Creatine
Fortunately, creatine has a high safety profile with very few reported side effects. Nevertheless, if you are planning to use creatine, keep the following pointers in mind:
- Daily use of creatine supplements is likely to cause weight gain due to water retention
- It may take a few weeks to months to experience results, depending on your current creatinine levels in the body
- Creatine supplements might be dangerous to use if you are trying to lose weight or suffer from dehydration
A small number of people may develop mild side effects like upset stomach, dehydration, and muscle cramps. However, most of them clear up on their own and do not require any intervention.
Best Creatine Supplements
Even though our kidneys and liver naturally secrete creatine, the quantities are usually not enough to fill our tanks. That’s why many rely on using a creatine supplement to compensate for the gap. But among the racks loaded with all the different types of creatine supplements, which one should you choose? Let’s find out.
What to Look For?
Keep the following tips in mind while choosing a creatine supplement off the racks:
- Avoid all products fillers, contaminants, artificial flavors, and preservatives listed on the ingredients label
- Prefer supplements with protein or carbohydrates as they increase the creatine retention and enhance the benefits
- Consider the type of creatine in the supplement you are considering. So far, creatine monohydrate is the most recommended form for better results and safety
- Decide which flavor you would like to purchase, although the best advice is to go for a flavorless version as it is purer
- Check the dosage of creatine per serving and pick a supplement that can provide you with 3-5 grams of creatine per day as a maintenance dose
- Choose NSF-certified products, preferably with an assurance of third-party testing
- Compare different products and do not fall for unbelievably low-priced supplements as they are likely contaminated with poor quality ingredients
Best Creatine Supplements
Among the hundreds of creatine products, the following three picks are highly recommended:
- Thorne Creatine: This NSF-certified, vegan-friendly, allergen-free supplement is a product of Thorne Research that focuses on producing high-quality supplements tested by third parties. With an affordable price of $32 per 90 scoops, it can not only improve muscle performance but also enhance cognition.
- Klean Creatine: Offering 5 mg of creatine per serving, this product is the best choice for those seeking a quick burst of mental and physical energy at an affordable price of only $28.70 per jar.
- BulkSupplements Creatine: This cost-effective and high-quality creatine supplement offers unmatchable results backed by numerous positive customer reviews. Priced at $29.41 per pack, it comes with a certificate of analysis (COA) that provides detailed information on its strength, quality, and other specifications for assurance.
It wouldn’t be wrong to call creatine the nootropic of the future. With its high safety profile and positive research results so far, you can easily consider adding it to your routine for a better functioning brain. More research is definitely needed to back up the incredible claims associated with creatine; nevertheless, it doesn’t harm to try this extremely safe chemical as long as you are not overdosing on it. Just make sure to purchase a high-quality, pure supplement to avoid ingesting unnecessary contaminants.