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Surprising Health Benefits of Creatine

When creatine comes to mind, many people think about body building, "muscle heads", and and an unsafe supplement for those who want to build muscle the "easy" way. I had these same misconceptions once, but after doing a little research on the supplement while obtaining my nutrition coaching certification, I've learned this is far from the truth! I used to lump creatine in a category with anabolic steroids (which are unsafe and illegal!). Now I know that creatine is not only safe (it's actually one of the most well studied supplements on the market and has over 200 years of data), but in addition to muscle building, it has quite a few other benefits as well (some of which may surprise you!).

What is creatine?

Creatine is produced naturally in each and every one of us. It is also found in "animal based" foods, such as beef, poultry, milk, and cheese. Creatine is made of 3 amino acids (arginine, glycine, and methionine). Creatine acts similar to how a vitamin acts -- it is like a cofactor, which helps certain processes in our body function better and more efficiently. This contrasts when compared to anabolic steroids, which are synthetically made, and which alter the hormone balance in your body, creating non-natural adaptations and changes.

What are the benefits of creatine?

Muscle Growth and Increased Strength

This is the most obvious benefit of creatine, and why most people supplement with it. Creatine increases muscle size by pulling water into muscle cells, which also triggers genes involved in muscle growth. Creatine also increases our nitrogen balance, aiding in the transfer of protein into muscle. Along with muscle size, creatine increases strength. This has to do with the molecule we all learned about in biology, ATP (adenosine triphosphate). Creatine increases our muscle's store of ATP, which means that ATP is depleted more slowly. This means fatigue will set in later, equating to increased strength. Creatine improves numerous factors with exercise, including strength, ballistic power, sprint ability, muscle endurance, resistance to fatigue, muscle mass, and muscle recovery.

Sustained Energy and Muscle Recovery

Creatine helps to increase your muscles' phosphocreatine stores, which helps in the formation of ATP. If you remember, ATP breaks down to produce energy, and fatigue is caused by a depletion of ATP. However, creatine increases the rate at which your body can replenish its stores of ATP, meaning you won't fade as quickly. Therefore, you can push harder for a longer amount of time. It acts like an extra energy source without the jitters and crash of caffeine. Creatine also aids in muscle recovery and allows you to "bounce back" more quickly.

Brain Health

To me, this is the most intriguing benefit of creatine. Creatine has been shown to have neuroprotective properties, by helping neurons to live longer. Neurons (brain cells) all deteriorate over time as we age, leading to memory loss and dementia. Creatine has shown to be effective at supplying energy (ATP) to help protect brain cells, allowing them to live longer. This is HUGE, because neurons don't regenerate or repair themselves as well as other cells in our body. Creatine may also aid brain function by increasing dopamine levels and mitochondrial function. In addition to protecting neurons from death, creatine has also been shown to decrease the frequency of headaches and combat fatigue and dizziness.

Potential Antidepressant

This is still undergoing research, but it also looks promising that creatine might be an effective antidepressant. The thought behind this is due to the fact that creatine helps to combat mental fatigue (in the same way it combats muscular fatigue). Mental fatigue over time is associated with depression. Therefore, decreased mental fatigue would hopefully combat depressive episodes.

Lower Blood Sugar Levels and Fight Diabetes

Although not proven yet, research is suggesting that creatine may also be a promising supplement to lower blood sugar levels. It is thought to do this by increasing the functionality of a glucose transporter, GLUT-4, which transports sugar out of the blood and into muscles. In a study, when people combined creatine with exercise, they had better blood sugar control than those who only exercised.

To Wrap It Up

Creatine has been misunderstood by many as an unsafe supplement used for muscle building and bulking. However, it is actually very safe and well studied. Creatine has been found to have multiple benefits in addition to increasing muscle size, including increased brain function, fighting certain neurological diseases, improving exercise performance, and fighting fatigue. In combination with a fitness and nutrition program (enter Fueled4Wellness) creatine is a great supplement to help you increase your wellness!

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