What The Heck Is Creatine And Should You Be Taking It?

You might know creatine as a white powder that bodybuilders take to bulk up, but not many people know what it is, where it comes from, or even what it does. Creatine is a substance that is naturally found in the muscles cells of the body. It has some surprising health benefits that may help you out even if you don’t want to look like a professional bodybuilder.

What the heck is creatine and should you be taking it

For example, did you know creatine may help fight against neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, lower blood sugar levels, improve muscular dystrophy, and prevent depression and diabetes? Here is everything you need to know about creatine and why you may want to consider taking it.

Creatine is an organic acid that supplies energy to cells throughout the body, especially muscle and skeletal cells. Chemically, creatine is comprised of three different amino acids: l-methionine, glycine, and l-arginine. It accounts for about 1% of total volume of human blood.

Approximately 95% of creatine can be found in human skeletal muscle while 5% is located in the brain. Every day, the body naturally produces around three grams of creatine and stores around 1.5%-2% of it in the liver, pancreas, and kidneys. It is converted to energy and transported through the blood to parts of the body with high energy demands, like the brain and skeletal muscle.

The average person requires approximately 1 to 3 grams of creatine daily, and they get about half of it from their diet. The rest is made in the body. Good sources of creatine include red meat and fish. One pound of either provides anywhere from 1 to 2 grams of creatine. Athletes and bodybuilders are notorious for taking creatine in supplement form. If you train hard, your body may need up to 10 grams of creatine a day, according to the International Society of Sports Nutrition. In some cases, people with a health condition that prevents them from creating or synthesizing creatine may need to take up to 30 grams a day!

Supplementing with creatine helps you increase the amount of phosphocreatine that is stored in the body. Phosphocreatine is a form of energy that is utilized in your cells. It helps produce an energy molecule called ATP. The more ATP  you have stored in your cells, the better your body performs during exercise. Creatine also assists with several processes in the body that may increase your muscle mass, strength and recovery when it comes to exercise, which is why a lot of athletes take it.

creatine powder

Health Benefits of Creatine

You don’t have to be a bodybuilder or even a fitness enthusiast to reap the benefits of creatine. Research shows that taking creatine may have anti-aging benefits and it can also improve your mood. It works by boosting your workload capacity, raising anabolic hormones, improving cell signaling, increasing cell hydration, preventing the breakdown of protein, and reducing myostatin levels. Here are some of the most impressive health benefits of creatine you probably weren’t aware of.

1. Prevents Sarcopenia

Sarcopenia is the age-related decline in muscle strength, mass, and function. It tends to develop after the age of 40 and starts getting really bad by about age 75. It’s an often overlooked aging disorder that takes a backseat to osteoporosis, which is the loss of bone mass. But the loss of muscle mass that occurs with the natural aging process is also important as it can affect a person’s ability to function correctly, especially in the older generation. It’s also easier to treat earlier in life rather than waiting until it gets worse in a person’s elderly years.

Sarcopenia is more common in adults who don’t exercise much, but that doesn’t mean that people who do exercise cannot develop it. Just like osteoporosis, many factors contribute to sarcopenia, such as lack of protein or calories, inflammation, oxidative stress, loss of motor nerve cells, and decreased hormones such as testosterone, insulin-like growth factor 1, and growth hormone. But research shows that creatine may be able to help prevent sarcopenia in the elderly population by preventing muscle loss.

One study found that when combined with resistance training, older men who supplemented with creatine for seven days increased their muscle performance without adverse side effects, including on functional tests. The study authors concluded that creatine could be used as a therapeutic strategy in older adults to prevent muscle loss and increase performance in practical living tasks. Another study found that adults over the age of 65 who took 5 grams of creatine a day and were put on a resistance training program increased their functional tasks, strength, and muscle fiber area. The key here seems to be taking creatine along with an exercise program for best results.

2. Decreases Inflammation

creatine inflammation

Taking creatine may help reduce inflammation, especially after exercising, which may help assist with the recovery process and eliminate muscle soreness. One study found that runners who supplemented with 20 grams of creatine for five days before a 30-kilometer race decreased their markers of cell injury and inflammation by as much as 61%. They also reportedly had no side effects. The researchers concluded that supplementing with creatine reduced inflammation and cell damage after an exhaustive, intense race.

3. Improves Brain Function

Everyone can benefit from improved brain function. Creatine might be able to do just that. Research shows that creatine may be able to improve brain function in healthy adults. One study investigated the effects of creatine supplementation on vegetarian adults over the course of six weeks. They were given 5 grams of creatine each day. Results showed that after the subjects took the creatine, they had improved scores on intelligence and working memory tests.

One theory behind creatine’s brain enhancing properties is that it provides cellular energy to the brain cells. It may even be able to alleviate depression and protect against neurodegenerative diseases. A 2007 study found that oral supplementation of creatine may modify brain energy metabolism in depressed people. Eight subjects were given between 3 and 5 grams of creatine a day. They were then evaluated at weeks one, two, three and four on Hamilton Depression Rating Scale, Hamilton Anxiety Scale, and Clinical Global Impression tests. Results showed that all scale scores significantly improved and adverse reactions were mild. Another study found that “creatine supplementation improves bioenergetic deficits and may exert neuroprotective effects in Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease.”

4. Improves Athletic Performance

creatine athlete

Creatine is best known for helping athletes bulk up and improve their athletic performance. That’s because creatine pulls water into cells, which creates greater body mass and bulkier muscles. But according to the United States National Library of Medicine, supplementing with creatine alone will not give you big muscles. A 2013 study noted that people who take creatine tend to look larger because they have more water retention.

However, using creatine may help you increase your energy while you work out, and this may have a beneficial effect on increasing your muscle size through harder exercise sessions. This theory was supported by a 2003 meta-analysis that concluded that creatine might improve your athletic performance during short bursts of powerful activity, especially with repeated bouts, such as running sprints. Additionally, a 2012 study made the following points about creatine:

  • It improves the effects of resistance training on body mass and strength.
  • It increases high-intensity intermittent speed training.
  • It enhances endurance in aerobic activities lasting more than 150 seconds.
  • It may improve power, fat-free mass, and strength, as well as daily living performance and neurological functioning.

5. May Help Reduce Blood Sugar and Prevent Diabetes

Research is not conclusive in this area, but there is some evidence to suggest that creatine may help stabilize blood sugar levels and prevent diabetes from occurring. A 2001 study found that “muscle’s glycogen loading capacity is influenced by its initial levels of creatine and the accompanying alterations in cell volume.” In other words, creatine may play a role in how glucose enters cells. Another study found that when combined with aerobic training, creatine supplementation may improve glucose tolerance.

6. May Improve Muscular Dystrophy

Creatine muscular

Because creatine is helpful for increasing muscle mass and strength, it can also be used to improve muscular dystrophy. Muscular dystrophy is a group of disorders that are characterized by weakness and muscle loss. It is caused by genetic factors. A 2013 review of 14 studies concluded that people with muscular dystrophy who took creatine had an 8.5% increase in muscle strength compared to those who didn’t take any. Additional research shows that taking creatine everyday for up to 16 weeks improved muscle strength and reduced fatigue in people with muscular dystrophy.

How Does Creatine Compare To Other Protein Powders?

Creatine is not your typical protein powder, per say. In fact, it’s not really a protein powder at all. Sure, it’s made of amino acids, and it may help you bulk up and boost your overall athletic performance, but it serves a different function than most protein powders. For example, whey protein can help grow and repair your muscles, but creatine is better used as an energy source. It draws water into your muscle cells to help you bulk up, but it does not directly increase your muscle mass.

Taking creatine along with a protein powder is often best for bulking up AND increasing muscle mass. While creatine only contains three different types of amino acids, whey protein has nine, including the three branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). The three BCAAs are leucine, isoleucine, and valine. They are considered essential since your body doesn’t make them on its own. Their job is to fuel your cells while you’re working out, so you get more from your exercise session.

While a protein powder is beneficial after exercise, creatine is best taken before your workout to help give you energy and increase your workload. A heaping teaspoon of creatine contains no calories, fats, carbohydrates, protein, or nutrients, so you don’t need to worry about using it if you are dieting or trying to count calories. Of course, if you get flavored creatine, it may contain calories or other nutrient values, so be sure to check the ingredients on the brand you are purchasing. On the other hand, one 28 gram scoop of whey protein powder contains the following:

 

  • 170 calories
  • 1 gram of fat
  • 6 grams of carbohydrates
  • 3 grams of fiber
  • 1 gram of sugar
  • 30 grams of protein
  • 140 mg of sodium

How To Use It

creatine grape juice

According to BodyBuilding.com, it’s common to “load” your creatine for up to seven days to help build up the amount in your muscle cells. Then you would reduce the amount to a maintenance amount. But they recommend taking a small amount every day from the start without loading up on it. Additionally, you may want to take it with a base that contains simple sugar, such as grape juice, as this will increase its absorption by up to 60%. Experts at BodyBuilding.com warm against taking creatine with orange juice as this will cause an acidic reaction.

Until you know how creatine affects you, start by taking one to two grams about 30 minutes before your next workout. You can gradually increase the amount you use based on your results, but it’s not advised to go over 30 grams a day. Some people also take a smaller amount throughout the day.

If you’re using creatine for brain health or any reason other than to work out, try taking some first thing in the morning to give yourself a boost for the day. You can also take some before a presentation at work or school, or before eating a big meal to reduce blood sugar spikes. Most creatine supplements come in powder form so that you can mix it with your favorite beverage or even water. It also comes in pill form for convenience.

Ingredients You Can Add to Your Pancakes to Make Them Healthier (and More Delicious)

Ingredients you can add to your pancakes

One thing just about everyone can agree on is that pancakes are delicious. They aren’t always good for us though, so a lot of people have cut them out of their diets in an attempt to start their day with a healthier food option. But there are ways to make pancakes healthy again by using ingredients that won’t add inches to your waistline or send your blood sugar levels soaring.

With a few adjustments, you can drop the refined sugar and processed flour and opt for much healthier alternatives without sacrificing taste. Here are some of the healthiest and most delicious ingredients to add to your pancakes.

How to Flavor Your Pancakes Without Too Much Syrup/Other Sources of Sugar

Refined sugars are one of the worst ingredients commonly found in pancakes. On top of that, most store-bought pre-packaged pancake mixes are coupled with highly processed flour and inflammatory oils, which makes a disaster of a recipe when it comes to eating healthy. A good pancake recipe doesn’t need that much sugar, and it certainly doesn’t have to be from a bad source. Fruit, raw honey, and maple syrup are great alternatives to refined table sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and other highly processed sugars.

The problem is that a lot of unhealthy ingredients hide in pancake recipes. Even homemade recipes call for enriched white flour, vegetable oil or granulated sugar. Sure, you can skip the premade mixes and make your own recipe at home, but you’ll need a good recipe to follow. If you’re not sure how your current favorite pancake recipe stacks up, here is a list of ingredients you want to avoid:

  • All-purpose flour
  • White or brown sugar
  • Regular cow’s milk
  • Corn syrup
  • Hydrogenated vegetable oil
  • Palm oil
  • Dextrose
  • Defatted Soy Flour
  • Buttermilk
  • Additives or preservatives such as food colorings or dyes

Research shows that diet high in refined starches and sugar and low in antioxidants and fiber from fruits and vegetables are linked to inflammation and oxidative stress, which is the perfect formula for chronic diseases. Processed foods are not as healthy as their whole food counterparts because they have been stripped of many nutrients, such as fiber, vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and essential fatty acids. Instead of using a store-bought pancake mix recipe, try making one at home using the following ingredients:

1. Almond Flour

Ingredients You Can Add to Your Pancakes to Make Them Healthier (and More Delicious)

Like coconut flour, almond flour is an excellent choice for low-carb and gluten-free dieters. It contains slightly fewer carbohydrates and fiber than coconut flour but has more calories. A lot of healthy pancake recipes call for the use of both almond and coconut flours because the two pair well together. Coconut flour has a mild taste and lots of fiber, so it absorbs more water than almond flour to create a soft yet dense consistency. On the other hand, almond flour tastes nutty and crunchy, and the mixture tends to be firmer. Plus, when you use them together you’ll get a more complete source of protein and good fats.

2. Bananas

Bananas are the perfect binding agent for your pancake batter. They are soft and mushy. Plus, they’re tasty and full of manganese, potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron, folate, niacin, riboflavin, and vitamin B6. Additionally, bananas are prebiotic, which means that they feed the good bacteria in your gut to promote digestion and a healthy microbiome. Since they are sweet and sticky, bananas can replace refined sugar and other unhealthy ingredients that are used sweeten or enhance the texture of your pancake batter.

3. Coconut Flour

Replacing the wheat or enriched flour in your pancake recipe with coconut flour is a great way to get more fiber, protein and healthy fats in your diet. A one-quarter cup serving of coconut flour provides you with a whopping 10 grams of fiber to support digestive health. Plus, you’ll be skimping out on the gluten and nuts, which are off limits for many people.

4. Flax Meal

Flax meal rounds out the healthy gluten-free flour list. It’s made of finely ground flax seeds, which is the leading plant source of anti-inflammatory omega three fatty acids and fiber. When flax seeds are ground into a fine powder, it unlocks their nutrients because whole flax seeds tend to be so small that they go through the digestive tract undigested. Eating flax meal instead of flax seeds is an excellent way to make you’re getting the nutritional benefits of the food when you eat it.

Like almond flour, flaxseed meal has a slightly nutty taste that enhances the flavor of your pancake recipe. It’s nut-free, so it’s a great alternative to almond flour if you need a nut-free base to pair with coconut flour.

5. Apple Cider Vinegar

Ingredients You Can Add to Your Pancakes to Make Them Healthier (and More Delicious)

Raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar is the perfect sweetener for any pancake batter. It has a sweet flavor and is loaded with health benefits. Research shows that apple cider vinegar may be able to stabilize blood sugar levels after meals, fight diabetes, make you feel full so you lose weight, reduce your risk of heart disease, lower cholesterol, and protect against cancer. It also has antibacterial properties that are great for boosting the immune system and fighting germs from the common cold.

6. Ghee or Coconut Oil

Pancake recipes call for oil on two different occasions. Some recipes have you add them to the recipe itself. You’ll also need to save some to coat the pan you are cooking the pancakes in. Instead of using hydrogenated vegetable oils, which are high in unhealthy fats, use coconut oil or ghee.

Coconut oil has incredible health benefits. It has antimicrobial, antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties to boost the immune system; healthy fats and antioxidant properties that promote weight loss; and soothing anti-inflammatory qualities that soothe the digestive system.

Ghee, or clarified butter, is butter that is made from grass-fed cows. It’s higher in nutrients and healthy fats than butter and lower in casein and lactose, which is excellent for people who are sensitive to dairy. Plus, it tastes better! You’ll add a rich and deep flavor to your pancake recipe when cooking with ghee.

7. Almond or Coconut Milk

Lots of pancake recipes call for milk to make the batter smooth and creamy. Unsweetened almond or coconut milk are great replacements for regular cow’s milk because they are dairy free and lower in sugar. They also contain good fats and fewer carbohydrates to help maintain stable blood sugar levels all day long. Dairy products that contain lactose can be hard on the digestive tract. They have also been linked to skin problems, such as acne.

When picking out coconut or almond milk at the store, be sure it does not contain added sugar or carrageenan. Try making your own at home if possible to ensure that you’re not using any harmful ingredients.

8. Berries

Ingredients You Can Add to Your Pancakes to Make Them Healthier (and More Delicious)

If you’re looking for a natural sweetener to go in or on top of your pancakes, look no further than good old berries. Blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries contain unique flavonoid antioxidants called anthocyanins that have antioxidant, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, anti-carcinogenic and neuroprotective properties. They also support collagen production to give you healthy skin and increase levels of vitamin C in the blood.

9. Organic, Pasture-raised Eggs

Eggs are a staple in most pancake recipes, but it’s a good idea to make sure your eggs come from a high-quality source. Look for organic and pasture-raised eggs as this ensures that the chickens have room to roam and access to sunshine, which enhances the nutrients in the eggs. Cage-free doesn’t always mean that the chickens are free to roam.

10. Maple Syrup

Pancakes and syrup go together like peanut butter and jelly. But not all maple syrups are created equally, so you’ll need to make sure you’re buying the real stuff to top your pancakes with. Some recipes even call for maple syrup in the batter as a natural sweetener. Pure maple syrup is high in manganese, zinc, calcium, potassium, magnesium, and iron. It also contains as many as 24 different antioxidants.

When picking out a brand at the store, go for the darker, grade B types as these tend to be higher in antioxidants than lighter syrups. Also be sure the only ingredient is 100 percent pure maple syrup with no added ingredients.

11. Raw Honey

Raw honey is an excellent topping for any pancake recipe. It’s sweet and tasty and has been shown to help naturally treat coughs and wounds, boost energy, decrease allergies, and reduce inflammation. One study even found that manuka honey kills more bacteria every available antibiotic! The trick is to find a jar of honey that is raw and unprocessed so that it has not been stripped of its many nutrients.

12. Pink Himalayan Sea Salt

Ingredients You Can Add to Your Pancakes to Make Them Healthier (and More Delicious)

Adding a pinch of sea salt to your pancake batter is a great way to bring out the natural sweetness of berries, bananas, honey or maple syrup. Pink Himalayan sea salt is high in antioxidants that naturally detox the body. Unlike other sources of salt, it contains up to 84 different types of trace minerals.

13. Vanilla Extract

Pure vanilla extract is not only flavorful; it’s also a powerful antioxidant. It has been shown to boost brain power, reduce inflammation, pain, and fevers, and lower cholesterol. Be careful though because a lot of store brands contain hidden sugar.

14. Spices

Sweet spices, such as cinnamon and nutmeg, are a great way to add flavor to your dish without the calories. As a bonus, cinnamon increases blood flow throughout the body and lowers blood sugar in people with diabetes while nutmeg is a brain tonic and naturally reduces pain.

15. Raw Cacao Powder

If chocolate pancakes are your thing, then add in some raw cacao powder in place of the usual sugary chocolate chips. It’s one of the best sources of antioxidant flavonoids ever! Studies show that cocoa may help improve cognitive function, reduce inflammation, promote healthy skin and aging, and even lower your risk of Alzheimer’s disease and stroke. There’s a big difference between raw cacao and cocoa powder though. One is highly processed and the other is raw. Look for a brand that is 100 percent pure unprocessed or raw cacao powder.

16. Nut Butter

Nut butter is flavorful and full of nutrients such as good fats that may be able to protect against heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. They make a great topper to any pancake recipe, or you can put it in the batter before cooking. Nut butters a great binding agent so that you can use them in place of eggs in vegan dishes. Again, be sure there are no sugars added to your favorite store brand. Or you can make your own nut butter at home!

Health Pancake Recipe

 Ingredients You Can Add to Your Pancakes to Make Them Healthier (and More Delicious)

The next time you need a pancake fix but want to skip out on all the sugar and unhealthy ingredients, try this recipe instead. It incorporates a lot of the above-mentioned healthy options. These pancakes are paleo, keto-friendly, low-carb and starch-free. Check out the recipe here. Here’s what you’ll need to make it.

Ingredients:

  • One-quarter cup flax meal
  • One large organic, pasture-raised egg
  • One tablespoon nut milk (use water if you’re nut-free; coconut milk will work, too)
  • One-half teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • One-quarter teaspoon baking soda
  • One-quarter teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Pinch of pink Himalayan sea salt
  • Optional: cinnamon and nutmeg

Directions:

1. Mix all of the ingredients in a bowl and set aside. If the batter is too thick, add some more water, apple cider vinegar or some lemon juice. You want the mixture to be sticky but wet enough to spread throughout the pan easily.

2. Add about two tablespoons of coconut oil or ghee in a frying pan and set to medium heat. Wait a few minutes until the pan is hot before adding the batter.

3. Pour or spoon the batter into the frying pan and cook for one to two minutes on each side. You’ll know they are ready to flip when you see little bubbles form in the batter.

4. Once they are done, add to your plate and top with raw honey, maple syrup, or berries. You can also add some nut butter on top, slather some ghee or coconut oil on, or eat them plain!