By Kevin Kolodziejski
It by no means made me as melancholy as thinking about the godsend of a girlfriend I once let get away. But when I reread the third article I had ever written for RoadBikeRider.com the other day, I felt a sense of squandered opportunity.
I hadn’t expressed my true feelings about the benefits of supplementing your diet with creatine monohydrate. Had held back. Stopped a knuckle short of a two thumbs up.
I now believe the newness of the gig, combined with the fact I’m a writer and not a health care provider, had made me tentative. But unlike the mess I made with the one who wanted to be my Mrs., this muck up can be cleaned up. So it’s time to break out bucket, mop, a cleaning agent called Being Definitive, and start.
I don’t care if you cycle a lot or the only riding you do is on an electric cart when you shop at Walmart. To help your health, you should be taking 5 grams of creatine monohydrate every day of every month forevermore.
A Recap of the Original Article
“Creatine Supplements the Cycling Lifestyle” argues that cyclists can benefit by taking the most typical type of creatine, creatine monohydrate, even though the research to determine if it actually improves cycling performance is uneven at best. That’s because many cyclists hit the weights every November in an attempt to regain the muscle mass lost from heavy summer mileage. Others do so year-round to negate the natural muscle loss that begins with middle age. In either case, no other supplement helps more. While there’s nothing incorrect in this recap — or in the entire original article — neither pays the supplement its proper due.
Giving Creatine Its Proper Due
After reviewing all available research in 2007, the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) called creatine one of the few ergogenic aids to consistently enhance physical performance, stamina, and recovery. A decade later the ISSN doubled down and declared the supplement to be “the most effective ergogenic nutritional supplement currently available to athletes in terms of increasing high-intensity exercise capacity and lean body mass during training.” A recent Healthline.com article, “Everything You Need to Know About Creatine,” that takes strength, power, and high intensity exercise performance into account begins by stating creatine is the “top supplement” for improving in the gym.
I could go on and on and on since creatine has been the most studied sports supplement since it first hit the market in 1993. In the next 20 years alone, more than 500 studies were conducted. Instead, I’ll handle a question probably preying on your mind:
What About the Guy Riding the Electric Cart at Walmart?
Granted, he’s probably not spending a ton of time in the gym or riding 100 miles a week on the bike. He’s certainly not one of the healthy individuals involved in the studies the ISSN assessed before finding no short-term or long-term evidence of adverse health effects from taking creatine. An assessment that led me to write in the original article cyclists risk little by experimenting with creatine in-season or off-season — besides the 20 bucks or so to purchase about a pound of it.
The guy at Walmart is using the cart because he’s already experienced some degree of adverse health. And if part of that is because he’s afflicted with type 2 diabetes, taking those aforementioned 5 grams of daily creatine could help. According to a study published in the February 2021 issue of Nutrients, small-scale trials using creatine supplementation to combat type 2 diabetes have been “promising.”
More importantly, the same paper found a “growing body of evidence” that creatine has “potential therapeutic effects” for cancer, muscle dystrophy and neurodegenerative disorders. Combine that with prior research suggesting creatine may help improve memory and brain function in older adults and vegetarians (meat and seafood are the greatest sources of natural creatine); help treat diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease; aid those who have had ischemic strokes, brain or spinal cord injuries, or suffer from epilepsy; and you understand why my original article likens creatine to a Swiss Army knife.
Yet all the positives explained in the February 2021 paper are not what caused me reread my original article, feel a sense of squandered opportunity, and write a follow-up. That resulted from reading another paper in the same journal one month later.
Why Taking Creatine Is a No-Brainer
What seals the deal, makes daily use of 5 grams of creatine (though big dudes may need a bit more) a no-brainer, is contained in the March 2021 review of creatine in Nutrients. It found creatine can have a “positive” effect on your immune system by working as an antioxidant against free radicals. That’s a big deal, a truly big deal if optimizing your health is what you’re after. And even though the “exact action mechanism” of creatine as an antioxidant is still unknown, that shouldn’t stop you from using the supplement.
Any help you receive in the fight against free radicals is like that long-gone girlfriend of mine: a godsend. Here’s why.
Free-Radical Formation: Natural and a Potential Foe
You produce free radicals naturally in your body, mainly as a byproduct of metabolic processes, inflammation, or exercise. You encounter them from outside sources as well, as part of pollution, pesticides, industrial solvents, radiation, prescription and non-prescription drugs, cigarette smoke — and also because there’s a growing hole in the ozone.
Left unabated, free radicals create what medicos euphemistically call “progressive adverse changes.” Without getting too scientific, they accelerate the aging process and increase the likelihood of the incidence of disease, including heart disease and cancer. Your immune system, though, produces antioxidants to negate free-radical damage and also knows how to use the ones in foods to aid the process.
But this one-two punch can fall short against an onslaught of free radicals, an onslaught often produced by something you fully enjoy and don’t ever want to give up: riding long and hard. So even if using creatine doesn’t guarantee a faster time in a sanctioned time trial or your club’s charity ride, you still should use the stuff to help your overall health — help that’s safely available to you all the time. Studies have found your body’s ability to create creatine from the foods you eat is not hindered in any way by supplementation.
Weightlifters who use it to pack on the sort of muscle that leads to PRs in the bench press and the squat usually start the supplementing process by one week of overloading: ingesting 5 grams four separate times a day. You don’t need to do that though it can’t hurt. You can take a single dose of 5 grams per day (or more accurately 0.3 g/kg body weight) ad infinitum.
Add Creatine to Tea or Coffee
While studies have determined ingesting a carb/protein mixture with creatine enhances its assimilation, many people prefer to add it to a hot beverage like tea or coffee. Not only does the heat in the beverage insure dissolution, but the creatine, which is tasteless, appears to work synergistically with caffeine.
Kevin Kolodziejski began his writing career in earnest in 1989. Since then he’s written a weekly health and fitness column and his articles have appeared in magazines such as “MuscleMag,” “Ironman,” “Vegetarian Times,” and “Bicycle Guide.” He has Bachelor and Masters degrees in English from DeSales and Kutztown Universities.
A competitive cyclist for more than 30 years, Kevin won two Pennsylvania State Time Trial championships in his 30’s, the aptly named Pain Mountain Time Trial 4 out of 5 times in his 40s, two more state TT’s in his 50’s, and the season-long Pennsylvania 40+ BAR championship at 43.