Creatine Capsules – Improves Performance & Training Intensity
Which is Best for Building a Lean, Muscular Physique?
Building a lean, muscular physique depends on several equally-important training variables.
These variables include: improved anaerobic performance, leading to more reps, more training volume, higher levels of muscle protein synthesis and more subsequent muscle growth; greater strength gains, stimulating super compensation (the rebuilding of bigger, stronger muscle fibers); optimal muscle hydration/volumization, leading to greater muscle pumps and signalling both immediate and long-term size gains; improved hormone balance, setting the stage for enhanced muscle anabolism; greater training intensity, leading to positive training adaptations; and better brain function, improving focus and bolstering dedication to training.
While certain supplements may optimize one or more of the above, few do it all. Unless, of course, we are talking about a preeminent performance enhancer that tops the supplement shopping lists of dedicated strength trainees the world over. Subjected to more scientific scrutiny than any other single natural performance enhancer, creatine monohydrate has, again and again, been shown to benefit athletes of all codes – in almost every conceivable way.
Strength athletes (bodybuilders in particular) have been using creatine for decades and reaping its many proven performance benefits. Indeed, a failure to include a daily dose of this unparalleled muscle builder may greatly short-change an otherwise well-prepared lifter’s ability to add appreciable mass. Simply put: there can be no doubting the power of creatine (specifically monohydrate) to greatly improve training performance and enhance muscle growth.
Nonetheless, ever since creatine came on the market in the early 90s it’s been reformulated and repackaged in an attempt to improve its effectiveness. However, with multiple different creatine versions populating store shelves over many decades, only one has stood the test of time and consistently provided the greatest return on training investment: monohydrate.2, 11, 13 Now, for convenience and effectiveness, this premier creatine has been launched in capsule form, leading many to speculate on what version is best: capsules, or the more traditional powder? This article will attempt to answer this question while confirming the many benefits creatine capsules provides to those who are willing to add it to their mass building repertoire.
What is Creatine?
Creatine is an amino acid compound composed of the aminos glycine, arginine and methionine. It is produced in the liver, pancreas and kidneys and stored mostly in the muscles (around 95%, as phosphocreatine) and brain, kidneys and liver (around 5%).16 Though most of creatine’s major performance benefits can be derived from its supplement form, non-training populations are adequately supplied through creatine-rich foods such as beef and seafood.
Synthetically, creatine comes in many different versions, the most popular and efficacious being creatine monohydrate (as produced by the body but with an attached water molecule). Creatine monohydrate also comes micronized (mechanically processed to improve water solubility).9 This delivery method is believed to further improve the absorption of creatine in the body.
While creatine from food sources remains an important way to keep muscle creatine levels high, supplemental creatine by far the best method for hard training athletes and lifters at all levels as it can increase creatine levels in muscle tissue by up to 40%.3, 28
How Does Creatine work?
Fundamentally and traditionally, creatine has been used to produce energy, to extend the capacity of the muscles to produce physical effort to improve exercise performance.13 Yet as more and more people began to use creatine to fuel training success and a greater number of studies sought to uncover its various performance enhancing properties, many additional (soon to be discussed) benefits began to emerge.
All dietary creatine is converted to phosphocreatine and stored predominantly in the muscles. This creatine supply, along with that produced naturally, is adequate for most people. However, training populations require increased energy production capabilities. One of the best ways to do this is to further increase phosphocreatine stores via creatine supplementation.
Once this stored cellular energy is at maximum capacity, the greater will be the output of our highest-energy molecule ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate). Also known as the body’s energy currency, ATP in excess of what may be produced normally means better performances, in particular during high intensity activities that require increased anaerobic endurance (or the ability to sustain intense, short duration activities such as weight training or sprinting).
So far, we’ve learned that with greater phosphocreatine stores via creatine supplementation we may significantly improve anaerobic performance – to extend work capacity and maximize weight training workouts. Let’s now take a look at several specific musclebuilding benefits of creatine.
Additional Musclebuilding Benefits
Increases Water Content of Cells
As well as boosting anaerobic performance, creatine monohydrate has been shown to greatly increase the water content of muscle cells.10, 21, 22 By sending signals that enhance muscle remodelling, this cell-swelling effect leads to more muscle growth. Indeed, this increased water content within muscle cells, which assists the famed pumping effect, may cause significant cell volumization, one of the most important yet little-known precursors to muscle growth.
Creatine monohydrate also leads to greater growth gains in the following ways.
It increases workout volume by enabling more total work to be done in a single training session. As we known, more training volume leads to a heightened state of muscle protein synthesis and greater ensuing muscle gains.
It improves satellite cell signalling, an important component of muscle repair.6
It lowers myostatin levels. A key regulator of muscle growth, the myostatin protein slows or inhibits muscle gains. Less myostatin means greater muscle growth potential.20
It reduces protein degradation. Creatine monohydrate also has anticatabolic benefits; namely, it’s ability to slow the breakdown of muscle tissue.17
It increases anabolic hormone levels. Muscle building hormones, such as IGF-1, have been shown to increase with creatine monohydrate consumption.4, 5, 26
Considering all of the above, it comes as no surprise that creatine monohydrate is regarded within scientific circles as the single most important supplement for increasing muscle mass.15 But its benefits don’t stop there.
Increases Strength Gains
As mentioned, creatine monohydrate has been used by training populations for decades to safely and effectively prime muscle growth through various anabolic pathways.11, 12 Increased muscle strength and power have also been shown to set the stage for greater growth gains; yet another of creatine monohydrate’s many benefits.
In fact, one of the first signs that creatine is working as advertised is the extent to which it influences the quality of our workouts; most notably through its ability to enhance ATP production.16, 18, 19 From the first dose, both workout volume and intensity are increased. Where ATP would normally be depleted after 8–10 seconds of high-intensity activity, creatine capsules kicks in to boost ATP production, to extend performance by few seconds longer, regardless of resistance used.7, 8, 25
Here, exercise scientists have unanimously concluded that supplementing with creatine improves both strength and power production (the amount of force that can be produced over a certain period of time), with certain findings showing that creatine-assisted strength gains can be increased by as much as 10%, on average.18
Further research has demonstrated that, with creatine, strength improvements are about 5% for chest exercises like bench press and about 8% for leg exercises like squats.14 Overall, creatine monohydrate makes us stronger for longer, thus priming the muscles for maximum super compensation.
Improves Brain Power
The brain is our most powerful organ when it comes to putting all of the aforementioned variables together to produce a formidable physique. Without optimal focus, determination and mental strength, the key features of creatine monohydrate cannot be properly capitalized upon. Regardless of how many additional reps or how much additional weight creatine may make possible, each of us is limited by the extent to which our mind guides our actions (actions = results).
As with muscle, the brain also stores phosphocreatine and requires sufficient ATP to function optimally. By supplementing with creatine monohydrate, we boost both muscle and brain phosphocreatine, making available more energy to power myriad mental processes including general cognition, memory, alertness, focus and drive.1
Most notably for bodybuilders, there is evidence to suggest that creatine can help to alleviate mental fatigue.23, 27 This means that when the mind would ordinarily be ready to quit mid-set, we may be able to push through to completion, thus reaping the growth benefits of additional volume and intensity.
Capsules or Powder? Which Version is Best?
Not all creatine capsules is created equal. Since its inception, this ‘white gold’ has been reformulated countless times with ‘new and improved’ versions popping up on a regular basis. Despite its many different types, the best and most heavily-studied version remains creatine monohydrate.2
Now, this most trusted mass builder can be taken in one of two forms: the traditional powder or recently introduced capsule form. Extensively studied and of proven efficacy, powdered creatine monohydrate is known to outwork all other muscle building supplements. Why then might we benefit from taking it in capsule form? Why deviate from what has been proven to work time and again for countless lifters?
First, there is the convenience factor. While getting powder from container to digestive tract can be a messy business (it may congeal or not mix properly and the process of spooning it into a shaker can take time and effort; all admittedly minor barriers), a capsule can be taken in one go, without the chemical taste that often accompanies the powdered version.
In addition, transporting capsules and taking them when needed is simply just another way to free up more time, to simplify the process of getting big, fast. Finally, dosing may be more accurate when taking creatine capsules; rather than measuring out each dose, we can simply take however many capsules we need with no fuss and a modicum of effort.
Regardless of what type of creatine monohydrate we choose to take, consistency is key. Whether loading on 20 grams per day in divided five-gram doses for seven days (before maintaining on 3-10 grams per day) or taking 3-10 grams per day from the outset, be sure to keep this key muscle builder as a major part of your training plan.
In a world of quick fixes and performance products of dubious efficacy, creatine capsules remains one of few compounds that deliver as advertised – on time, every time. Creatine monohydrate does however have one major side effect that affects all who take it: impressive size gains.24
- Avgerinos, K. I. et al. (2018). Effects of creatine supplementation on cognitive function of healthy individuals: A systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Experimental gerontology, 108, 166–173.
- Buford, T. W. et al. (2007). International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: creatine supplementation and exercise. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 4, 6.
- Brault, J.J. et al. (2007). Parallel increases in phosphocreatine and total creatine in human vastus lateralis muscle during creatine supplementation. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. Dec;17(6):624-34.
- Burke, D.G. et al. (2008). Effect of creatine supplementation and resistance-exercise training on muscle insulin-like growth factor in young adults. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. Aug;18(4):389-98.
- Deldicque, L. et al. (2005). Increased IGF mRNA in human skeletal muscle after creatine supplementation. Med Sci Sports Exerc. May;37(5):731-6.
- Dangott, B. et al. (2000). Dietary creatine monohydrate supplementation increases satellite cell mitotic activity during compensatory hypertrophy. Int J Sports Med. Jan;21(1):13-6.
- Greenhaff, P.L et al. (1994). Effect of oral creatine supplementation on skeletal muscle phosphocreatine resynthesis. Am J Physiol. May;266(5 Pt 1):E725-30.
- Harris, R.C. et al. (1992). Elevation of creatine in resting and exercised muscle of normal subjects by creatine supplementation. Clin Sci (Lond). Sep;83(3):367-74.
- Hezave, A. et al. (2010). Micronization of creatine monohydrate via Rapid Expansion of Supercritical Solution (RESS) The Journal of Supercritical Fluids, Volume 55, Issue 1, November, Pages 316-324
- Häussinger, D. et al. (1993). Cellular hydration state: an important determinant of protein catabolism in health and disease. May 22;341(8856):1330-2.
- Kreider, R.B. et al. (2017). International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. Jun 13;14:18.
- Kreider, R.B. et al. (2003). Long-term creatine supplementation does not significantly affect clinical markers of health in athletes. Mol Cell Biochem. Feb;244(1-2):95-104.
- Lanhers, C. et al. (2015). Creatine Supplementation and Lower Limb Strength Performance: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analyses. Sports Med. Sep;45(9):1285-1294.
- Lanhers, C. et al. (2017). Creatine Supplementation and Upper Limb Strength Performance: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sports Med. Jan;47(1):163-173.
- Nissen, S.L. et al. (2003). Effect of dietary supplements on lean mass and strength gains with resistance exercise: a meta-analysis. J Appl Physiol (1985). Feb;94(2):651-9.
- Persky, A.M. et al. (2001). Clinical pharmacology of the dietary supplement creatine monohydrate. Pharmacol Rev. Jun;53(2):161-76.
- Parise, G. et al. (2001). Effects of acute creatine monohydrate supplementation on leucine kinetics and mixed-muscle protein synthesis. J Appl Physiol (1985). Sep;91(3):1041-7.
- Rawson, E.S.et al. (2003). Effects of creatine supplementation and resistance training on muscle strength and weightlifting performance. J Strength Cond Res. Nov;17(4):822-31.
- Rawson, E.S. et al. (2002). Differential response of muscle phosphocreatine to creatine supplementation in young and old subjects. Acta Physiol Scand. Jan;174(1):57-65.
- Saremi, A. et al. (2010). Effects of oral creatine and resistance training on serum myostatin and GASP-1. Mol Cell Endocrinol. Apr 12;317(1-2):25-30.
- Safdar, A. et al. (2008). Global and targeted gene expression and protein content in skeletal muscle of young men following short-term creatine monohydrate supplementation. Physiol Genomics. Jan 17;32(2):219-28.
- Schoenfeld, B.J. et al. (2010). The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance training. J Strength Cond Res. Oct;24(10):2857-72.
- The Royal Society. (2003, August 13). Boost Your Brain Power: Creatine, A Compound Found In Muscle Tissue, Found To Improve Working Memory And General Intelligence. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 1, 2020 from sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/08/030813070944.htm
- Thomas, D.T. et al. (2016). Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and Athletic Performance. J Acad Nutr Diet. Mar;116(3):501-528.
- Terjung, R.L. et al. (2000). American College of Sports Medicine roundtable. The physiological and health effects of oral creatine supplementation. Med Sci Sports Exerc. Mar;32(3):706-17.
- Velloso, C. P. (2008). Regulation of muscle mass by growth hormone and IGF-I. British journal of pharmacology, 154(3), 557–568.
- Watanabe, A. et al. (2002). Kato T. Effects of creatine on mental fatigue and cerebral hemoglobin oxygenation. Neurosci Res. Apr;42(4):279-85.
- Watt, K.K. et al. (2004). Skeletal muscle total creatine content and creatine transporter gene expression in vegetarians prior to and following creatine supplementation. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. Oct;14(5):517-31.