Creatine: A conditionally essential nutrient for athletic performance, brain function, and heart health.
Widely considered a sports supplement for athletes, there is growing research (“growing research” being the keywords, as it means we’re most likely just scratching the surface on the importance of this molecule and its role in optimal function of the human body) showing the critical role creatine plays in optimal function of the human body, and is quickly being recognized as an essential nutrient for everybody.
So how does creatine work?
In a fairly recent paper published on PubMed titled, Perspective: Creatine, a Conditionally Essential Nutrient: Building the Case, it describes creatine as “a major component of energy metabolism that is abundant in human skeletal muscle, brain, and heart.”
In short, creatine plays a critical role in the reuptake of ADP back into ATP in your cells.
ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate) is the source of energy in your cells. So, the more ATP you are producing at the cellular level, the more cellular energy you have, which makes everything in the body work and perform better.
When your cells use up their ATP, the byproduct is ADP. Creatine helps your cells turn ADP back into ATP.
You can see why this extra cellular energy in your muscles is beneficial for athletes, but who wouldn’t want to also benefit from more muscular energy in your workouts, and in your everyday life?
We also now know that muscle is actually the largest organ system in the body, and plays a critical role in disease prevention and overall longevity. If you haven’t yet, check out our complete guide to muscle & longevity for more on this.
Your heart (another organ where creatine should be abundant) is the hardest working muscle in the body, which means more creatine can help it produce more cellular energy, which in turn, allows it to work less hard, relieving it of stress, and potentially lowering the risk of a severe cardiovascular event over time.
Finally, there’s an estimated 86 billion cells in the human brain. Imagine the improvement in daily cognitive function, and the potential for lowering risk of brain/age related disease if all 86 billion of those cells were producing more energy on a daily basis, over time.
For more info on the growing research on creatine and its benefits on cognitive function, check out this paper on PubMed, Creatine supplementation and brain health,
It’s becoming pretty clear that we all need creatine for optimal health and daily performance, so let’s learn a bit more about how we get creatine.
Creatine is synthesized in the body naturally, so it’s a critical molecule that is required for growth, development, and overall health no matter the individual.
Okay, so creatine is a necessary molecule for optimal health, and it’s produced internally, so you’re good right?
Not so fast.
The growing research on creatine has surfaced two important dilemmas concerning the endogenous synthesis of creatine within the body, and the amount of creatine required for therapeutic and ergogenic (enhancing performance, stamina, and recovery) benefits.
- Some people contain a fairly common genetic snip that negatively affects the body’s ability to synthesize creatine naturally.
- It appears that even those who do not contain this genetic snip, (meaning they don’t have any issues with internal creatine synthesis) still do not synthesize enough creatine to yield optimal therapeutic and ergogenic benefits.
What does this mean?
This makes creatine an “essential” nutrient for the body under most conditions, and should be treated as such.
An essential nutrient is a nutrient that is required for normal function of the body, but is not produced within, or not produced in adequate amounts for optimal health, making an essential nutrient, a nutrient you must consume through food or via supplementation.
In the case of creatine, it’s conditionally essential because it appears we don’t produce enough of it internally to meet the demands of the human body for optimal function.
How to get more creatine through diet or supplementation.
Creatine is found naturally in red meat, so if you eat solid amounts of red meat, you are probably getting enough in combination with what you synthesize internally, for more optimal function and benefits.
However, research has shown that loading creatine around strenuous activity (e.g. exercise) yields the most benefits systemically. Because of this, even though I consume a lot of grass-fed red meat and wild game, I still supplement with creatine prior to workouts.
Also, if you are on a vegan or vegetarian diet, you may really want to consider supplementing with this conditionally essential nutrient for muscle, heart, and brain function, as there are no plant-based whole food sources for creatine.
I recommend Thorne’s Creatine, as they’re an award-winning brand, known well for the purity and potency of their supplements. It’s also cost-effective, and they use a micronized creatine which has been shown to have higher bioavailability than standard, non-micronized creatine.
This is an area of nutrition I’m extremely passionate about, and is quite nuanced, and often misunderstood and I believe, mis-portrayed, so I was excited to read on.
After reading the Abstract, (PRO TIP: for most scientific and medical papers, reading the Abstract is all you really need) I wasn’t very surprised with the findings.
“ASFs (Animal-Source Foods) are rich in bioavailable nutrients commonly lacking globally”
A very keyword from this excerpt from the paper is “bioavailable”.
Let’s begin with inarguably the two most important nutrients for human survival, and thrival: the macronutrients fat and protein, with quality fats being probably the most important.
The proteins and fats found in ASFs, ideally from grass-fed, pasture-raised animals, are bio-identical to the human body, meaning the body recognizes these as essentially the same fats and proteins that make up our cell walls, brain, other organs, and muscle tissue.
Because these fats and proteins are bioidentical, they are, as a result, more bioavailable to the human body, meaning we synthesize and use them for optimal function more readily.
This is the reason we choose to use whey protein in our smoothies, (and offer the option to substitute plant protein if you’d like) as whey protein is an ASF bio-identical protein, with the highest bioavailability of all protein sources on the planet.
Furthermore, let’s dive into micronutrients, like vitamins and minerals, before we dive into the environmental sustainability of ASFs.
Vital nutrients to central nervous system and brain function like B Vitamins, especially bioavailable B12, are found in abundance in ASFs, especially red meat, along with other key red blood cell boosting nutrients, creatine, et cetera.
Beef liver, a tremendous source for bio-identical heme-iron, is probably the most micronutrient-dense food on the planet by vitamin & mineral composition.
I personally take a grass-fed beef organs complex, which are freeze-dried, encapsulated beef organs, making it very easy to consume organs, and get the benefits of the plethora of bioavailable nutrients they contain.
I’m not making the case personally for ASFs, just as I’m not making the case personally against plant-sourced foods for proteins, fats, and micronutrients. I firmly believe in everyone’s decision to choose what they eat, and why.
I’m merely sharing the findings of this paper, and what we know to be fact, which is that ASFs are bio-identical, and as a result, have higher bioavailability when it comes to key nutrients.
What really intrigued me about this paper was the discussion about ASFs and their role in environmental sustainability,
This is where I feel ASFs often get mis-portrayed, and get an undeserved bad reputation as bad for the environment.
Large-scale, factory farming, is bad for the environment, whether it’s corn, soy, or cows.
Regenerative farming, (a farming practice where animals graze freely, and co-exist amongst a diverse plant/crop environment) is an environmentally sustainable method that has been third-party tested.
You need plants and animals coexisting, in a way that mimics nature to have true environmental sustainability and this is highlighted in the paper.
For true environmental sustainability, you need animals grazing, and then naturally fertilizing the ground, adding rich nutrients and bacteria back into the soil, and that then grows robust, more nutrient-dense crops, and enriches the soil over time with living, organic matter, rather than stripping it of its nutrients and life, like large scale, factory mono-cropping.
The solution to environmental sustainability is local and regenerative.
This paper does a good job of focusing on the nuanced discussion that is environmental sustainability, and discusses the importance of buying local, from farms and sources that work in unison with the local ecosystem, in a way that mimics nature.
This is also why we choose to carry True Grace nutritional supplements, as they’ve developed whole-food multivitamins and medicinal mushrooms sourced from organic, regenerative farming practices.
This is a great practice as part of a consistent bedtime routine, or as needed, when feeling overwhelmed and/or stressed out later in the evening, and when dealing with a racing mind.
The idea is to get out whatever you need to get out, on paper, before you lay down for bed.
This can be as simple as writing down a to-do list for the next day, or it could be writing down your thoughts, feelings, emotions from the day in a journal.
For me personally, I like to write down the good things from the day, as no matter how bad the day, you can always find good in it. I also like to think about, and write down what I am grateful for as I get ready for bed.
I also highly recommend that whatever you do, that you physically write it down on paper, as the actual act of handwriting makes you more mindful, and of course, keeps your face out of a screen right before bed.
Whatever you feel you need to do, or what is best for you, is what you should do. The idea is that you are getting out whatever needs to get out, and off your mind, before you go to bed, allowing you to rest more soundly.