Creatine: A Guide to the Popular Pre-Workout Supplement

Creatine Supplement

What Is Creatine?

Creatine itself is naturally formed (made) in the kidneys and liver from bodily processes involving amino acids – glycine, arginine, and methionine. 

Creatine is primarily consumed through the meat (red meat, poultry, fish) or individually as a dietary supplement. 

It helps fuel high endurance or intensity exercise or workouts. 

When ATP is used up (during these activities), it is converted into ADP (adenosine diphosphate) and AMP (adenosine monophosphate). Creatine helps increase the overall amount of cellular phosphocreatine (this is what creatine exists in cells as) and this, in turn, helps speed up the process of recycling ADP back into ATP. 

Creatine transfers a high-energy phosphate from creatine phosphate to ADP to essentially regenerate ATP. This means more energy and strength for workouts.

Creatine not only appears to benefit strength during intense exercise or resistance training (helping to contribute to increased lean mass gain) but also appears to be of benefit for mental fatigue and cognitive function. 

This may be especially true for those who are vegan or vegetarian and intake less through dietary means, given that these prerequisite amino acids are found in high concentrations in meat and seafood. 

Creatine is one of the most clinically studied, safe, and peer-reviewed supplements available. There are well over five-hundred publications (according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine) regarding the various aspects of creatine supplementation, including its efficacy, safety, and tolerance of it. 

Many people consider creatine to be a “natural anabolic,” which might be a tad confusing for some people, as creatine doesn’t have anything to do with anabolic steroids directly. Even Allmax Nutrition themselves proclaim creatine to be the most trusted natural anabolic. 

What exactly does this all mean?

Let us touch on anabolic steroids. Anabolic steroids are essentially a ‘synthetic’ version of androgenic hormones – most commonly testosterone, and are sometimes used with resistance training for the sole purpose of enhancing the speed of muscle mass gain and strength gain. 

This increase comes from testosterone entering the muscle cells, binding with the “intracellular androgen receptor,” and increasing the expression of particular genes. This leads to increased ATP (adenosine triphosphate production). 

Creatine, as a supplement, can increase the capacity of ATP as well as energy produced during resistance or strength training, and as such is often compared to synthetic hormones as a ‘natural anabolic.’ 

Therefore, we can say that creatine functions physiologically in a similar way to steroids (and can help performance in the same way), they are not the same in the way they do this, nor are they categorized in the same way because of this. 

Anabolic steroids have a different chemical structure than creatine and are blatantly considered prescription drugs as regulated by the FDA. 

So, while many companies or bodybuilders may refer to creatine as a “natural anabolic” – they might not be exactly correct, but they also aren’t explicitly lying. 

Creatine and Hair Loss 

A quick cursory search around the internet for creatine will probably garner hundreds of results of men worried about creatine causing baldness, hair loss, or accelerating male pattern baldness. 

Is any of this true? Is there any validity to these second-hand stories?

Creatine itself absolutely does not directly lead to hair loss. The science is clear on that, so we should establish that immediately. 

Most men aren’t going to want to make the choice between being ripped and having a nice head of hair. 

The primary connection between creatine, hair loss, and concern online – all really just comes down to a single fairly small study of Rugby players who were found to have increased conversion of testosterone to DHT (dihydrotestosterone). 

This potentially shows that creatine may cause an elevation in a hormone (DHT) that can speed up the process of hair loss, but only in men predisposed to hair loss or male pattern baldness genetically. 

The study does not explicitly link the two. In addition, the people in the study were taking quite a large serving size of 25g per day, compared to the recommended 5g. The size of the study is quite small as well, profiling only 20 volunteers. 

What is the connection of DHT to balding? In men, DHT can bind to potentially susceptible androgen receptors in hair follicles and cause them to ‘shrink.’ 

Any anecdotal stories of men online may be men taking larger amounts of creatine long-term, who are at the same time genetically predisposed to hair loss or male pattern baldness. 

Usually, these men also claim to recover any signs of thinning hair after stopping the creatine supplementation. 

For those who have genuine concern over this, they can rest easy knowing that even if they are predisposed, the risk factor is minimal if they discontinue use when they notice anything awry with their hair. 

It is extremely important for those with concerns to understand that this study has not been replicated, and even intense workouts and training can cause similarly documented increases in these same hormones (namely DHT).

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