Posted on April 06, 2015
A guest blog by Andrea Lewis
Creatine, a tripeptide compound composed of the amino acids arginine, methionine and glycine, is valued greatly for its ability to measurably improve athletic performance and help build muscle mass. Many famous athletes have touted the benefits of creatine, and its use is allowed by the International Olympic Committee and other sports organizations. Unfortunately, like its dipeptide cousin carnosine, creatine is only found whole in meat and fish. However, also like carnosine, creatine is a naturally occurring amino acid compound that all vertebrates produce; so, despite claims to the contrary, no one needs to eat animal products or take supplements to reap the benefits of creatine.
Creatine is synthesized in the human body by the liver and kidneys, using the three amino acids that form its tripeptide structure: arginine, glycine and methionine. All three of these amino acids are found in whole foods that can be eaten raw. Below, I have compiled short lists for all three:
Glycine-rich Whole Foods
Arginine-rich Whole Foods
Methionine-rich Whole Foods
As you can see some of these foods are repeated on a second list, and these lists are far from complete. There are dozens of whole foods that contain these amino acids. Three foods in particular (not listed above) are the trifecta of creatine biosynthesis, because they contain all three necessary amino acids:
Why We Need Creatine
Creatine is not just useful for high intensity athletic performances, such as sprinting, it's also a great energy source for high energy tissues and organs, such as the skeletal muscles (where it's stored) and the brain. Creatine provides greater energy by increasing the formation of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is considered by biologists “the energy currency of life”. It is the high-energy molecule that stores the energy the human body needs to do everything. ATP is present in the cytoplasm and nucleoplasm of every cell in the body, and all physiological mechanisms that require energy obtain it directly from stored ATP.
One issue that needs to be clarified, regarding creatine and body building, is that creatine makes muscles look larger by increasing the water content of muscles. Creatine does not increase the size of muscle fibers, and there is no credible evidence to suggest that it increases muscle protein synthesis. Creatine can provide greater energy to lift more weight, which helps to build larger muscles the old fashioned way, but nothing more extraordinary. It's also important to understand that creatine is only useful for athletic enhancement up to a certain point. Skeletal muscle will only hold so much creatine, adding more will not increase one's supply.
One should also be aware that excess consumption of creatine can cause damage to vital organs, particularly the pancreas. A single overdose of manufactured creatine can damage the pancreas, and the damage is irreversible. This type of damage to the pancreas usually results in digestive problems, diabetes and death. Even taking recommended doses of manufactured creatine over long periods of time can lead to inflammation of the pancreas, also known as pancreatitis, and pancreatitis can cause permanent damage to the pancreas. In addition, taking creatine supplements for a long time can prevent the body from synthesizing its own creatine. For these reasons, creatine supplements should only be taken for long periods of time under the supervision of a health care provider.
Over the years, I've seen many anti-vegan proponents use the fact that vegetarians and vegans have less creatine in their system than meat-eaters as a means of discouraging the athletically inclined from switching to a meat-free diet. My response to this reasoning is “Of course, meat-eaters have more creatine in their bodies, they are getting the whole molecule from the meat that they eat, in addition to manufacturing it in their bodies the same way vegans and vegetarians do.” It would be strange indeed if the reverse were true. If one eats the right foods, in the right combinations, and/or regularly consumes the three foods that contain arginine, glycine and methionine, they can easily get sufficient amounts of creatine in their diets, without suffering the negative consequences those who supplement are subjected to. Raw vegans are famous for their high energy for a reason.