It was only recently the Institute of Medicine discovered a key nutrient supporting a myriad of essential health functions. While your liver can produce modest amounts, your diet provides the overwhelming intake of this crucial vitamin. If you're looking to take your performance, or health, to the next level, getting enough choline into your nutritional arsenal is an absolute must. Unfortunately, there is a 90% chance you're deficient in this essential vitamin, compromising how well you perform at work, at home and in the gym.Read More
What is creatine? When most people hear the word creatine, they immediately think of high school or college-age jocks trying to get bigger and stronger. But creatine is far more than just a muscle-building supplement.
In fact, its benefits range from improved cognitive function, concussion prevention, autoimmune support and even improvement of some chronic degenerative conditions.
Not quite sure what creatine can do for you? Let’s take a closer look.
What is Creatine?
Creatine is a protein that is produced naturally in the body and is found in abundance in animal protein. It’s a high-energy molecule made up of three amino acids – arginine, methionine and glycine – that helps to produce ATP, the energy currency of every cell in your body. Without ATP, your cells would have no fuel and you wouldn’t even survive!
Animal protein is the best food source of creatine, such as grass-fed beef, wild game meats, ocean-fresh fish and free-range poultry. So, if you’re already following a Paleo approach to eating, naturally rich in animal protein, why would you need to add more creatine via a supplement? Adding a creatine supplement allows your body to store greater than normal levels of creatine in the body, thereby providing an added source of ATP to support your muscles and your brain. While these supra-physiological doses may not be exactly Paleo, there could be certain scenarios where you can get significant benefits.
Can Creatine Boost Your Performance In The Gym?
If you want to improve your performance in any sport, then improving your power, strength and lean muscle mass are key factors. Creatine significantly improves all of these areas, and then some.
Increasing your maximum strength is like adding more horsepower to your car’s engine; the stronger you are, the faster you run. Supplementing with creatine is proven to increase your max strength by 5-15%, which translates to more weight on your squat, deadlift or Olympic lifts. (1)
Creatine supplementation has also been shown to increase sprint performance, as well as endurance during repeated sprints. (2) This can help endurance athletes improve 5k, 10k and marathon times, cyclists upgrade time trial personal bests, and CrossFitters achieve superior WOD times.
If you want to add lean muscle, creatine has been proven to add 2-4 lb. of fat-free lean muscle in 4 to 12 weeks of training.(3) The muscle growth comes from the body’s capacity to increase ATP production from creatine supplementation, allowing you to train harder and recover faster. If you’re not wanting bigger muscles, simply modifying the dose can mitigate these effects.
The benefits don’t stop there. Creatine might just be the best “brain hack” out there!
Can Creatine Boost Performance at Work?
One of the most common questions I get asked by clients in clinical practice is, “How can I improve my mental focus and memory?” If you want to upgrade cognitive function, working memory and intelligence, then creatine may help unlock your true potential.
Creatine has shown significant promise as a potent brain-boosting nutrient. A study at the University of Sydney examined the effects of 6 weeks of creatine supplementation (5g per day) on memory and intelligence. (4) The researchers found those people supplementing with creatine had improved working memory, reduced mental fatigue and increased intelligence. That’s right, not only can you remember more details and maintain your focus for an increased number of hours, you actually get smarter, as well!
More and more research is coming down the pipeline uncovering creatine’s ability to boost brain function, focus and mental productivity. However, you can eat all the meat in the world, but your creatine stores cannot reach these supra-physiological levels without added supplementation.
Tempted to start benefiting from higher creatine and ATP levels in your body? Let’s take a look at whether this stuff is really safe.
Is Creatine Safe?
Anecdotal side effects of creatine often heard in the media include dehydration, cramping, musculoskeletal injury, gastrointestinal distress and kidney damage, yet the research does not support these claims.
While these side effects seem scary, none of this has been shown in the research studies. In fact, research on creatine supplementation of 10 months to 5 years found no negative effects on kidney function (5) and has in fact been linked with improving medical conditions such as brain and spinal cord injuries, muscular dystrophy, diabetes and high cholesterol.
With all the fad supplements out there, creatine is a proven and safe strategy for upgrading your health and your performance. Let me walk you through the approach I typically recommend to my clients.
How Much Should I Take?
If you want to boost your performance in the gym and at work and give creatine a try, here is the best way to start. For men, add a 5g serving every day with a meal; for women, 3g per day. Creatine monohydrate is the most cost-effective form and actually the type they use in all the research studies, so save yourself a few dollars and forget the expensive creatine with supposed “bells and whistles”.
The highest dietary source of creatine is herring, followed by red meat, however this only saturates the tissue to approximately 90%. The addition of a supplement take this to 105-110% saturation, thus providing the brain and body benefits. For vegetarians and vegans, tissue levels hover around 70%, so the addition of a supplement can be even more beneficial.
You can add a powder form (make sure it has no added sugar) into some water and drink it; just be sure to eat a meal at the same time, as elevated blood sugars and insulin help improve absorption. You can also opt for capsules, but it’s a lot of pills to take on a daily basis (typically 6 x 500mg for women and 10 x 500mg for men).
Continue for 8 weeks and see for yourself how you look, feel and perform. If you’re satisfied with your results, you can discontinue it. The washout period for creatine levels to return to pre-supplement baseline is about 30 days. If you want to continue, the research shows you can maintain your dose for 6-12 months, if desired. However, periodic tapers of 2-3 weeks is recommended every 2-3 months.
Just remember that creatine isn’t a quick fix. You still need to eat real, whole food, train properly and get quality sleep if you want to improve brain function and body composition. If your diet and lifestyle are junk, creatine isn’t going to help much.
Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, CISSN, CSCS
Want to learn more? Listen to expert strength coach Keith Norris talk "Mindset Hacks & How To Look Good Naked" on the Dr. Bubbs Performance Podcast...
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Fasting is a practice that’s been used for centuries in many diverse cultures and faiths to promote mental, physical and spiritual healing. From an evolutionary perspective, our Paleo ancestors would have gone long stretches of time without food and feasted in times of plenty. In today’s convenience society, food is everywhere and mindless eating – snacking even if you’re not actually hungry – is the norm.
You’ve likely heard many times that eating multiple small meals throughout the day is best for your health and that skipping meals is bad for you. What if skipping a meal was actually good for you? More and more research is coming out highlighting the potential benefits of intermittent fasting (IF) for not only losing weight but also for improving your overall health. It seems IF is not just a fad dietary approach, but a potential therapeutic tool to upgrade your health and support healthy weight loss.
Reducing your food intake during parts of the day has dramatic changes on key hormonal and physiological mechanisms in the body that may be catalysts for boosting your brain function, cooling inflammation, improving your heart health and slowing the aging process. It seems the wisdom from our ancestors may unlock some powerful health benefits!
Increases Fat Burning
After a full night’s sleep, you wake up with the perfect hormonal terrain for burning fat. Low insulin and high glucagon levels make delaying your first meal an effective strategy for prolonging this fat-burning period.
While the mantra “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” is deeply ingrained in our society, if your breakfast is muffins, bagels, cereal or juice then perhaps it’s time to try another strategy. Studies show better blood sugar control, cardiac markers and significant weight loss with intermittent fasting for overweight and obese individuals. (1)
Intermittent fasting not only capitalizes on your perfect fat-burning hormone balance by delaying your first meal in the morning, but provides the added weight-loss bonus of limiting food consumption in the late evening.
Inflammation is considered to be the root cause of almost every chronic disease. Weight gain is a powerful trigger for inflammation, and with two-thirds of the population classified as overweight or obese, this is a major roadblock to better health.
The Journal Obesity recently found that fasting induced a significant anti-inflammatory effect on the body, improving nervous system and immune function. (2) Cooling inflammation is critical for anyone trying to improve health or lose weight, and any dietary strategy that improves this key health marker is definitely one to consider.
Improves Brain Function
One of the most common questions I get asked by clients is how to improve their focus and concentration at work. Fatigue, brain fog, and inability to stay on task are common symptoms that people experience throughout the day. These symptoms are made worse by high blood sugars, insulin and weight gain.
Intermittent fasting may hold the answer for you. A recent study showed that IF in overweight mice led to much greater learning and memory scores. (3) They also had dramatic improvement in the structural function of their brains. Better brain function and a slimmer waistline…sounds like a nice combination!
Improves Low Mood
Low mood and depression are on the rise around the world, with the World Health Organization predicting that by 2030 it will be the leading cause of disease burden around the globe. (4) That is a powerful statistic, and, like most chronic conditions, it likely stems from a wide array of root causes.
Low mood and depression are on the rise. Intermittent fasting can help by regulating blood sugar levels.
One root cause in particular, chronically high blood sugar and insulin, has shown a strong association with low mood and depression. With the average sugar consumption up to a whopping 160 lbs. per person per year, it’s no wonder more and more people are suffering from low mood and depression.
Supports Better Heart Health
Keeping your heart healthy is crucial for overall health, as heart disease is one of the leading causes of death worldwide. Common causes include weight gain, lack of exercise, diabetes and high blood pressure, all of which may be positively influenced by fasting.
Delaying your first meal or going longer periods between meals can be a powerful weapon for improving your health.
Studies show that heart failure can be dramatically improved with fasting and significantly increase long-term survival. (5) If you’re overweight or out of shape, excessive carbohydrate and/or caloric intake can worsen your situation. Delaying your first meal or going longer periods between meals can be a powerful weapon for improving your health.
Slows the Aging Process
Exotic supplements and medications are available to help people look and feel younger, but food choices give you the biggest bang for your buck when it comes to anti-aging. A recent study in animals found that fasting helped to significantly reduce oxidative stress and fibrosis, two key characteristics of aging tissues. (6)
Again, these results reflect significant improvements in cellular function, something fad diets definitely don’t provide. If your cells are happy, you’ll be happy. Intermittent fasting may in fact be an effective strategy for slowing the aging process.
Easy to Follow
As a clinician, giving people a dietary plan to help them lose weight is the easy part; getting people to adhere to the protocol is the hard part. Compliance is a big piece of the puzzle. If a person can’t implement their nutrition strategy into their day-to-day life, then chances are they won’t stick to it.
Surprisingly, intermittent fasting seems to simplify things for people as studies show greater compliance with intermittent fasting compared to traditional calorie-reduced diets. (7) The best program is the one you (or your client) will stick to!
Guidelines for Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting can be a great tool to use for 4-12 weeks to trigger weight loss and better health, or, for some people, a long-term lifestyle change. However, before you embark on this journey, you must make sure a few key systems are in good working order:
1. Diet – If you’re not eating clean and your diet is still made up of processed and convenience foods, then get your nutrition in line before starting
2. Sleep – If you struggle to fall asleep or don’t sleep through the night, then IF may not be the best fit for you as it may lead to increased cortisol stress levels.
3. Stress – Lack of sleep, busy workdays and intense training programs can all lead to chronic stress. If your stress levels are high, hold off on intermittent fasting until things settle down.
Most of my clients tell me they are very busy, often grabbing unhealthy breakfast options and snacks in the morning on their way to work. Intermittent fasting can not only provide a novel approach to weight loss and improved health, but also offers a potentially desirable lifestyle that frees up more time to work or spend time at home.
If you’re ready to start an intermittent fasting protocol, try it for 2-4 weeks and see for yourself how you may be able to upgrade your body, mind and energy levels with simply changing when you eat your meals!
(This article originally appeared @Paleohacks.com)
Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, CISSN, CSCS