Those involved in the bodybuilding/strength training world – trainers and athletes alike – would know the importance of proper supplementation. One of the more successful supplements to hit the shelves would be creatine.
In its various forms, it has been recognized by the scientific community and the hard training athlete and bodybuilders as a product that delivers on its promise of improved strength and enhanced muscle size. With over hundreds of studies to date over the last decade, it’s efficacy cannot be denied. But if you still have doubts as to how it really works, or questions as to the benefits it will provide among other things, then let this article enlighten you.
WHAT IT REALLY IS
Creatine is nitrogenous, and is made from a combination of 3 amino acids: glycine, methionine and arginine. It is in fact an organic acid found naturally in food, existing in significant quantities in meats like beef and fish.
It plays a key role in supplying energy for muscle cells during intense activity. An average human body contains between 3.5 and 4 grams of creatine per kilogram of muscle. However, it is capable of storing up to 5 grams per kilogram. The idea behind supplementation is that by saturating the body with it, you augment its benefits. Approximately 95% of it is stored in skeletal muscle where it exists as creatine phosphate and can donate its phosphate molecule during certain metabolic processes
HOW IT WORKS
Creatine supplements have been shown to significantly increase the concentration of it in muscles. In muscle, It is found as creatine phosphate and can act as a phosphate donor. Creatine phosphate (creatine’s high energy molecule form, stored within cells) is used to supply the muscle fibers with immediate energy. This strengthened muscular contraction of these fibers allows the muscles to store more of this high-energy molecule to provide greater gains in strength and muscle.
Our body’s energy currency is a molecule called ATP (an adenosine with a tail of three phosphate groups, hence, Adenosine Tri Phosphate), used phosphate to power certain cellular processes.
During exercise or other strenuous activity, ATP releases one of these high-energy phosphate molecules and becomes ADP (Adenosine Di-Phosphate, a de-energized form of ATP). The loss of that phosphate provides the energy to power your cells during any activity. But ATP stores can become depleted and consequently, performance suffers. Creatine phosphate then helps regenerate ATP by donating its phosphate to ADP to reform ATP. Supplementing with it assists greatly in energy production and therefore help improve performance, and increase strength and power.
Another important benefit for bodybuilders and strength athletes is it’s muscle volumizing effect.
It has been shown to increase lean body mass, (a process primarily accounted for by water moving rapidly from the bloodstream to the muscle). It has a property that causes muscle cells to inflate. Although it may seem like an ‘artificial’ increase in lean body mass, bear in mind that muscle cells that are better hydrated are also more anabolic, and, more importantly, serves as a stimulus for protein synthesis. It is also shown to increase the activity of muscle satellite cells, which may increase the overall capacity for long-term muscle growth.
Other proven benefits of using a creatine supplement include enhancement of recovery and brain function. Studies of various nutrition authorities also indicate that it improves bone healing, and glucose tolerance. It may even negate the degenerative effects of age related muscle wasting!
It seems like the latest and greatest form of it comes out every few years. Creatine monohydrate is the most common form of this supplement – the one most scientific studies and research use. It is bound with water to provide 88% pure creatine per molecule. In other words, one gram of creatine monohydrate will supply 4.40 grams of active product to the body.
Despite the newer products to have hit the market as of late, monohydrate remains the most used from of it (400 million in annual sales in the US alone). It has proven its worth in research time and time again. Many other forms of it exist but none have shown the consistent results of creatine monohydrate. Fortunately, it is the least expensive form available, so it’s good for the muscle and the wallet.
CREATINE RECOMMENDATIONS AND DOSAGE
If you look on the shelves of a supplement store, you will see creatine monohydrate, creatine ethyl ester, creatine hydrochloride, creatine AKG and others. The oldest form is creatine monohydrate, and this has been the compound used in essentially all of the well-designed studies. For this reason, I recommend this form over the newer, non-research backed forms. Purchase supplements whose maker can provide lab analysis of the products, ensuring that what’s on the label is actually in the bottle. If you can spring a few extra dollars, then go for a micronized form of creatine monohydrate to improve mix-ability.
You can load creatine monohydrate at 15-25g for the first 4-5 days, which will saturate the muscle cells more rapidly, or, you can take 3-5g per day (depending upon muscle mass), which will saturate your intramuscular creatine stores in a few weeks. Keep in mind that though loading saturates the muscle cells faster, the downside is that you do not assimilate the majority of that creatine, so people on a budget may consider it wasteful.
Consistent supplementation of it at 3-5g per day has been shown to saturate muscle cells, mostly regardless of time consumed. Therefore, I suggest consuming it whenever it’s most convenient. Users who want to maximize it’s benefits should consider supplementing with beta-alanine and HMB since it has been shown to work synergistically with both products. Your usual supplement foundation of a multivitamin and protein (whey and/or casein) still applies.
It has, in some circle-numbers, gained an undeserving reputation as a harmful product. Many anecdotal and theoretical side effects were brought up as potential concerns including kidney and liver problems, dehydration and cramping when it was introduced to the market as a supplement in the early 90s. Although there is some evidence that it can increase dihydrotestosterone levels, and some have theorized that this may cause an increase in acne, this has yet to be proven. Some significant studies have helped to discredit these allegations to show that it is indeed a safe substance (more negative effects debunked) and have demonstrated no side effects of recommended creatine use on kidney, liver and/or the heart, nor does it increase the incidence of cramping.
Excess creatine intake exceeding the GI tract’s capacity to absorb it may result to gastrointestinal distress when loading it, or could lead to gas and cramping due to the unabsorbed creatine. If you experience this during creatine loading, try reducing your intake until you reach a comfortable level of intake. Alternatively, skip loading entirely or if your physician has advised you against using it, then you should avoid it. Remember that if used correctly, creatine will benefit, rather than harm one’s health.
If you’re looking to improve muscle mass, strength and performance, or athletic capacity, then creatine is the answer you seek. Bodybuilders and athletes have over the past decade or so popularly used it as a supplement to improve their size and strength. It is way more than just a performance enhancer. One thing you can be sure of, is that it will remain at the forefront of sports supplementation for some time yet. Go and claim your creatine and see for yourself!