Creatine – Sports Performance, Health Benefits, and Dosage
Creatine is the top supplement for improving performance in the gym.
Studies show that it can increase muscle mass, strength, and exercise performance . Additionally, it may help lower blood sugar and improve brain function, although more research is needed in these areas.
Some people believe that creatine is unsafe and has many side effects. However, scientific evidence does not support these claims.
In fact, creatine is one of the world’s most tested supplements and has an outstanding safety profile.
This article explains everything you need to know about creatine.
What is Creatine?
Creatine is an amino acid located mostly in your body’s muscles as well as in the brain. Most people get creatine through seafood and red meat — though at levels far below those found in synthetically made creatine supplements.
The body’s liver, pancreas and kidneys also can make about 1 gram of creatine per day.
Your body stores creatine as phosphocreatine primarily in your muscles, where it’s used for energy. As a result, people take creatine orally to improve athletic performance and increase muscle mass.
People also use oral creatine to treat certain brain disorders, neuromuscular conditions, congestive heart failure and other conditions.
Creatine helps you recover between sets. Which means a supplements’ value lies in boosting recovery speed, which in turn enhances the amount of work you’re able to do during a workout. Over time, this leads to faster gains in both strength and size.
Creatine has proven itself over the years to be one of the most effective supplements for improving performance during repeated bouts of intense exercise.
What Does Creatine Do?
Combined with weight training, creatine slows the loss of bone mass as you age and could ease the effects of osteoarthritis, where joints become stiff and painful.
Creatine helps to maintain a continuous supply of energy to working muscles by keep production up in working muscles.
Why use the Creatine supplement?
A creatine supplement can in the following ways
- Improve your exercise performance.
- Help your recovery after intense exercise.
- Prevent and/or reduce the severity of the injury.
- Help athletes tolerate heavy training loads.
- Increase your fat-free muscle mass during training.
Because vegetarians have lower intramuscular creatine storage, they may see greater gains from taking the supplements. However, it may take longer to build up levels in the muscles.
How Does Creatine Work?
After creatine enters the body (or after it is produced by the body) it firsts binds with a phosphate molecule to form creatine phosphate.
Now here is where I’m going to lay a bit of biochemistry on you, so I’ll do my best to keep it simple.
ATP (adenosine triphosphate) is the body’s energy source. When your body oxidizes carbs, protein, or fat, it is doing this process in order to produce ATP.
ATP is the energy responsible for driving almost every body process there is. (ATP is even involved in creating more ATP.) ATP provides this energy by hydrolyzing a phosphate group.
When a phosphate group is hydrolyzed, energy in the form of heat is given off and this energy is used to drive whatever process is being performed, for example, muscle contraction.
Because one phosphate has been lost from the ATP, it is now called ADP (adenosine di-phosphate). Now you have free ADP as a product from the ATP hydrolysis.
ADP is pretty much useless in the body unless it is converted back into ATP. Now this is where creatine comes into play. The creatine works by donating its phosphate group to the ADP to re-form ATP! I assume you see where this is going.
By allowing you to return ADP to ATP, creatine will increase your ATP stores, thus allowing you to train harder and longer.
Where is creatine phosphate found in the body?
About 95% of the body’s creatine is stored in the muscles, mainly in the form of phosphocreatine. The other 5% is found in the brain and testes.
When you supplement, you increase your stores of phosphocreatine. This is a form of stored energy in the cells. It helps your body produce more of a high-energy molecule called ATP.
ATP is often called the body’s energy currency. When you have more ATP, your body can perform better during exercise.
Creatine also alters several cellular processes that lead to increased muscle mass, strength, and recovery.
How does creatine help you to build muscle?
Increasing the production of ATP can be described as creatine’s primary function during high-intensity exercise. However, there are several other ways in which creatine helps us to build muscle. Creatine:
- Increases cell signaling which aids muscle repair and growth.
- Raises levels of certain hormones which support muscle growth.
- Reduces muscle breakdown by reducing protein breakdown.
- Supports cell hydration.
- Reduces levels of the protein myostatin, which can slow muscle growth.
Creatine effects on strength and exercise performance
Creatine can also improve strength, power, and high intensity exercise performance.
In one review, adding creatine to a training program increased strength by 8%, weightlifting performance by 14%, and bench press one-rep max by up to 43%, compared with training alone.
In well-trained strength athletes, 28 days of supplementing increased bike-sprinting performance by 15% and bench press performance by 6% .
Creatine also helps maintain strength and training performance while increasing muscle mass during intense overtraining.
These noticeable improvements are primarily caused by your body’s increased capacity to produce ATP.
Normally, ATP becomes depleted after up to 10 seconds of high intensity activity. But because creatine supplements help you produce more ATP, you can maintain optimal performance for a few seconds longer.
Many people who supplement start with a loading phase, which leads to a rapid increase in muscle stores of creatine.
To load with creatine, take 20 grams per day for 5–7 days. Split this into four 5-gram servings throughout the day.
Eating a carb- or protein-based meal may help your body absorb the creatine, due to the related release of insulin.
Following the loading period, take 3–5 grams per day to maintain high levels within your muscles. As there is no benefit to cycling creatine, you can stick with this dosage for a long time.
If you choose not to do the loading phase, you can simply consume 3–5 grams per day. However, it may take 3–4 weeks to maximize your stores.
Since creatine pulls water into your muscle cells, it is advisable to take it with a glass of water and stay well hydrated throughout the day.