In this blog post, I’m going to tackle the question, “What is creatine and what does it do?”
Why should I care about creatine? It’s bad ass, but seriously – it’s cheap, has more research done on it than any other supplement, and is proven to work. It’s naturally found in meat and fish we eat but is lost due to the cooking process.
In a nutshell, creatine allows you to perform more work per a given amount of time.
But we need to delve in deeper.
Here’s a quick benefit list:
- Increases lean muscle mass.
- Increases work performed.
- Increases muscular power.
- Alters body composition.
- Inhibits neurological disorders.
- Improves brain cognition.
Mechanism of Action
ATP is the form of immediate cellular energy and energy sources (food) are first converted into ATP for the body to use it for energy. ATP loses a phosphate, and this step provides the energy.
What does Creatine have to do with ATP? In short, it allows for the recycling of ATP from ADP, which requires energy.
Humans perform aerobic respiration (oxidative phosphorylation in the presence of oxygen) or anaerobic respiration (glycolysis without it). The anaerobic system is used within seconds of exercise (due to lack of oxygen) and for short (powerful) bursts of effort -think sprints, deadlift and jumping.
The anaerobic system is split into ATP-Pcr and lactic acid systems. Lactic acid is produced without the presence of oxygen, hence the name. In the ATP-PCr system, phosphocreatine (PCr) is stored in muscle cells along with ATP.
Creatine increases skeletal muscle PCr stores. The ATP-Pcr system recycles ATP from phosphocreatine (creatine with a phosphate molecule attached). As ADP is an ATP without a phosphate group, creatine kinase enzyme uses that Pcr phosphate to reform ATP.
So with the aid of creatine supplementation you can increase skeletal muscle Pcr stores and hence potentially increasing ATP recycling from ADP.
Cooler Benefits that People Don’t Usually Talk About
1) Creatine Effects on Vegetarians.
Creatine is formed from methionine, glycine, and arginine. These amino acids are found in meat and fish mainly. A vegetarian diet may lack these amino acids, therefore causing lowered muscle creatine storage, compared to meat eaters like me (Lukaszuk et al., 2002).
For non-athletes, taking creatine can improve brain performance and overall health- as it helps to minimize Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s diseases.
2) Creatine Supplementation Alters the Hormonal Response to Resistance Exercise.
There is an anabolic response to creatine supplementation where it increases plasma growth hormone and testosterone levels (Rahimi et al., 2010).
A greater anabolic hormone response can have major input on the skeletal muscle recovery post exercise. The increase in these hormones is likely due to the increased amount of work done in the same amount of time, as exercise single-handedly can stimulate their secretion (Rahimi et al., 2010).
I think that’s really neat, leading to increased performance and lean muscle tissue.
3) Creatine Effects Myostatin.
I’ve stumbled upon Keifers work, while I was studying for my final exams, and I’ve promised myself to have a look at it when I’m done.
What I found really interesting is where he talks about creatine inhibiting myostatin effects.
“Myostatin inhibits muscle growth and by doing so decreases muscle hypertrophy.”
He also goes on to talk about how hypertrophy is more dependent on anti-growth factors than growth factors (insulin and leucine) and (according to his work) that using creatine may counter act its effect.
Really good work on that site, go have a read.
Any side effects?
The main side effect people may experience is diarrhea. It’s not pretty, and it’s just grim. You can alleviate the symptoms by using smaller doses or by trying out different creatine types/brands.
Another is “BLOATING” or water retention, which is awesome. Think about when you’re dieting, not only you can maintain performance (due to creatine effects), but the access bloating can lead to a mechanical advantage when lifting weights.
This means your main lifts might not suffer as much (my bench plummets as soon as I drop a pound), and you can continue to shift heavy weights -and maintain your hard earned muscle mass.
If you need to avoid water weight (i.e. trying to make weight), use a smaller doses (5g per day) and don’t do a loading phase.
Side note: If you have kidney problems consult your doctor before considering creatine supplementation.
How Much and When?
This really depends on the individual and how your body reacts with increasing doses of creatine. A good conservative starting place is 5g before training and 5g after, on non-training days take one 5g serving.
Should I Load?
This depends, how your body reacts to the protocol above at first and then to higher doses.
Go with creatine monohydrate powder. It’s cheap, and most of the studies are done with this creatine form – you don’t need to get too fancy with supplements.
To conclude, if you are a vegetarian-powerlifting grandma, who wants to gain muscle mass and drop fat, who looks after their health and wants to sharpen her noggin, use creatine.References used (Click here to expand)
Energy system diagram from Creatine Supplementation in Athletes: Review by Mark A. Jenkins, MD.
Lukaszuk JM, Robertson RJ, Arch JE, Moore GE, Yaw KM, Kelley DE, Rubin JT, Moyna NM. (2002). Effects of Creatine Supplementation and a Lacto-Ovo-Vegeterian Diet on Muscle Creatine Concentration. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 12(3):336-48.
Rahman Rahimi, Hassan FarajiS Dariush Sheikholeslami Vatani and Mohammad Qaderi (2010). CREATINE SUPPLEMENTATION ALTERS THE HORMONAL RESPONSE TO RESISTANCE EXERCISE (2010).
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