Creatine is a well-researched sports supplement. Combined with resistance training, it can increase strength, muscle mass, and post-exercise recovery. Scientists are also investigating if creatine can rev up energy production in the body and protect the heart and brain. Read on to learn about its potential benefits, side effects, and proven supplementation protocols. What is Creatine?
Creatine (α-methyl guanidine-acetic acid) is a substance naturally produced in the body from amino acids. Most of it is stored in muscle cells and released during physical activity. Creatine supplements raise muscle creatine stores, which enhances exercise performance and helps build muscles. Creatine food sources include meat and fish [ 1 , 2 ].
Most of the body’s creatine is stored in skeletal muscles (95%) as phosphocreatine; the remainder is found in the brain, kidney, and liver. Phosphocreatine is charged with powerful phosphate groups that release a large amount of energy when the muscles need it. The average person uses about 2 g/day of creatine while athletes and bodybuilders have much higher requirements [ 3 ].
Creatine has become one of the most widely used nutritional supplements. It’s one of the best-researched supplements for increasing muscle strength and power in athletes . Less known are its benefits beyond athletic performance, which extend to people with various muscle-wasting and neurological diseases [ 1 ]. Snapshot
Safely increases muscle mass, strength, and exercise performance
Reduces post-exercise fatigue
Great for power training
Protects the brain
Doesn’t impact endurance-type or cardio exercise performance
High doses may cause stomach discomfort or nausea
Power vs. Endurance Training
While almost every athlete has probably tried creatine at least once in their life, not everyone will experience the desired gains. Creatine is a safe and legal sports supplement but it’s not equally effective for all types of exercise . If you’re wondering when or if you should use creatine, have a close look at your exercise regime and your training goals [ 4 ].
Creatine will offer significant gains in strength and performance during high-intensity, short-duration, anaerobic training , i.e. high-power bursts aimed at increasing maximal output [ 4 ].
Creatine won’t have an effect on endurance-type, aerobic training, such as long-distance running and swimming . You’ll still see improvements in muscle mass and fatigue if you combine strength training alongside endurance-type sports [ 4 ].
To determine when to take creatine and how much you need, you should dive deeper to understand exactly what creatine does in your body. What Does Creatine Do?
The ATP-phosphocreatine system has immense power potential. Muscle stores of phosphocreatine release energy and rapidly boost the production of new ATP energy molecules . The burst of energy needed to sustain exercise with maximal effort normally lasts for only 5 to 10 seconds after which a drop in phosphocreatine causes fatigue [ 4 ].
Peaks in strength and exercise capacity during short-term, high-intensity power training depends on two factors:
> ATP levels
Creatine supplementation boosts strength by affecting both: it regenerates ATP supplies during exercise and phosphocreatine supplies after exercise, during recovery [ 4 ].
For energy to be released and used, ATP needs to be broken down to ADP (cleaving one of the phosphates in ATP off). ADP is returned to its high-energy state of ATP in different ways during anaerobic exercise (sugar breakdown or glycolysis) vs. aerobic exercise (oxidative phosphorylation).
With high-intensity exercise, muscles rely on the anaerobic system, which uses phosphocreatine and muscle sugar stores (glycogen) as fuels . This is why the degree to which muscles will use creatine directly depends on the intensity and duration of the exercise. Muscles need the most phosphocreatine during the most intense and maximally demanding periods of exercise or sport [ 4 ].
For example, a dose of 30 g/day of creatine for 14 days enhanced power during short-term, maximal exercise by increasing ATP production and phosphocreatine availability – going back to the two factors outlined above [ 4 ]. Creatine supplements may also “load” muscles by increasing phosphocreatine stores , which in turn increases energy production during explosive, high-intensity exercise bouts [ 4 ]. Increasing phosphocreatine stores may also aid in muscle recovery . Higher phosphocreatine levels may help ‘mop up’ the acid-producing exercise byproducts and balance pH levels in the muscles, allowing for continued exercise with minimal fatigue [ 4 ].Creatine is a small molecule that attracts water. These water molecules follow creatine into the cells, which swell as a result. Cell swelling is a so-called anabolic signal that increases the production of proteins, glycogen sugar stores, and DNA while minimizing protein breakdown [ 5 , 6 , 4 ]. Health Benefits of Creatine 1-2) Exercise Performance and Muscle Strength Creatine supplements increase phosphocreatine stores in muscles, which in turn boost the production of new ATP energy molecules . All cells in your body use ATP as a source of energy but creatine will mainly fuel your muscles and increase your performance during short, high-intensity exercise bouts [ 1 , 2 ].Creatine supplementation improves strength and performance during high-intensity, short-duration resistance training according to a large review of 22 studies. According to this review, creatine with resistance training increases [ 7 , 8 , 9 , 10 ]: Muscle strength by 20% (8% greater than placebo) Weightlifting performance (maximal repetitions at a given percent of maximal strength) by 26% (14% greater than placebo) Bench press weightlifting performance by up to 43% Strength/resistance training specifically amplifies its muscle-building benefits. In a study of 32 healthy men during 16 weeks of heavy-resistance training, creatine (6 – 24 g/day) increased muscle growth better than taking 20 g/day of proteins [ 11 ].In a study of 19 men, creatine enhanced free-fat mass, weight-lifting capacity and overall physical performance, and muscle appearance in response to heavy resistance training. The training regime was periodized over 12 weeks and higher creatine doses are given over the first week (25 g/day) followed by a lower maintenance dose (5 g/day) [ 12 ].Creatine loading over five days in […]