If you are new to this field, you may hear from others about creatine, so you’re probably asking: What is creatine and what does creatine do?
Creatine is a popular supplement used by athletes, bodybuilders, and fitness enthusiasts to boost their physical performance and muscle growth. It is a naturally occurring compound found in the body, primarily in the muscles, and is also present in certain foods such as meat and fish. It was first discovered in 1832, but it wasn’t until the 1990s that it gained widespread recognition as a supplement for athletes.
Creatine is composed of three amino acids – arginine, glycine, and methionine – and is synthesized in the liver and kidneys. It plays a crucial role in energy metabolism, particularly during high-intensity exercise, by providing a readily available source of ATP (adenosine triphosphate) to the muscles. This leads to increased strength, power, and endurance, making it a popular supplement for athletes looking to improve their performance.
In addition to its role in energy metabolism, creatine also promotes muscle growth by stimulating protein synthesis and increasing muscle cell volume. It has also been shown to have other health benefits, such as reducing inflammation, improving brain function, and protecting against certain neurological diseases.
Despite its popularity and potential benefits, there is still much debate surrounding the optimal use of creatine, including dosage, timing, and potential side effects. Nevertheless, this remains a widely used and extensively researched supplement, with many athletes and fitness enthusiasts touting its benefits.
What is Creatine?
Creatine is a naturally occurring compound that is synthesized in the body from three amino acids: arginine, glycine, and methionine. It is primarily stored in the muscles and also found in small amounts in the brain and other organs. It plays a vital role in energy metabolism, particularly during high-intensity exercise.
During physical activity, the body breaks down adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the primary source of energy for muscle contractions, to release energy. However, the body has a limited supply of ATP, and it must be continuously regenerated to sustain muscle contractions. Creatine helps to regenerate ATP by donating a phosphate molecule to ADP (adenosine diphosphate) to form ATP. This process, called creatine phosphate re-synthesis, allows for rapid and sustained energy production during short, intense bursts of exercise.
While the body produces its own creatine, it can also be obtained through dietary sources such as meat and fish. However, the amount of creatine obtained through diet is relatively small, and supplementation is often used to increase muscle creatine levels. There are various types of creatine supplements available, including creatine monohydrate, creatine ethyl ester, and creatine hydrochloride, among others.
Overall, creatine is a naturally occurring compound that plays a crucial role in energy metabolism and is important for physical performance. Supplementation with creatine has been shown to increase muscle creatine levels, leading to improved strength, power, and endurance during exercise.
What Does Creatine Do?
I. Role of Creatine in energy metabolism
A. Creatine Phosphate Resynthesis: As mentioned earlier, creatine plays a vital role in energy metabolism, particularly during high-intensity exercise. By donating a phosphate molecule to ADP, it helps regenerate ATP, which allows for rapid and sustained energy production during short, intense bursts of exercise. This process is called creatine phosphate resynthesis and is the primary mechanism by which creatine improves physical performance.
B. ATP Production: In addition to its role in creatine phosphate resynthesis, creatine also helps increase ATP production by enhancing glucose uptake into the muscles and improving the efficiency of the mitochondria, the cellular organelles responsible for ATP production.
II. Creatine and muscle growth
A. Increased Protein Synthesis: Creatine has been shown to increase protein synthesis, which is the process by which the body builds new muscle tissue. By increasing protein synthesis, creatine can help increase muscle mass and strength.
B. Cell Volume: Creatine also increases muscle cell volume, which can lead to improved muscle function and increased muscle size. This occurs because creatine draws water into the muscles, causing them to expand.
III. Other benefits
A. Brain Function: Creatine has been shown to improve cognitive function and memory, particularly in older adults. This is because creatine can help increase ATP production in the brain, which is essential for proper brain function.
B. Inflammation: Creatine has anti-inflammatory properties and has been shown to reduce inflammation in the body, particularly in conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.
C. Neurological Diseases: Creatine has also been studied for its potential to protect against certain neurological diseases, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
Overall, creatine plays a vital role in energy metabolism and can help improve physical performance, particularly during high-intensity exercise. Additionally, it has been shown to have other health benefits, including increased muscle growth, improved brain function, and reduced inflammation.
How to Use Creatine?
A. Loading Phase: To rapidly increase muscle creatine levels, some individuals choose to use a loading phase where they consume 20-25 grams of creatine per day for the first 5-7 days of use. This is typically followed by a maintenance phase.
B. Maintenance Phase: After the loading phase, a maintenance phase is typically used where individuals consume 3-5 grams of creatine per day to maintain elevated muscle creatine levels.
I have written a whole article on this dilemma, and if you want, you can read more here.
A. Pre-Workout: Some individuals choose to take creatine before their workout to increase energy levels during exercise.
B. Post-Workout: Others choose to take creatine after their workout to help with muscle recovery and to replenish creatine stores in the muscles.
A. Creatine Monohydrate: This is the most commonly used form of creatine and is available in powder or capsule form.
B. Other Forms: There are also other forms of creatine available, including creatine ethyl ester and creatine hydrochloride. However, research on these forms is limited, and their effectiveness is not well established.
A. Water Intake: It is essential to drink plenty of water when supplementing with creatine, as creatine draws water into the muscles and can lead to dehydration if not properly hydrated.
V. Safety and Side Effects
A. Kidney Function: There is a common misconception that creatine can harm the kidneys, but research has shown that this is not the case for healthy individuals. However, individuals with pre-existing kidney conditions should consult with their healthcare provider before using creatine.
B. Gastrointestinal Distress: Some individuals may experience gastrointestinal distress when supplementing with creatine, such as diarrhea, cramping, and nausea. This can be avoided by taking creatine with food or using a different form of creatine.
Overall, the dosage, timing, and form of creatine supplementation can vary based on individual preferences and goals. It is important to drink plenty of water and be aware of potential side effects, but creatine is generally considered safe for healthy individuals.
In conclusion, creatine is a naturally occurring compound in the body that plays a vital role in energy metabolism, particularly during high-intensity exercise. By increasing ATP production and improving muscle cell volume, creatine can improve physical performance, increase muscle growth, and promote overall health. When supplementing with creatine, it is important to follow dosage guidelines, consider the timing and form of supplementation, and stay properly hydrated. While creatine is generally considered safe for healthy individuals, those with pre-existing kidney conditions should consult with their healthcare provider before using creatine. Overall, creatine is a beneficial supplement for individuals looking to improve their physical performance and overall health.
Here are three references with links to studies related to creatine:
Rawson, E. S., & Volek, J. S. (2003). Effects of creatine supplementation and resistance training on muscle strength and weightlifting performance. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 17(4), 822-831. https://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Abstract/2003/11000/Effects_of_Creatine_Supplementation_and_Resistance.3.aspx
Rae, C., Digney, A. L., McEwan, S. R., & Bates, T. C. (2003). Oral creatine monohydrate supplementation improves brain performance: a double–blind, placebo–controlled, cross–over trial. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series B: Biological Sciences, 270(1529), 2147-2150. https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/full/10.1098/rspb.2003.2492
Kilduff, L. P., Pitsiladis, Y. P., Bevan, H. R., Kingsmore, D., McEneny, J., & Mawson, D. (2004). Effects of creatine on body composition and strength gains after 4 weeks of resistance training in previously nonresistance-trained humans. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 14(4), 401-412. https://journals.humankinetics.com/view/journals/ijsnem/14/4/article-p401.xml
Here are five frequently asked questions related to creatine and their answers:
Creatine is generally considered safe for healthy individuals when used in appropriate doses. However, those with pre-existing kidney conditions should consult with their healthcare provider before using creatine.
While creatine may not directly lead to weight loss, it can help increase muscle mass and improve physical performance, which may indirectly contribute to weight loss.
A loading phase, where individuals consume a higher dose of creatine for the first few days of use, can help rapidly increase muscle creatine levels. However, it is not necessary and some individuals choose to skip this phase and go straight into a maintenance phase.
Some individuals may experience gastrointestinal distress, such as diarrhea and nausea, when supplementing with creatine. It is important to stay properly hydrated and follow dosage guidelines to avoid these side effects.
Research has shown that creatine supplementation may improve cognitive function, particularly in older adults and vegetarians who may have lower levels of creatine in the brain. However, more research is needed in this area.