There are a lot of articles out in the fitness world that talk about the wonders of creatine supplements. Many supplement companies not only have creatine as a standalone product, but include it in pre-workout mixes.
So this stuff must be great, right? As we did with our Pre-Workout article, we’re going to try to give you simple, yet science based take on creatine to help guide you in your health and fitness decisions.
So what is creatine, and how does it work?
Let’s start with the science – adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is the most basic form of energy in your body’s cells. It plays a fundamental role in metabolism and muscle function.
Biochemically, ATP is a nucleoside triphosphate, which indicates that it consists of three components: a nitrogenous base (adenine), the sugar ribose, and the triphosphate.
In muscle performance, ATP acts in the following manner with myosin, which is a motor protein best known for its role in muscle contraction:
- ATP prepares myosin for binding with actin by moving it to a higher- energy state and a “cocked” position.
- ATP must bind to myosin to break the cross-bridge and enable the myosin to rebind to actin at the next muscle contraction.
For training, or any intense muscle activity, your muscles typically store only enough ATP for 8–10 seconds of high-intensity exercise. After this, your body must produce new ATP to match the demands of your physical activity.
Simply put, this is why you can burst few short periods of energy and muscle movement, but cannot sustain those levels.
We’re getting to the part about the creatine…
A study by the Centre for Human Sciences in 2000 showed that fatigue sustained during short-term, high-intensity exercise is associated with the inability of skeletal muscle to maintain a high rate of anaerobic ATP production from phosphocreatine hydrolysis – and that the ingestion of creatine monohydrate at a rate of 20 g/d for 5-6 d was shown to increase the total creatine concentration of human skeletal muscle by approximately 25 mmol/kg dry mass, some 30% of this in phosphorylated form as phosphocreatine.
Moreover, the study showed that a loss of ATP during heavy anaerobic exercise was found to decline after creatine ingestion, despite an increase in work production. These results suggest that improvements in performance are due to parallel improvements in ATP resynthesis during exercise as a consequence of increased phosphocreatine availability.
Short version – Creatine supplements increase your body’s stores of phosphocreatine, which in turn helps support your body’s ability to create ATP and replenish the depleted supply to continue fueling muscle activity.
Other Creatine Benefits
Increase in the water content of your muscle cells.
Increase in repetitions and weight loads of training sessions.
May reduce muscle breakdown and assist in post work out recovery.
Lastly, a study in 2010 from the Department of Sport Science was conducted to determine the effect of resistance training for 8 weeks in conjunction with creatine supplementation on muscle strength, lean body mass, and serum levels of myostatin and growth. The researchers found that creatine increased muscle mass when added to an exercise regimen and resulted in a “significant decrease in serum levels of myostatin,” which is a protein that inhibits muscle cell growth.
So that’s it – creatine helps your body maintain its ATP levels, which in turn help muscle output, recovery, and growth.
Does that mean you should take it?
That is a discussion between you, your health provider, and if available, registered dietician. But hopefully, with our comments, you are now better informed about one of the more prolific supplements on the market.