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Although Creatine is one of the most researched sports nutrition supplements of all time, it is still wildly misunderstood in the general public. Even though many Olympic, professional, serious, and amateur athletes use Creatine religiously, it is still painted in the media as a “dangerous performance enhancing substance” akin to steroids. The purpose of this article is to present solid, reliable, scientific research on Creatine to educate the consumer on the history, pharmacology, effects on the body, and ultimately the truth about Creatine and Creatine supplementation.

Chemistry

Creatine is a naturally occurring compound that is synthesized in the liver and kidneys from the 3 amino acids L-Methionine, L-Arginine, and L-Glycine. Creatine is naturally occurring in red meat and chicken in a very small amount, however a large percentage of it is lost during most cooking processes making it extremely hard to get a performance enhancing dose from food sources alone.

The role of Creatine in the body is to re-synthesize Adenosine TriPhosphate (ATP) by re-phosphorylating Adenosine DiPhosphate (ADP) so that ATP can be used again as energy to perform a muscle contraction. For more information on the role of ATP in muscle contractions look up “The Sliding-Filament Theory” for skeletal muscle contractions.

More ATP...So what?

In order for a muscle to contract it needs ATP. Each muscle contraction dephosphorylates ATP into ADP rendering it useless for use as energy for muscle contractions. Once the supply of ATP runs out the muscle is no longer able to contract which causes the onset of muscular fatigue, cutting your set short and preventing you from performing more reps at the certain weight you are lifting.

ATP Resynthesis = Good

Supplementing with Creatine has been shown to increase the rephosphorylation of ATP and therefore increase the amount of ATP available for your muscles to contract. This is great news! Supplementing with Creatine will help you pump out more reps and push more weight! So, does that mean everyone should take it?

Should I Take Creatine?

Chances are, if you are reading this article, then yes you should be!  Need more explanation…Here it goes.

In many placebo controlled, double blind studies involving healthy males/females supplementing with Creatine in combination with a regular exercise program Creatine has been shown numerous times to SIGNIFICANTLY:

  • Increase Strength

  • Increase Number Of Reps Performed

  • Increase Lean Body Mass

  • Increase Muscle Mass

  • Maintain Muscle Mass

  • Improve Muscle Recovery in Between Sets and Workout

Sounds great for all athletes who are serious about training and increasing strength? Well yes, and no. Notice how increasing endurance or cardiovascular capacity isn’t on there? That’s because as great as Creatine is, it won’t do too much to enhance performance for endurance athletes like long distance runners or ultra-marathoners. Creatine is great for increasing muscle mass and strength especially when performing low-rep heavy lifts (8 reps or less). This is because is increases the capacity of your most immediate energy system during exercise; your Creatine-Phosphate (Phosphagen) energy system that we mentioned vaguely involving ATP resynthesis.

Your phosphagen system is used for exercises or activity lasting 10 SECONDS OR LESS, this means 100m sprinting, power lifting, Olympic lifting, and low rep/heavy weight lifting.  This system is where Creatine Phosphate (PCr) is cleaved and the phosphate from PCr is then used to rephosphorylate ADP into ATP for use as energy. Even though Creatine is most effective for exercises involving the PCr system and increasing lean mass it has many other useful applications that many do not know about.

Other Applications

Although Creatine does not ENHANCE endurance performance a whole lot it still does have an application for endurance athletes. Notice how almost every single long distance runner is thin and wiry and looks like they weight about 100 lbs? There are 2 reasons for this:

  • Long distance running involves more Type I (Slow Twitch) muscle fibres, which are smaller than Type II (Fast Twitch) muscle fibres. As a result with repeated endurance training, the body of these runners is substantially more Type I muscle fibres than Type II.

  • Long distance running is very hard on the body, and all though you would like to think that when you run for 2 hours you are only burning fat…You’re wrong. You’re body will burn off some muscle with that as well.

  • Creatine has been shown in numerous human clinical trials to preserve muscle mass and offset it being broken down by the body. So endurance athletes, Creatine can help you preserve some of that muscle mass you love burning off so you won’t wither away into nothing. It will also help you recovery after a long run so it should definitely be considered for those who are serious into it.

Non-Exercise Applications?

As mentioned above Creatine has been shown to help PRESERVE muscle mass, so lets think about this for a second and see how this can be applied. With high level athletics, injuries are bound to happen. In a sport where strength and size is important it is crucial to have the body recover as quickly as possible without “losing” too much strength and mass. Interestingly enough, this is where Creatine comes very handy. In a human clinical trial involving cast immobilization over a period of days (that right…Days) a group of athletes that was given 5g of Creatine per day retained most of their muscle mass and kept an average of 33% more muscle mass than those athletes who were immobilized in a cast and not given Creatine!!

So if you are in a cast from a break, sprain, etc. and want to keep as muscle strength and size on your injured limb with less atrophy, take Creatine!

Sounds Awesome! But Wait…what are the side effects of Creatine supplementation?

Although the side effects of Creatine aren’t as severe as painted in the media (yes I am referring to a case in the media where an ill-trained coach over trained his athletes in extreme heat and blamed their injury and extreme dehydration on their Creatine supplementation) there are still some side effects you should beware of. Some types of Creatine cause you to retain more water in your muscles called hyper hydration. This is great for strength training and putting on mass, however when you cycle off it can cause your kidneys to be over flushed with the water you retained during your cycle. This will also cause you to feel thirstier and drink more water when you’re on it, this is a good thing, especially if you are a high level athlete training seriously many times a week. This can however cause some problems for people with Kidney problems (i.e. Decreased kidney function, kidney disease, or only having one kidney) or if you are taking diuretics (this will overload your kidneys, and you’ll be pissing like a race horse!).

Now lets clear some things up…For those who listen to the media way too much.

Is Creatine a Steroid?

No

Is Creatine a performance enhancing substance?

Yes

Is Creatine banned in sport?

No

Does Creatine cause hair growth or alter hormone levels?

No

Does Creatine cause Cancer?

Seriously…No!

Is Creatine generally safe for most healthy individuals and a great addition to your exercise and supplement regimen?

Yes

Should I check with my doctor before taking Creatine?

If you are unaware of your current health status especially kidney and liver health then…yes. Also if you are on any other medications make sure there are no contraindications of supplementing with Creatine as well.

Cheers and stay informed!

Evan Ward, BScHK, CPT

President & CEO, DYNAMIS

February 03, 2015 by Evan Ward