Creatine is one of the most widely recognizable supplements out there. Second only to protein powder, I think most people have heard the word even if they have no idea what it is. There is a lot of misinformation and extremely exaggerated marketing claims. But, there is also some solid science behind it which is uncommon in the supplement world.
Let’s get this out of the way first…. Creatine is not an anabolic steroid. And yes, there are enough people who genuinely believed that it is so it’s worth putting in here….
Creatine is a naturally occurring substance that is synthesized in the body and is found in many foods.
What isn’t present in the diet is made by the liver and kidneys from a few amino acids (glycine, arginine, and methionine). A 150 lb adult has about 120g of creatine in the muscles, and the daily turnover is roughly 2g.
It’s best to begin by explaining what creatine does in the body.
ATPis the source of energy for your body. Adenosine triphosphate to be exact.
Muscle cells generate mechanical work from a chemical reaction – When a cell needs energy it uses ATP and splits the ATP into ADP and P (phosphate). ATP can be used by muscle cells very quickly, but there is only an extremely limited supply — usually only enough for a few seconds of high intensity work. When the ATP is gone muscular failure occurs. Creatine plays a key role in converting ADP back to ATP for consumption by the cells.
So- Creatine increases ATP, which basically means it increases the energy/work potential while training.
Without going into too much detail, increased ATP is really only of benefit to athletes utilizing their fast twitch muscle fibers. For example, anyone training in short bursts of energy with brief rest periods. This could be weight lifters, sprinters, football players… But, it wouldn’t benefit distance runners, or bikers etc…
So, creatine does work. It increases your energy available for fast twitch muscles during training. This will assist athletes who want to get another couple reps out in the gym, or increase their strength slightly. None of this will happen if the athletes diet is not in alignment with their goals. Creatine creates an environment where strength and muscle can be developed, but the nutrients (from food) necessary for building larger/stronger muscles need to be there. Without the appropriate nutritional program, the best supplements in the world will do nothing.
It is also worth noting that only Creatine Monohydrate (which is dirt cheap) has been studied. There are plenty of different forms of creatine on the market which retail for 5x the price of monohydrate. There is no science to justify this price hike and my anecdotal experience is that anything other than monohydrate is a waste of money.
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You shouldn’t need to pay more than about $25 for 100 servings (5g) of creatine. At this price, I think that this supplement is something to consider for anyone who wants to increase their work capacity in the gym for either muscular development or increased strength.
Always consult your doctor before implementing a new supplement. I have no medical training; I am merely providing my insights from research as well as my anecdotal experiences.
(1) Elevation of creatine in resting and exercising muscles of normal subjects by creatine supplementation. Harris R. et al . Clin. Sci. 1992: 83: 367-74