Creatine is a nitrogenous organic acid, produced in the body and found naturally in meat, eggs and fish. Creatine is a product of protein metabolism and is synthesized in the liver, pancreas and spleen from special protein building blocks called amino acids. It is made out of three amino acids: L-arginine, glycine and L-methionine.
In nature, creatine is found only in animal protein, and once consumed as food or as a dietary supplement (creatine monohydrate) it moves from your intestines in blood towards your muscles, glands and vital organs.
ATP (adenosine-triphosphate) is the molecule which provides immediate energy for maximum muscle contraction. There is only enough ATP to provide energy for approximately 4-5 seconds, after which more ATP is required. ATP is reduced to ADP (adenosine-diphosphate), which is when creatine phosphate donates its own phosphate molecule to regenerate ATP. This then allows near maximum muscle contraction for an additional 5-6 seconds. Approximately 95% of the human body’s total creatine is located in skeletal muscle.
This high-intensity window of exercise allows the muscle to work harder for longer, which allows for optimum strength and power training. Increasing the muscle’s supply of creatine phosphate helps increase the rate in which the body can supply ATP. It is through this mechanism that creatine supplementation can benefit athletic performance.
By increasing muscle cell content of free creatine and CP, creatine can allow for substantial increases in lean body mass and strength. Increases in lean mass of 0.7 to 5.5 lbs have been documented. In a study done by Conrad Earnest and colleagues at Texas Southwestern Medical Center and The Cooper Clinic in Dallas, experienced weight trainers were given 20 grams of creatine per day for 28 days. The average increase on the 1-rep maximum bench press was 18 lbs, which was a 6.5 % improvement in strength.
Creatine also improves muscle tolerance to repeated bouts of maximum exercise. This is how it can provide benefit to endurance athletes. In “Sports Nutrition Guide” Dr. Michael Colgan refers to a study at Orthopadische Universitatsklinik in Frankfurt, Germany where experienced triathletes given creatine monohydrate (6g, 5 days) showed an 18% increase in power in intermittent maximum efforts.
As creatine is taken up into muscle cells, it associates with water, increasing the volume of each cell. This effect, known as cell-volumizing, helps improve the synthesis of protein and glycogen and actually improves the hydration status of individual cells, improving their capacity to perform work.
Creatine confers a variety of health benefits, including neuroprotective and cardioprotective properties.
Creatine is typically taken in a loading phase, which maximizes muscle saturation as quickly as possible. This would consist of dosages of 3-5 grams per serving in 3 or 4 divided doses for 5-7 days, providing a total daily intake of approximately 9-20g. Creatine intake should be based on an individual’s lean bodyweight.
After the loading phase, a maintenance dose of one 2-5g serving per day can be taken after training or intense physical activity.
There are many different forms of creatine available on the market, but creatine monohydrate is the cheapest and most effective form of creatine.
Creatine’s effectiveness is dependent on the molecule reaching the muscle cells via insulin. Insulin efficiency can be enhanced by chromium, alpha-lipoic acid and omega-3 fatty acids.
Reports of damage to the kidneys by creatine supplementation have been scientifically refuted.
Ample evidence has shown that there are no obvious adverse effects of short and long-term creatine supplementation on liver, muscle, and kidney function. Creatine supplementation in healthy people is therefore perfectly safe when used in the correct quantities.