Creatine

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Feb2008 18

An Introduction to Creatine

Because nearly everyone associates anything that improves performance with steroids, creatine has gotten a bad reputation from people that don’t understand it. Creatine is involved in the first system for regenerating ATP (the fuel source for cells), is found naturally in foods, and our body even synthesizes it. There are a wide variety of responses to the supplementation of creatine, some people respond to it better than others. For instance, a vegetarian who already has a low amount of creatine coming from their diet would probably respond better than someone who eats meat everyday (meat is a source of creatine). Creatine is not a hormonal supplement like steroids or prohormones.
A Brief History of Creatine

Creatine really isn’t anything new. Only the supplementation of creatine is new, and even then, it’s about 13 years old. In 1832, a French scientist discovered creatine. Then, in 1923 scientists discovered that more than 95% of all creatine was stored in the muscle. In 1926, the Journal of Biological Chemistry noted a few of its effects on the human body. However, probably the first real use of creatine for a beneficial athletic effect was in the 1992 Olympics.

What is Creatine and Where is It Found?

Creatine is a naturally occurring substance in the foods the we eat and even in our bodies. We can synthesize creatine in the liver, pancreas, and kidneys from the amino acids Arginine, Glycine and Methionine. It can also be found in meat type foods such steak, fish, pork, tuna, etc.

However, the amount of creatine we get from foods is minimal compared to the amount needed to get the maximum beneficial effect. To get roughly 20 grams of creatine (the general dosage amount for the loading phase), one would have to consume roughly 16-18 steaks. Because of this, it is much more convenient to simply consume creatine as a supplement, otherwise one would have to eat a lot of meat products.
How Does Creatine Work?

The energy released from the reduction reaction of ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate) to ADP (Adenosine Diphosphate) fuels everything your muscles, as well as almost anything else in your body, do. Creatine is stored in the form of Creatine Phosphate in the body. When ATP looses one of it’s phosphates in the reaction to create energy, creatine donates its phosphate to regenerate ATP so that it can break apart again to provide the muscles with energy.

ATP –> ADP + P + Energy
CrP + ADP –> Cr + ATP

The creatine phosphate system is anaerobic, meaning that it does not require oxygen to run and is the first system called upon when ATP needs to be regenerated. Therefore, supplementing extra creatine into the diet will allow the muscles to use this system longer.

If the above explanation confused you, here is a simpler (I hope) explanation:
ATP is to muscles as gas is to car. ATP is what makes your muscles move. However, ATP eventually runs out, so it must be remade again. When fast twitch muscle fibers (the type of muscle fibers which ultimately are affected by creatine) run out of the original ATP that they had stored, they’ll call upon the system that uses creatine to regenerate this lost ATP. However, this system can only last for so long, around 6-10 seconds. When this system runs out of juice, a new system involving glucose for fuel is called upon. However, this new system produces lactic acid and hydrogen ions. The buildup of lactic acid and hydrogen ions are what ultimately cause fatigue and are what cause the burning sensation in your muscles when you work them too hard. When the amount of these compounds becomes too high in the muscle, the muscle fails and your contractile capacity decreases. Therefore, by supplementing with creatine, your body can call upon the creatine system longer so that the system involving glucose is not needed and the excess lactic acid and hydrogen ions are not produced.
How Can Creatine Improve Performance?

This essentially means that you can perform at a high intensity rate for a longer period of time. In weightlifting, since one would be able to perform at a high intensity rate for a longer period of time, this would translate into an increase in reps. Therefore, theoretically, because you can do more reps during a workout, your workout will be more productive and a higher degree of protein synthesis (the building of muscle) will be stimulated. Also, creatine pulls extra water into the muscles and because of this it is theorized that this extra water can stimulate further protein synthesis. Mostly, however, the exact mechanisms and beneficial effects behind creatine supplementation are not fully understood. During sprinting, one would be able to hold their highest intensity rate for a longer period of time.

However, on races such as the 40 yd dash or 100 yd dash, this would not necessarily translate into increased performance. This is because under normal creatine conditions (not supplementing), the body has enough creatine phosphate to last the entire race. The limiting factor within these short races is not your endurance at your highest intensity, it is your highest intensity, how fast you can run. However, if one were to perform repeated bouts of sprints at a high intensity level while supplementing with creatine, their endurance at this intensity would be longer because their storage of creatine phosphate is higher due to supplementation.
Creatine Helps Prevent Against Head Injuries?

Possibly. Some researchers at the Sander’s Brown Center for Aging fed rats and mice some creatine for four weeks before hitting them on the head in an attempt to create brain damage. The researchers noted that brain damage was reduced by “as much as 36% in mice and 50% in rats” (1). In many sports, people get smacked in the head a lot, so taking creatine could help prevent brain damage in the long run.

Side Effects of Creatine

The major side effect of creatine use is creatine’s ability to pull water into the muscle cells. Because creatine takes water into the muscle cells, many other tissues of the body may not be full hydrated. In this environment, if not enough water is taken in, it is much more likely that one can become dehydrated. Therefore, it is VERY important to drink an optimal amount of water while supplementing with creatine. Creatineinformation.net recommends to “Drink at least 1-2 ounces of water daily per kilogram of body weight while supplementing”.

Once again, because of creatine’s ability to draw water into the muscle cells, many individuals experience a rapid weight gain. Some individuals experience a 7-12 pound gain in weight during the loading phase.

However, this can be mostly attributed to water weight.  Gaining 7-12 pounds of muscle in that short of an amount of time is essentially impossible due to the physiological limits of the human body.

There are many other more minor side effects which can be attributed to creatine use, although most of them can be avoided by supplementing with creatine in the correct way. A much more complete list of side effects can be found at this website about creatine.
Proper Supplementation of Creatine

Many people believe in doing a loading phase – usually 5 days followed by a maintenance phase, followed by a wash-out phase during creatine supplementation. A loading phase is not necessarily required (you could just start out with the maintenance phase and skip the loading phase), however it helps the muscles become saturated with creatine faster. This would mean that the maximum effects of creatine supplementation could be experienced faster in one week rather than four to six weeks. Anyways, here is a brief summary of these phases.

The Loading Phase – The loading phase consists of 5 days where the body will be loaded with approximately .3 grams of creatine per kilogram of bodyweight. It is strongly recommended to split the dosages up into 4 or 5 times per day and take each dosage with roughly 16 ounces of water. Taking a large amount of creatine at the same time can put extra strain on the kidneys, plus most of it won’t even be assimilated – it will just be eliminated from the body through urine. A more specific guideline for taking creatine can be found at Dr. Alfredo Franco-Obregon’s creatine calculator. Do not load for more than five days consistently.

After completing the loading phase, one should take a maintenance dosage everyday equal to about .03 grams of creatine per kilogram of bodyweight. Continue this for one month, then stop supplementation for one month to allow for a “wash-out” phase. Afterwards, repeat the loading phase and maintenance as described above. Since the maintenance dosage is only taken once per day, it is generally recommended to take it with or after a meal. This will cause insulin to be released which will help to “shuttle” creatine into the muscle cells.
Creatine Frequently Asked Questions
Does caffeine interfere with the effects of creatine?

No one is sure whether or not caffeine inhibits the effects of creatine, but one study shows that they do conflict. Scientists gave one group of their subjects creatine, and one group caffeine + creatine. The scientists measured whether or not the creatine was taken up into the cells, which it was even in the group taking caffeine as well as creatine. However, the group given caffeine + creatine did not seem to show any beneficial effects, while the group given pure creatine increased the amount of torque they produced 10%-23% when they were compared to a group given the placebo (2).
Will creatine help with endurance type events?

There are a few studies testing the benefits of creatine in endurance type events, but the consensus remains unclear. In one study, subject with the creatine supplementation performed better when they performed 4 300 meter bouts and 4 1000 meter bouts against a placebo (3).
My friend is taking creatine and making HUGE GAINS! If I took creatine I would make HUGE GAINS too, right?

Taking creatine does not induce “huge gains”. There are way too many other factors that play a much more important role in your progress in any sort of athletic endeavor or abilities. For instance, if your diet is horrible, and you don’t eat enough calories, then this will greatly hinder your gains (a much more detailed guide to this can be found at www.burn-the-fat-feed-the-muscle.com). Also, if you train incorrectly, or you train way too much, this can also hinder your gains. Creatine is a supplement and being that, it only adds onto your original training and diet base. Simply taking creatine isn’t going to make you huge all of the sudden (although it can add water weight), especially without proper diet and exercise. That being said, taking creatine incorrectly will also alter the affects it has on you. Dr. A. Franco-Obregón has compiled a huge and greatly detailed guide about creatine and the exact ways to take it to maximize gains. You can find his guide about creating by clicking here.
Is creatine banned in any athletic events?

Currently, there are no athletic events that I know of in which creatine is a banned substance. Although there are ways to find if extra creatine is being supplemented by analyzing the urine, in theory, these traces in the urine could be avoided by taking in the correct amount of creatine (if you take too much and you’re body has trouble absorbing it all, it will excrete it). However, since creatine is also found in meat products one could simply eat a lot of chicken or steak and the urine samples would read the same. Therefore, the said athletic event would have to ban all meat products as well…which is quite unlikely.
Can women take creatine too?

There’s really no reason in theory why creatine wouldn’t effect women in different than men although most of the studies done on creatine were done on men. However, one study done by K Vandenberghe and other authors involving creatine and women shows that creatine does benefit women, in a similar fashion to men. Quoting from the study, “Compared with placebo, maximal strength of the muscle groups trained, maximal intermittent exercise capacity of the arm flexors, and fat-free mass were increased 20-25, 10-25, and 60% more” (4). It is currently not known how creatine affects pregnant women.

I’ve heard of this new stuff called creatine ethyl ester, is it any better than regular creatine? Also, what about the other forms of creatine such as tricreatine malate, dicreatine malate, creatine phosphate, etc.

They either don’t exist or I was unable to find any studies involving creatine ethyl ester, tricreatine malate, or dicreatine malate. A common marketing tactic by companies is to confuse the reader with big, scientific words and phrases that only someone educated in that area would understand. Many times when one encounters these new forms of creatine, this type of marketing hype will surround them. So either the companies selling these products have new theories on delivering creatine to the muscle cell, or they are making stuff up. Creatine phosphate, on the other hand, provides the same type of beneficial effects that creatine monohydrate does according to a study done by Peeters BM and other authors (5). A very high percentage, probably close to 99%, of creatine studies use creatine in the form of creatine monohydrate.
What is up with non-responders and responders to creatine?

It is generally not known as to why people “respond” differently to creatine supplementation. In this author’s opinion though, factors such as the previous amount of creatine in the diet (a vegetarian would respond better than a meat eater), genetics, improper use of creatine (some people decide that they want to take all 20 grams of their creatine at once during the loading phase when the body can only handle so much at once), body mass (a huge bodybuilder is going to need more creatine than a bikini model), food taken with creatine (eating a higher glycemic food would heighten the insulin response and therefore shuttle creatine more efficiently), and possibly the user doesn’t know that they are responding to the creatine (a weight lifter or sprinter performing multiple bouts would experience a greater effect than an endurance runner).
Can creatine improve brain performance?

It seems so, researchers in Australia tested this and came to the conclusion that “Creatine supplementation had a significant positive effect on both working memory (backward digit span) and intelligence (Raven’s Advanced Progressive Matrices), both tasks that require speed of processing. These findings underline a dynamic and significant role of brain energy capacity in influencing brain performance.” In another study done at the University of Tokyo researchers found at providing subjects with 8 grams of creatine for 5 days reduced mental fatigue when “subjects repeatedly performed a simple mathematical calculation.” They also noted that the brain seemed to use more oxygen (7).
Is there a way to more efficiently shuttle creatine to the muscles?

In theory, creating an insulin spike (insulin is a substance in your body which shuttles nutrients to where they are needed) will help to shuttle creatine to the muscles. These findings are confirmed in a study where subjects showed that ingesting 93 grams of simple carbohydrates 30 minutes after supplementation with creatine increased the total creatine amount of the body by 60% compared to a group only ingesting creatine. The researchers concluded with “these findings demonstrate that carbohydrate ingestion substantially augments muscle Creatine accumulation during Creatine feeding in humans, which appears to be insulin mediated(8).”

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