Creatine is a compound synthesized (made) in the body and transported to muscle tissues where it fuels short bouts of intense energy production. To meet the demands of a high-intensity exercise, such as sprinting or power sports, muscles generate energy from chemical reactions involving adenosine triphosphate (ATP), phosphocreatine (PCr), adenosine diphosphate (ADP), and creatine. Stored PCr can fuel the first 4-5 seconds of a high intensity effort, but after that, another source of energy is needed.
Once synthesized, creatine is moved to the muscle. The amount of creatine that can be moved and stored in limited, however so additional supplementation beyond this capacity can't be used. Creatine can be made in the body, but it is also available in the foods we eat, particularly beef.
Creatine Supplements and Exercise
The goal of creatine supplementation is to increase muscle phosphocreatine and make more ATP available to fuel the working muscles. This improves an athlete's ability to perform repeated bouts of short, high-intensity exercise before becoming fatigued.
Optimal creatine supplementation seems to include a loading phase for about 4 days followed by a reduced maintenance phase. Individuals have varying responses to creatine depending upon their personal needs.
Research on Creatine Supplementation
Research on creatine has found the following positive effects, however most experts agree that more study is needed to determine the long-term safety and benefits of creatine supplementation.
- Improves high power performance during a series of repetitive high power output exercise sessions.
- Requires high intensity training to be effective, but supplementation does not replace training.
- Does not increase endurance.
- Does not exert an anabolic effect.
- May augment gains in muscle hypertrophy during resistance training, especially in those with compromised skeletal muscle due to injury or disease.
Creatine Supplementation: Tips and Cautions
- Reports of more muscle cramping, strains, and pulls with use.
- Increased renal stress / damage.
- Increased risk of heat illness - athletes should up fluid intake with creatine.
Creatine has been used by athletes for over ten years, yet there is very little research regarding safety or long-term effects. More and more research is beginning to look at possible benefits of this supplement. What little research there is seems to suggest that creatine works to build muscle in those who, through illness or disease, have a compromised muscle mass and strength.
Additionally, athletes with high creatine stores don't appear to benefit from supplementation, whereas individuals with the lowest levels, such as vegetarians have the most pronounced increases following supplementation. In healthy athletes, creatine seems to enable an athlete to maintain a higher training load.
Keep in mind that, as a supplement, creatine is not regulated. What you buy may or may not contain exactly what the label says, so check out the manufacturer first.
How to Evaluate Supplement Health Claims
It's difficult to wade through the research regarding health or performance benefits of many nutritional supplements. These tips will help you make an informed decision about what actually works.