What is Creatine?
Creatine is not an herb, mineral, vitamin, hormone, or steroid. Creatine is a natural nutrient found in our bodies and the bodies of most animals. The chemical name for Creatine is methyl guanidine-acetic acid. Creatine is made up of three amino acids – Arginine, Glycine and Methionine. Our liver has the ability to combine these three amino acids and make creatine. The other way we get creatine is from our diet or through supplements. Approximately 95% of the body’s creatine supply is found in the skeletal muscles. The remaining 5% is scattered throughout the rest of the body, with the highest concentrations in the heart, brain and testes.
So what does creatine do?
First, before we answer this question you must understand that the theory of what creatine does is just a theory. It is amazing how little we actually know about what goes on in our body. Anyway, we will outline what the majority of research currently agrees on in terms of what role creatine plays in our body.
1. Provide additional energy for your muscles
In your body you have a compound called ATP (adenosine tri-phosphate). Think of ATP as an energy-containing compound. What is important to know about ATP is that the body can very quickly get energy from an ATP reaction. You have other sources of energy such as carbohydrates and fat – but they take longer to convert into a useable energy source. When you are doing an intense quick burst activity – such as lifting a weight or sprinting, your muscles must contract and need a quick source of energy. This immediate energy comes from ATP.
When your muscles use ATP for energy a chemical process happens where the ATP is broken down into two simpler chemicals ADP (adenosine di-phosphate) and inorganic phosphate. This process of ATP turning into ADP releases the energy, which gives your muscles the ability to contract. Unfortunately, we do not have an endless supply of ATP. In fact, your muscles only contain enough ATP to last about 10-15 seconds at maximum exertion. In case you were wondering – no, the ADP cannot be used to create more energy for your muscles.
Here is where the creatine comes in – or more specifically the creatine phosphate. Creatine phosphate is able to react with the ADP in your body and turn “useless” ADP back into the “super useful” energy source – ATP. More ATP in your body means more fuel for your muscles.
2. Volumization of your muscles
Looks like we just made up that word “volumization” doesn’t it? Actually, it’s just a fancy name for the process of pulling fluid into the muscle cells and thus increasing the volume of the muscles. Creatine has been shown to pull water into your muscle cells, which increases the size of your muscles. Don’t get too excited – it is not clear how great an effect this has. Point #1 is a much clearer benefit of creatine.
3. Buffer Lactic Acid build-up
New research has shown that creatine can help buffer lactic acid that builds-up in the muscles during exercise. This leads to that nasty burning feel you get in your muscles. Scientifically it is a complicated process – basically the creatine bonds with a Hydrogen ion and that helps delay the build up of lactic acid. More research needs to be done to see if this point is true.
4. Enhances Protein Syntheses
There is some data to indicate that creatine helps put the body in a more anabolic state where protein synthesis can occur. The more protein synthesis – the greater the muscle gain.
Well – there you have what creatine does in a very simplified nutshell. Of all 4 points – point #1 is the most use of creatine in the body. The other points are more debated but still look to be valid.
When and How Much Creatine Should I Take?
In the different studies that I reviewed regarding Creatine Monohydrate dosages, the most common program involves an initial loading phase of 20 g/day for 5–7 days, followed by a maintenance phase of 3–5 g/day (Bemben, M. G.)
When creatine was first introduced it was relatively expensive, which may have been the inspiration for lowering the initial dose. Now it is available for under $40 per kilo. Even at the higher dose, this is more than a 30-day supply. I think the hardest part of maintaining this dosage is the 4 times per day suggestion. If this is convenient, then do it. But if this presents a problem, then take the recommended dose in at least 2 daily doses.
What happens to creatine that is not used by the body?
Excess creatine is eventually converted into the waste product creatinine and excreted from the body.
– Bemben, M. G. (2012, September 23). Creatine Supplementation and Exercise Performance [Scholarly project]. In Springer Link. Retrieved May 21, 2016, from http://link.springer.com/article/10.2165/00007256-200535020-00002