Now I for one, consumed creatine as an athlete and avid “gym-goer”. I believed it would help me build muscle quicker. After taking exercise physiology in college, I understood creatine and how it is utilized in the human body.

First of all, what is creatine? Creatine is produced naturally throughout the human body, supplying energy to all cells, primarily muscle and it also helps increase the Phosphagen System. Creatine is not an essential nutrient, as it is manufactured from L-arginine, glycine, and L-methionine in the kidneys and liver (mainly). The idea behind taking creatine is increasing that energy to the muscle to produce more repetitions, weight, build mass, etc. So now let’s take that a step further and understand how energy systems work.

You see a different energy system used for a heavy set of 4 repetitions then compared to a set of 12 repetitions. Each of these are linked with a particular muscle fiber type. Now, the immediate source of energy for any cellular activity is ATP (adenosine triphospate). In releasing this energy, ATP is broken down to adenosine diphosphate (ADP). The problem is that we only have enough to fuel contractions for about 3 seconds, and even in the most well
trained bodybuilder that supply can only last about 5-6 seconds. So It’s essentially giving us a quick burst but really how helpful is that 3 seconds? It will not power 90-99 percent of traditional bodybuilding sets. Due to the limited supply, ATP is stored in the cell. It is then replenished through energy pathways to replace ATP during exercise. Therefore it can sustain activity for no more than 30 seconds. So how is creatine used throughout the systems?

Let’s focus solely on the Phosphagen System- Composed of ATP and phosphoCREATINE (PC) stored in muscle fibers. Through the activity of the enzyme creatine kinase, PC yields its phosphate group so that it can be added to ADP to synthesize ATP! Although immediately available for use by the working muscle, the phosphagen system is limited in its capacity to supple energy. This is where that all-out effort in exercise can not exceed no longer than 30 seconds. So the main function of creatine is to provide our muscles with more energy. More energy means that our muscles can contract harder therefore our body must adapt to the greater amount of stress that we put our bodies through. It super hydrates our muscles and improves protein synthesis. These are all great for that high-intensity short duration activity.

So what does the creatine supplement do?

Creatine supplements have been shown to increase the total creatine content (creatine and creatine phosphate) of muscle on an average of 20-30%. Several studies suggest that ingestion of 20-25 grams of creatine monohydrate per day for 5-6 days improves muscular performance during activities that require high levels of strength and power (e.g., weight lifting, sprinting).

Sufficient evidence exists to state that, under certain conditions, creatine supplementation can enhance performance in activities that require short periods of high-intensity power and strength. If individuals can train at higher intensity levels, it follows that they may be able to add strength and power at accelerated rates over a period of time. Creatine can also lead to weight gain, but the mechanism responsible for the added weight has not been adequately investigated. Creatine has been shown to super hydrate your muscles (cell volumization; it literally draws water into the muscle cells). This increases the pump!

Is creatine supplementation right for me?

Are you an athlete, trying to improve explosiveness? Then this would be a great way to boost that functionality. Are you a power lifter? Then this will help increase the energy system utilized in that action.

Before you run out and start taking creatine supplements, consider the following precautions:

  • The long-term effects of taking creatine have not been studied. The majority of studies have examined the effect of the short-term (30 days or less) use of creatine.
  • All the studies conducted have involved adults only. Creatine’s effects on children are unknown.
  • Consuming large quantities of creatine (greater than 30 grams per month) may encourage fat to accumulate in the liver.
  • Stomach cramping and diarrhea have been cited as adverse side effects of creatine supplementation.
  • As a supplement, creatine is not regulated, meaning you may or may not be getting exactly what the label says. Before selecting a product, do a little research on the manufacturer first.
  • The Mayo Clinic states that creatine has been associated with asthmatic symptoms and warns against consumption by persons with known allergies to creatine
  • Caffeine has been an active ingredient some companies use with creatine supplements- can be dangerous and misleading. 
  • Can promote kidney and liver damage.

Sources:
http://www.acefitness.org/blog/43/will-creatine-supplements-increase-the-size-and/
http://www.abcbodybuilding.com/creatine%20myths%20and_facts.pdf