Most people take in some amount of creatine every day through their diet. Creatine can be found in virtually every living organism. The body breaks down protein from the diet into amino acids, which have many functions in the body, including forming creatine. It is stored as phosphocreatine in the muscle and is used for emergency energy during a flight or fight response. This quick burst of energy is crucial for moving out of harm’s way.
Good sources of creatine can be found in animal protein like red meat, tuna and salmon. According to the National Institute of Health, creatine has been used as a sport supplement dating back to the Soviet Union in the 1970’s. It was reported that oral creatine supplementation can improve performance in short, intense bouts of exercise. Recent advances have made creatine supplements available in many forms including pill, powder and ready-made drinks.
The human body has several metabolic pathways to produce energy for the muscles to perform work, called bioenergetics. One method breaks down the chemical bond between adenosine triphosphate and phosphocreatine, known as the ATP-PC system. Scott Powers, researcher and professor at the University of Florida, states that the ATP-PC system provides instant energy for muscular contraction at the onset of exercise and during short-high intense exercise lasting no more than 10 to 12 seconds.
The importance of the ATP-PC system can be appreciated by short-term intense exercise like weight lifting. Scott Powers states that studies have shown creatine supplementation combined with resistance training promotes an increase in both dynamic muscular strength and fat-free mass. He also has said that ingestion of large amounts of creatine monohydrate, approximately 20 g daily over a five-day period, has resulted in an increased storage of muscular phosphocreatine.
Having the increased ability to store muscular phosphocreatine, might result in longer durations of high-intensity workouts. Thus, creatine can help build muscle not by adding size to the muscle directly but by providing the energy to do a few more reps or a few more sets. This extra stored energy can help you break down the targeted muscle fibers, forcing the body to repair itself so that it is thicker and stronger, thus resulting in larger muscles.
Caution should be used when beginning any supplementation program. Although there have been few studies investigating the long-term effects of creatine use, the National Institutes of Health has published several warnings on the potential side effects of creatine. Some individuals may experience discomfort ranging from gastrointestinal problems to muscle cramps. To avoid any potential complications, follow the recommended dosage and consult your doctor to learn of any possible drug interactions with your current medication.
• “Exercise Physiology”; Scott Powers, Edward Howley; 2009
• National Institutes of Health: Creatine