Creatine: High Intensity Boosting Supercharger
Creatine is the most studied nutritional supplement on the planet. That mass of research has made it abundantly clear that creatine is the single best supplement you can take in order to enhance physical exercise, particularly when it comes to high intensity short duration activity.
What is Creatine?
Creatine is an organic compound that is produced by the body in small amounts. It converts to creatine phosphate which is then used to make adenosine triphosphate or ATP, which is the body’s main source of energy. 95 percent of creatine is stored in muscle cells.
When you perform short burst activity, your body relies on ATP to perform the muscular contraction. ATP contains three phosphate molecules. Muscular exertion will quickly use up one of those phosphates to turn ATP into ADP (adenosine diphosphate). As such, it will no longer be able to provide energy. But, when you have an abundance of creatine phosphate sitting in wait, you are immediately able to pick up a phosphate to recreate ATP. This allows you to keep going for longer.
As well as having a direct influence on your strength ability (and resultant muscle gain), creatine acts more directly on muscle growth through cell volumization. Creatine draws water into the muscle cell. That is why you should drink plenty of water when supplementing with creatine. The combined effect will enhance protein metabolism and muscle building.
The benefits of creatine go far beyond the ability to lift more weight and build muscle faster. Short burst activities that can benefit from its effects include all-out cycling, sprinting, repeated jumping, swimming, soccer, kayaking and rowing. Studies have shown that athletic performance on frequent bouts of short duration high intensity activity can be greatly increased on subsequent rounds by as much as 20 percent when supplementing with creatine.
Creatine’s ability to improve performance has also been shown to result from its ability to increase the number of satellite cells in muscle tissue. These are muscle stem cells that contribute to the overall mass of the cell.
There have been many studies to confirm that supplementing with creatine can increase muscle mass. A 1998 study by Kelly and Jenkins showed an average gain of 6 pounds of lean muscle mass over a 4-week period when supplementing with creatine.
A 2006 study focused on the ability of creatine to influence muscle cell growth. After 8 weeks of supplementation, the study group who took creatine in conjunction with an 8-week training program had close to a 100 percent greater increase in satellite cells when compared to a placebo group.
Creatine has also been shown to bring about increases in the protein insulin-like growth factor 1(IGF-1), which is a key initiator of muscle growth and strength. A 2008 study found that weight trainers who supplemented with creatine had infinitely higher levels of IGF-1 than those who did not use creatine.
In addition to the huge body of research that supports the benefits of creatine as a training aid, there is also ample evidence that it boosts cognitive performance. Studies have shown that it increases cognitive functioning and memory and may help in the treatment of a number of diseases, including Parkinson’s and Huntington’s diseases.
Creatine has even been shown to improve cardiovascular efficiency and lower cholesterol levels. A 1996 study by Earnest, et. al showed that study participants who supplemented with creatine over an 8-week period dropped by an average of 20 percent in their LDL (bad) cholesterol.
Is Creatine Safe?
There are a number of misconceptions regarding the safety of creatine supplementation. One of the most pervasive is that it can result in muscle cramps. There are a number of studies that disprove this claim, including a 2003 study that involved NCAA football players who supplemented with creatine over a period of three years. Over the entire three-year period, there were no reported increases in muscle cramps. In fact, another 2003 study showed that the regularity of muscle cramp actually decreased during the creatine supplementation period.
Other studies have debunked the myth that creatine supplementation will lead to impaired kidney function.
The Bottom Line.
By supplementing with creatine on a daily basis, you will ensure that the levels of phosphocreatine in your muscle cells are maximised. This will allow you to quickly replenish your body’s immediate energy stores so that you can train harder for longer. Whether you’re a powerlifter, a bodybuilder, a sprinter, or any other athlete who relies on short bursts of energy to perform, creatine deserves to form an integral part of your supplementation program.
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Kelly, V. G., and D. G. Jenkins. 1998. Effect of oral creatine
supplementation on near-maximal strength and repeated
sets of high-intensity bench press exercise. Journal of
Strength & Conditioning Research 12(2):109-115.