June 11, 2015
Creatine Sport Supplements: Positive Benefits of Creatine Supplementation
By Andrew Alex Langhorn
Creatine is not a drug, steroid or artificial aid. It is made in your body and every single person carries a significant amount of creatine around in their bodies at all times, with around 95% of this creatine stored in muscle tissue.
The idea of ingesting creatine to increase creatine levels in the body is not new. First discovered in 1832 by French scientist Michel Eugene Chevreul, the name 'creatine' is based on the Latin name for 'meat' as meat is one of the common sources of dietary creatine.
It was first noted in 1912 that ingesting creatine boosted the levels of creatine found in skeletal muscle tissue. By even the early part of the 20th Century it was well known by researchers that creatine was one of the principal parts of muscle metabolism.
By 1992 numerous athletes had begun to utilise creatine supplementation to boost muscle levels and enjoy an ergogenic (performance enhancing) effect. In 1993, the company EAS released Phosphagen, the first branded mainstream form of Creatine supplement. Since that time studies on Creatine have led to a greater understanding of its benefits, effects, method of action and numerous attempts to improve and expand the uses of this substance making it one of the most ubiquitous supplements ever produced.
What is creatine?
Creatine is made up of three amino acids - Arginine, Glycine and Methionine. These amino acids can be synthesized in the liver to produce creatine. It is also possible to ingest creatine from dietary meat sources, though vegetarians and vegans will generally have lower creatine stores due to lack of meat ingestion. Today's creatine supplements are not derived from meat however; they are synthesized in laboratories from the three amino acids to produce a simple powdered format creatine.
The average male weighing 160lbs in bodyweight will carry approximately 120grams of creatine in their bodies. 95%-98% of this is stored in skeletal muscle tissue, with the remainder in various organs, primarily the brain, heart and reproductive systems.
Vegetarians and Vegans will generally ingest no dietary creatine and their stores are produced entirely by synthesis in the liver from amino acid sources. Meat eaters may ingest anywhere between a few hundred milligrams up to 3 or 4 grams daily depending on the meat sources chosen.
Supplemental creatine use allows users to ingest in the range of 5 to 20 grams of creatine daily without high meat consumption in a directly usable form.
When creatine has moved through the energy cycle, it produces the waste by-product creatinine. Creatinine release is a marker of kidney dysfunction which often accounts for early (but now dismissed) concerns that creatine supplementation placed stress on the kidneys. Increased creatinine waste products in the case of athletes do not signal kidney stress, it is merely the by-product of ingesting larger amounts of creatine and utilising more creatine in muscle energy metabolism than a non-athletic individual.
The Purpose of Creatine
Creatine is directly involved in the ATP-PC (adenosine tri-phosphate-phosphocreatine) energy system of the body. The body has various energy systems available to it to power activity and processes. Systems such as the aerobic and anaerobic energy systems involve the creation of energy from synthesis of carbohydrate and fat stores and fuel sources, although these are more complex processes that are efficient but slow. The ATP-PC energy system is an immediate source of energy for muscle tissue - any sudden, explosive activity where muscles contract fast will initially rely on the ATP-PC system. This includes weight lifting, sprinting etc.
During the ATP energy cycle ATP is broken down very rapidly into simpler chemical compounds offering a burst of energy. Unfortunately this system is depleted very rapidly with maximum exertion activity depleting current stores within 10 to 15 seconds. Once this system is exhausted the body must move onto the more complex process of anaerobic activity.
Creatine binds with the reduced ADP (adenosine di-phosphate) using phosphorus stores which helps regenerate ADP back into ATP (adenosine tri-phosphate). This means a very rapid return of fast action energy source for muscles. You can immediately push more weight for longer, sprint harder without burning out etc.
This is the central role played by creatine. By increasing supplemental creatine levels users will often find they can perform more reps at maximum exertion or sprint longer without switching over to the anaerobic system. It also means faster recovery of ATP levels, meaning shorter rests are needed between maximum exertion efforts.
Other Athletic benefits of Creatine
There are noted benefits from using creatine other than the direct replenishment of ATP.
*Cell Volumization - When larger than normal levels of creatine saturate the muscles from supplementation, this draws fluid into the actual muscle cells themselves, creating a 'super-hydration' effect. This is not to be confused with the term 'fluid retention' which is the bloat caused by water retained under the skin. In the creatine scenario fluid actually swells the cells of muscles. This accounts for much of the initial weight and muscle size gains found with creatine use. This weight gain generally occurs within the first 7 to 14 days of supplementing with higher levels of creatine. If supplemental creatine is withdrawn, this 'super-Volumization' slowly erodes until muscles return to their normal hydration state.
*Enhanced Protein Synthesis - There are numerous studies which now suggest creatine also helps increase the nitrogen retention and protein synthesis of muscle metabolism. This essentially means that higher protein ingestion will lead to faster muscle growth development and improve retention of lean muscle tissue. This benefit is likely a combination of the ATP-replenishment and Cell volumising properties.
Other Benefits of Creatine supplementation
More recent medical studies have shown that creatine supplementation may have other, non-athletic benefits. Creatine is now used in those with both muscle wasting and neuro-degenerative diseases, showing major benefits in retaining muscle and protecting nerves and nerve signalling pathways. This has led to numerous studies on the effect of creatine supplementation on preventing cognitive dysfunction in conditions such as Alzheimer's and Dementia, as well as nerve related conditions.
Creatine supplementation is currently undergoing trials as a 'cognitive nutracuetical' or 'smart drug' - which may enhance brain function, improving memory, co-ordination, focus and mental alertness. Many athletes have noted these effects but strict medical studies are required to understand these anecdotes.
Creatine supplements come in a wide variety of forms.
*Creatine Monohydrate - This simple form of creatine bound to a single water molecule is the most common and widely available form of creatine. It is usually found as a simple white powder which may be mixed with protein shakes, beverages or come in specialised loading drinks which utilise fast action carbohydrates and other insulin stimulators to increase uptake of creatine to muscle cells. This is the most economical form of creatine and the most widely used, however around 1 in 7 users will be a poor responder to creatine monohydrate and see little ability to uptake it, often resulting in digestive distress, bloating and no increase in strength or energy levels. Creatine Monohydrate may also be found in 'Micronized' form. This simply means the powder is reduced in granularity making it easier to dissolve in water or other liquids.
*Creatine-Ethyl-Ester - Creatine bound to an ethyl ester group as opposed to a water molecule as with Monohydrate Creatine. Ethyl Ester groups are designed to allow more creatine to pass into muscle tissue without wastage and without the need to ingest higher and higher doses for low responders. Users of Creatine-Ethyl-Ester generally find less digestive problems than creatine monohydrate and it may work well for non responders. Ethyl-Ester creatine is more often found in tablet or capsule format as opposed to drink mix powders.
*Kre-Alkalyn Creatine - Kre-Alkalyn Creatine is a patented form of creatine which claims to offer a better pH balance for creatine. This means the product will be more stable in liquids and larger amounts will reach skeletal muscle intact and not break down into the by-product creatinine. Kre-Alkalyn creatine can therefore be used in much lower doses than regular creatine monohydrate, perhaps as little as 2 grams of Kre-Alkalyn offering the same benefits of 10 grams of ingested Creatine Monohydrate. The patented nature of Kre-Alkalyn however does make it far more expensive to use than regular creatine.
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