Creatine Benefits

I'd like to spend some time discussing how creatine benefits your workout and your body.  I'll cover what it can do for you, how it works (without getting too scientific) and comment on the most common types of creatine.

Individuals who have spent years in the strength training world know how important it is to supplement your nutrition.  Over time, they have found that one of the most effective supplements available has been creatine.  It is one of the most tested supplements on the market and has the backing of those scientific studies regarding its effectiveness.


Creatine Benefits You Can Expect

In short, if you are doing short-burst intense muscle usage (like weight training and sprinting), you can expect the following benefits:

  1. Quicker recovery from intense training.
  2. Increases in muscle size and strength.
  3. Better sprint performance.
  4. Enhanced brain activity.

Will creatine turn you into Superman/Girl?  No, of course not.  It will, however, accelerate your gains and help you lose weight/burn fat more quickly (remember when we talked on another page about using muscle to burn fat?

On another page, you will see that I included creatine in my top 5 list of supplements.  Read on to find out why.

As you research creatine benefits, you may also find commentary about bloating and stomach distress.  These were not uncommon reports from the early forms of creatine.  There have been a number of improvements in the product lines that have helped to alleviate these symptoms if you use them according to the package directions. 

As for the aforementioned creatine benefits:

  • Recovery - Creatine has been studied for its muscle regeneration properties as it pertains to post-exercise recovery.  In 2004, Santos (1) and colleagues studied the effects of creatine supplementation on muscle cell damage in experienced endurance athletes running a 30-k race.  Closely monitoring several markers of cell damage in their sample of 18 male athletes (who used 20 grams of creatine monohydrate per day for five days, mixed with 60 grams of maltodextrine), the researchers found levels of these markers were reduced after the race, compared to 16 control subjects who took only the maltodextrine.  They concluded that creatine  somehow reduced muscle cell damage and inflammation following the exhaustive exercise. The researchers issued the following statement:  It seems creatine also helps to promote complete recovery from intense exercise.  Anecdotal evidence from other weight trainers I have spoken to confirms this benefit.
  • Increased sprint & muscle strength and size - Another important benefit for strength athletes is the creatine benefit of muscle volumizing (2). Creatine has a property that causes muscle cells to inflate, which produces a more heavily muscled appearance, and, more importantly, serves as a stimulus for protein synthesis.  This inflation process allows the muscle cells to absorb more water from the bloodstream.  Be sure to be extra focused on hydration when using creatine. 
  • Brain Functionality - Researchers Wyss and Schulze (3) looked at creatine as they tried to determine if it would be useful in treating several neurodegenerative, vascular and muscular disorders.  Their findings, showed creatine to be an extremely important neuro-protectant.  It was found by Wyss and colleagues that those with neurodegenerative disorders associated with creatine deficiencies (inborn errors in creatine production and storage) may require supplemental creatine, in order for it to be more effectively delivered to the central nervous system.

How Creatine Works

Creatine enhances the body's capacity to perform high intensity work which results in better strength and performance gains.

Creatine phosphate (creatine's high energy molecule form, stored within cells) is used to supply the fast twitch muscle fibers with immediate energy, ensuring these muscles do not prematurely fatigue (4).

This strengthens contraction of these fibers, and helps an athlete to sprint faster, do more reps, lift more weight and generally perform intense work more effectively.   By adding creatine to your supplement routine, you enhance the body's ability to supply creatine phosphate to the muscles.

Whenever the body uses energy, a molecule called ATP (Adenosine Tri Phosphate) is used as an energy source.  Under intense activity, ATP releases one of its phosphate molecules to power contraction of the muscle. Once this phosphate has been released, ATP becomes ADP (Adenosine Di-Phosphate). To regenerate ADP back into ATP, creatine is needed.  This is how creatine benefits your muscles.

Types of Creatine

Creatine monohydrate is the most commonly used form of creatine.  It is also the one with most of the scientific studies performed on it and has been proven safe, even though some users have reported bloating and stomach upset.

Micronized creatine is really just creatine monohydrate that has been cut down into smaller sized granules for easier absorption and less stomach discomfort and bloating.

Creatine phosphate.  A newer version of creatine that has the phosphate molecule we discussed above (ATP/ADP) attached to it.  In theory, this would work better but there is not proof of that.

Creatine Ethyl Ester is a creatine product that is said to get absorbed up to 10 times faster than monohydrate.  Users report that this is true and it does not give the bloated muscle look (water gathering outside the muscle cell instead of inside the cell).  Because it absorbs so well, smaller doses are needed.  Similar reports come from users of Kre-Alkalyn, a different formula with alleged even faster absorption.  I don't know of any studies that verify this.

Creatine HCL was introduced and patented in 2007.  It has all the non-bloating, no stomach distress features of the later predecessors .  In addition, it is highly bioavailable; it digests and absorbs extremely quickly and intact thereby reducing dosage from 5 grams to .75 grams per dose.  It has quickly been gaining market share as a result of this level of creatine benefits.

Summary

There you have it.  Lots to digest on this page (pun intended).  The bottom line is that creatine does work and it is a supplement that you should consider if you need faster progress and help making your workouts more intense.

References:

  1. Santos, R. V. et al. (2004) The effect of creatine supplementation upon inflammatory and muscle soreness markers after a 30km race. Life Sciences, Volume 75(16), pages 1917-1924.
  2. Creatine information center.(2006). http://www.creatinemonohydrate.net/#side_effects
  3. Wyss, M. and Schulze, A. (2002) Health implications of creatine: Can oral creatine supplementation protect against neurological and atherosclerotic disease? Neuroscience, Volume 112 (2), pages 243-260.
  4. Gastelu, Dan. (2005). Creatine Super-feature. Bodybuilding.com.
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