Creatine is a protein that is synthesized naturally by the body. It is made from three amino acids: glycine, methionene, and arginine. Creatine is located in the heart, brain, and skeletal muscle; in fact 95% of all creatine in the body is found in muscle tissue.
Creatine’s main role is to increase energy availability to our muscles. Creatine is stored in the body as phosphocreatine, which is a primary source of phosphate for the body. Phosphate is important to our muscles because it is required to produce the energy needed for muscular contraction. It is worth mentioning that creatine is not the same thing as creatinine, which is a byproduct of creatine metabolism and production. Creatinine is present in all creatine products, but does not have the effects of creatine itself.
The energy needed for muscular contraction is generated by the breakdown of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) to adenosine diphosphate (ADP), a chemical reaction that uses up phosphate molecules to generate energy needed for the muscles. Creatine’s main role is to transport the phosphate needed to convert ADP back into ATP, a process called ATP regeneration. This repeating regeneration process allows the chemical reaction to continue, supporting muscular contractions for as long as needed. When we begin to run out of ATP, creatine transports more phosphate to the ADP, allowing its conversion to ATP. The more creatine we have available, the more ATP we can make, and the more energy is available for the muscles. Since creatine provides energy very quickly, it is a particularly good energy source for short, intense exercise bursts such as bodybuilding, sprinting and other anaerobic activities. It can improve our ability to maintain high-intensity exercise, delay fatigue and enhances recovery. Creatine also provides the following benefits:
- It gives you more energy during workouts because of ATP regeneration
- You feel stronger during workouts
- It reduces dependence on glycolysis, which results in less lactic acid building up in your muscles.
- You gain muscle mass more quickly
- Performance in high-intensity activities is improved
Dietary sources of creatine include beef and pork, fish (in particular salmon, herring, cod and tuna). Sushi and sashimi are good sources of creatine. The creatine itself is released during digestion, where it is transported to muscles for use. If the body needs more creatine than the diet provides, it can be synthesised from the three amino acids mentioned earlier: arginine, glycine, and methionine. As the body cannot synthesize methionene, methionene is the limiting factor in how much creatine our bodies can make.
Creatine supplements contain much higher quantities of creatine than food provides, and supplementation can also alleviate the need to synthesise creatine from methionene. Creatine supplements have been around since the 1990’s and are currently one of the most popular fitness supplements available. The most common and popular supplementation form is creatine monohydrate. On average, people use about 2g of creatine per day, while bodybuilders and athletes use more. Creatine supplements can restore the extra creatine used during exercise. Vegetarians and vegans and others who restrict animal protein in their diets may have lower intake and production of creatine, and may benefit from creatine supplementation.
As far as supplements go, there is substantial evidence to back up claims that creatine actually works. However it’s important to recognise that no supplement of any kind will be effective “in a vacuum”, that is, if you’re not making an all-around effort on the nutrition and exercise front. In other words, it isn’t a miracle pill, and if you’re just sitting around hoping popping some creatine capsules will give you big muscles, it’s just not going to happen. You need a proper balance of nutrition, exercise, and rest, combined with supplementation, to see the results you are looking for.
The most important thing to keep in mind when considering creatine supplementation is the quality of the supplements you use. As these kinds of supplements are not regulated, the quality may vary widely, as could the results (and any side effects) from using them.
Be sure to buy only from reputable companies you trust. Even better, talk to your personal trainer or a trusted fitness resource to find the best creatine products available in your area.