The Potential Benefits of Creatine Monohydrate

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I recently started a cycle of creatine to see if it would affect my lifts in a positive way. I also hosted a CF total last weekend and added 55 pounds since the total in June. I would attribute the added poundage to the increased focus I have put on linear progression squat training, increased mobility and recovery time–not the creatine (since I started the cycle only 2 days prior). However, I know that creatine will eventually aid me in increasing my lifts, so I have decided to delve a little deeper into the subject and shed some light on the history of creatine and dispels some of the myths that surround it.

Overview

“Creatine is a naturally occurring amino acid (protein building block) that’s found in meat and fish, and also made by the human body in the liver, kidneys, and pancreas. It is converted into creatine phosphate or phosphocreatine and stored in the muscles, where it is used for energy. During high-intensity, short-duration exercise, such as lifting weights or sprinting, phosphocreatine is converted into ATP, a major source of energy within the human body.”

History of creatine

Reasearchers have known since the early 20th century that creatine could be harnessed as an energy source by skeletal muscles. In 1912, Dr. Otto Folin and Dr. Willey Glover Denis, researchers from Harvard University, found proof that an intake of creatine could drastically boost the creatine content of the muscle. Later in the 1920’s, scientists used this information to further research the benefits of creatine. They discovered that by ingesting creatine in above average amounts, the intramuscular stores of creatine could be increased. They then discovered creatine phosphate and concluded that creatine is a key player in the metabolism of skeletal muscle. Creatine is naturally formed in all vertebrates.

This means that creatine is about as natural as fish oil–something for the Paleo disciples to think about before accusing creatine of being an unfair sports enhancer. After all, how “natural” is it to take the health benefits of a fish and put it in a pill or bottle of liquid and find it at your neighborhood Costco?

Not very.

The potential benefits of adding creatine to your programming

Since roughly 1992, creatine has been used by athletes in a variety of sports programs. For the sake of time, I am going to stick to the benefits that it can often to those involved in weightlifting.

Although not every single clinical study has agreed, most test conducted on animals and humans have shown that ingesting creatine improves lean muscle mass and strength during high intensity, short-duration exercises, such as weightlifting. This is why creatine does not really offer benefits to those involved in long-duration exercise, like marathons or triathlons.

Going along with the average American mindset that more is better, there is a myth that the more creatine you take, the better. According to scientists at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia, Male athletes excreted 46% of the creatine they ingested. In another study, scientists confirmed that lower doses of creatine are more effective (the general rule is that 5 grams of creatine a day is all you need).

There is another prevalent myth that creatine harms the kidneys and liver. Unless you have a pre-existing medical condition, creatine should not damage your kidneys or liver. As usual, most of the BS you hear is attributed to your local news station that hears anecdotal reports and portrays it as news. Studies have shown that after 12 weeks, athletes who consumed 10 grams of creatine per day did not suffer any negative consequences in their kidneys or liver.

The time of day does not really matter when it comes to consuming your daily regimen of creatine. Even though we do get some creatine in our daily diet, most of the creatine present in food is destroyed when we cook it. The average creatine intake for a non-vegetarian/vegan is about 1 gram.

A creatine “loading phase” is suggested when first starting a cycle. The loading phase is typically 5 grams of creatine taken 4 times a day on an empty stomach for 5 days. After the 5 days, backing the dosage to 5 grams a day typically delivers the best results.

In closing, a cycle of creatine may be beneficial to you and your lifts. The strength gains you make while taking creatine should continue even after you stop the cycle. If you have a pre-existing medical condition, see a doctor first to make sure that creatine is really in your best interests. For just about everyone else, creatine is a pretty harmless substance that is found in all vertebrates, and is NOT a form of steroids, no matter what FOX news tells you. The athletes who will benefit most from creatine use are those involved in sports that require high intensity bursts of strength and power. Endurance athletes will benefit very little, if at all.

Sources

  1. Adhihetty PJ, Beal MF. Creatine and its potential therapeutic value for targeting cellular energy impairment in neurodegenerative diseases. Neuromolecular Med. 2008;10(4):275-90. Epub 2008 Nov 13. Review.
  2. Beck TW, Housh TJ, Johnson GO, Coburn JW, Malek MH, Cramer JT. Effects of a drink containing creatine, amino acids, and protein combined with ten weeks of resistance training on body composition, strength, and anaerobic performance. J Strength Cond Res. 2007;21(1):100-4.
  3. Benzi G. Is there a rationale for the use of creatine either as nutritional supplementation or drug administration in humans participating in a sport? Pharmacol Res. 2000;41(3):255-264.
  4. http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/creatine-000297.htm