Creatine

June 29, 2008

CreatineCreatine has interested scientists and athletes since the early 1800’s when it was first discovered. It is a natural substance found in the muscles of the body and is related to the optimal strength and functioning of the muscular system. Understanding how creatine works in the body is beneficial to athletes who are concerned with maximizing muscle function in a way that compliments the body’s natural balance.

Athletic males lose about 2 grams of creatine daily due to normal metabolism. This can be partially replaced by foods rich in muscle protein like meat and fish. The remainder is usually synthesized inside the body naturally. Many athletes find that, as the body gets older, muscles lose strength and take longer to recover after exercise. A decreased ability of the body to manufacture creatine is related to this decline in muscle functioning.

Supplementing with 5 grams of creatine daily has been shown to significantly increase muscle strength, combat early muscle fatigue and, in many cases, enhance muscular endurance. More recent studies report that athletes also noted benefits to their mental as well as physical fitness, including enhanced memory, reduced mental fatigue and an increased ability to concentrate on sequences when taking creatine supplements.

Creatine works naturally in the body in several related steps. Initially, it allows fluids to move from the blood into the muscle more easily, creating increased muscle volume. The “volumized” muscles make physical activity easier. As muscles are stimulated by exercise, protein is synthesized, there is further muscle enlargement and the growth becomes a more permanent muscular increase.

In addition to facilitating muscle growth and strength by increasing volume, studies show a relationship between creatine and the release of growth hormones. This increased hormone release leads to increased physical performance. Recent studies also point to the antioxidant properties of creatine, which lead to greater muscle recovery after stresses causes by physical exertion. The properties of creatine create a “building block” effect: each reinforce and strengthen the others, creating notable results. Creatine has been shown to provide many of the benefits of muscle strength associated with exercise, without the intensive workouts normally necessary to achieve them. Because the heart is a muscle, those with certain heart conditions have also reported improvements in their health resulting from creatine supplementation.

Studies show no significant side effects from supplementing with creatine. It occurs naturally in the body, so is metabolized easily. A small increase in body mass due to fluid retention and increased muscle volume has been noted. Preferences differ as to the amount of and frequency of creatine supplementation needed to achieve the desired results, however, studies emphasize the overwhelming benefits reported by those who used the supplement.

References:
Balsom PD, Söderlund K, Ekblom B.Creatine in humans with special reference to creatine supplementation. Sports Med. 1994 Oct;18(4):268-80.

Demant TW, Rhodes EC Effects of creatine supplementation on exercise performance. Sports Med. 1999 Jul;28(1):49-60.

Malinow, M. R. et al. (1999) Homocyst(e)ine, diet, and cardiovascular diseases: A statement for healthcare professionals from the nutrition committee, American Heart Association. Circulation, Volume 99, pages 178-182.

Rae C. et al. (2003) Oral creatine monohydrate supplementation improves cognitive performance; a placebo-controlled, double-blind cross-over trial. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London – Biological Sciences, Volume 270 (1529), pages 2147-2150.

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