Because of my long history of weight training (40 years!) that includes competition bodybuilding, personally training other bodybuilding champions, writing for web sites and magazines, as well as owning my own health club for over a decade, I have seen a plethora of supplements come and go. Since I don't accept anecdotal evidence alone but demand scientific evidence of efficacy before I will accept nutritional claims, I am always slow to adopt a new supplement into my own nutritional program.
Long ago I found enough evidence of the safety and efficacy of vitamins, minerals and protein supplements to use them religiously myself. Gradually I have begun to acknowledge the benefits of some other supplements. For example, it was only recently that I have been convinced that glutamine is another important supplement that athletes should add to their nutrient regimen (see Diane's great article on glutamine by clicking here).
Another supplement I have been hearing a lot of anecdotal evidence about for years is creatine. Sales of creatine are estimated at between $100-200 million (that's a lot of believers) so I finally began to investigate the evidence for creatine and have recently become convinced that it is another important, efficacious nutrient!
What Is Creatine?
Creatine is produced naturally in our kidneys, liver and pancreas out of Arginine, Glycine, and Methionine, but small amounts can also be obtained from eating meat and salmon. We store 95% of the approximately 100 grams of this amino acid in the skeletal muscles and the rest in the brain, heart and testes. When ingested orally creatine combines with phosphate to create phosphocreatine and is stored in muscle cells.
A Breakdown Of Creatine
This phosphocreatine is involved in the ATP-PC system when the body uses Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) for energy. When your body runs out of ATP it uses phosphocreatine to convert ADP (Adenosine Diphosphate) back into ATP. In other words, the ingestion of creatine provides more ATP for energy for short, intense exercise. In addition, it appears to buffer lactic acid by increasing the pH in cells during the conversion process, thus reducing the burning sensation from lactic acid as well as increasing work capacity by delaying the point of muscle failure.
Creatine & Its Role In Bodybuilding & Exercise.
Besides providing energy and buffering lactic acid, the anecdotal evidence for the efficacy of creatine in accelerating size and strength gains seems to be supported by the scientific literature. One complaint about creatine is that even though you get a great pump after working out that may last days while taking creatine, any gains made are just water. In fact, when I first experimented with creatine on myself, I seemed to experience some water retention and stopped taking it. I wanted lean muscle, not water-bloated muscle. (I don't need to be reminded that muscle is 70 % water, but if I just want to retain water I will go back to using salt!)
It turns out that creatine does attract water so that muscle tissue does enlarge form being saturated. But studies in the United States and Europe also have demonstrated increases in lean body mass with creatine supplementation. The anecdotal evidence therefore was correct this time about creatine increasing muscle mass, even lean muscle tissue.
How Much Creatine Is Needed?
The common method of supplementing creatine is to ingest 20 grams in five-gram servings for up to a week followed by 5-10 grams per day after that for another 4 to 6 weeks (as long as you keep growing or getting stronger). Then take at least a month to a month and a half off before repeating the cycle so that the creatine receptors remain effective.
It also appears that mixing creatine powder into a protein drink and taking in some carbohydrates 20-30 minutes later maximizes the intake into the muscles. Since creatine breaks down in liquids, you should only buy the powdered form and you should not let your creatine shake sit very long before ingesting it.
Calculate Your Creatine Intake - Based On Total Bodyweight
Can Everyone Take Creatine?
It appears so. I have seen no major problems with creatine reported in the literature, even in long-term studies. Yet, just to be safe, anyone with diabetes or kidney dysfunction should probably avoid creatine until further long-term studies are done. Some people do experience bad breath, flatulence, cramping or an upset stomach with high doses. If cramping occurs, just drink more water; for an upset stomach just ingest less creatine. Bad breath and flatulence are babyboomers' companions anyway, so big deal. Take some mints and stay out of crowded rooms.
Additional Benefits Of Supplementing With Creatine.
Creatine has been shown to have a number of other benefits beyond the ergogenic ones athletes are particularly interested in. Creatine appears also to be brain food! Yes, indeed, it seems to increase memory and analytical skills.
Creatine may even lower the risk of heart disease, Lou Gerig's disease and Alzheimer's. In addition, it's been shown to reduce brain damage by 50% from concussions (TBI or traumatic brain injury) by maintaining proper ATP levels in brain tissues Incredibly, creatine also may be good news for the 8 million Americans (1 out of 6 adults) that have contracted herpes: it apparently helps inhibit the replication of herpes simplex 1 and 2!
The bottom line here is that I can finally add another supplement that I feel confident in endorsing to those who ask about the best natural supplements to enhance gains in size, strength and energy. Indeed, creatine seems to be a supplement we've been searching for. So, have you had your creatine today?
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Copyright 2003. Diane Fields, Member. Legendary Fitness, LLC. All rights reserved.
The advice given in this column should not be viewed as a substitute for professional medical services. Before undertaking any exercise or nutrition program, Legendary Fitness, LLC advises all to undergo a thorough medical examination and get permission from their personal physician.