In the early days, the claims were outrageous, and the corresponding testimonials looked grossly unbelievable. Five pound gains in one week? Ten pound gains in a month? Twenty over the course of a mind-bending 12 week regime? "Impossible," we all snickered. Impossible, that is, until we tried it. Because if you were one of the millions who jumped on the muscle train as it was just beginning to embark, you knew instantly that there was something very special about Creatine.
Still, there seems to be a massive debate over who actually introduced this supplement-to-end-all-supplements. Based on my own recollection, EAS was the first out of the box with PhosphagenTM. Others believe it was being used in some remote circles during the 92' Olympics. Some of the most far-fetched claims state that it was used in WWII. But none of that really matters now, does it? Because in the optimistic event that society is still pumping iron 500 years from now, future generations of muscle-crazed gym-goers will look back with awe-filled eyes, referring to our time as the age of Creatine.
After over a decade of commercially ballistic use, Creatine continues to reinvent itself. Those who have been there from the beginning are living proof that when it comes to the effectiveness of dietary supplements, Creatine is the real deal.
Some have gone pro. Others don physiques that were once unimaginable in the days of Charles Atlas. A select few even make millions on stage flexing tan, oiled muscles that would have made legends of the pre-Creatine era look anorexic.
So no, Creatine isn't just popular. Creatine is the nutritional equivalent of Baby Ruth.
What, What, What?
Ok, let's get right to the heart of this thing. Believe it or not, Creatine monohydrate is more than just a powder that increases strength, endurance and muscle volume. Actually, it has an enormous biological role in the body, too. I know, I know, I know... You'd rather hear about the massive gains to be made instead of the hum-drum science behind it. Patience, young Jedi. We'll get to that in a bit. Because trust me, arming yourself with a in-depth understanding of Creatine's chemical role can mean the difference between winning the Arnold Classic and winning a pie-eating contest.
In all fairness, Creatine is nothing short of a cool pen name for a chemical compound known as methyl guanidine acetic acid (good luck marketing that one). Its primary function is to support the body's ability to produce adenosine triphosphate, or ATP. If this is term is unfamiliar to you, say it over and over until it's embedded in your head. Here's why.
Contrary to the opinions of so many avid bodybuilders and athletes, ATP is not energy by true definition. Rather, ATP is an organic, phosphate-rich compound that serves as sort of a "shuttle" for various forms of chemical energy. This is where even some of the most well-versed users seem to be chronically confused. The simple truth is that every move you make is at the absolute mercy of how responsive your muscles are when it comes to producing ATP. From a training perspective, this is of immeasurable importance.
The ability to produce high amounts of ATP basically allows you to make the most out of your muscle contractions, especially those that belittle you during heavy training. And to think, it all starts with three amino acids that far too many of us take for granted every day. This is just one of about a gazillion reasons why it's so important to supplement with a quality, peptide-rich protein.
According to Neil Levin, CCN and product formulator for NOW Foods, "Creatine increases energy and water storage in muscles, allowing users greater ability to exercise the muscles without stimulating the production of lactic acid crystals" and added, "these crystals are well known for causing muscle pain."
Picture this. You're standing at the
squat rack - bar pressed firmly against your neck and supported by a powerful, kung fu-like grip. The split second you go into action, your body responds by scouring for the ATP you'll need to complete each rep without buckling.
Once an expendable reserve has been located, it's immediately broken down in to two new chemicals - ADP (adenosine diphosphate) and an inorganic form of phosphate.
It is this very process that provides your muscles with the metabolic spark needed to continue on. Sounds simple, right? Not so fast. While you're blasting away on the bench, your body is still looking for the energy needed to keep your heart beating, lungs breathing, eyes blinking, etc. These activities, though nowhere near as intense, still require modest amounts of ATP.
Think of ATP as 93 Octane for your muscles. Even the most boring, relaxed trip to the dry cleaner will undoubtedly use up some of the fuel in your tank. This is comparable to the amount of ATP you use to function at the most basic level.
In contrast, let's assume that you have a handful of outstanding warrants, and are now being savagely chased by a dozen State Troopers. What do you do? You punch it, of course! Guess what happens? The tank drains faster than you can say "do not pass go, do not collect $200." This makes ATP one of the most important elements of training, development and ultimately, your physical success.
Creatine Makes The Scene
Now that you've graduated from energy transfer 101, let's take a look at where Creatine comes into the picture. First it's important to understand that you already make Creatine. It's produced in the liver, pancreas and kidneys when the amino acids Arginine, Methionine and Glycine team up. When armed with a generous supply of these three essential building blocks, your body stores the majority of the Creatine you produce deep in the fibers of your muscles. This arsenal is typically used to carry out the basic motions of life, as stated earlier.
Unfortunately, there's not much of the good stuff to go around. And yes, you can get it from protein rich foods such as steak, beef and seafood. But keep something in mind - a lean 24 oz steak cooked medium, might only contain a few hundred milligrams (if that) by the time it hits your plate. Supplementing with a quality Creatine monohydrate makes it virtually effortless to deliver impressive amounts to your muscles, which can be readily converted into ATP for training and recovery.
Moving on. When you consume Creatine, several things happen. First, whatever amount of Creatine you ingest partners-up with the phosphorous in your muscles. From there, it is converted into Creatine Phosphate (CP). As an endless barrage of muscle contractions take place, the ATP in your system is broken down into ADP (adenosine diphosphate) - a completely useless byproduct that is quickly transformed into the ATP that your muscles need to complete each grueling rep.
Take A Dip In The Creatine Pool
Deep inside the twisted, tangled fibers of your muscles, you have what we in the business refer to as a Creatine pool. This is your complete and total population of Creatine, and essentially what determines how long you will be able to last in the gym. Incorporating Creatine monohydrate into your workout is bar none, one of the best ways to keep your Creatine pool filled to the brim.
"Creatine is an awesome supplement that has helped me gain considerable size and strength, especially during my off-season bulking (pre-contest) stages" said John Urban, Chicago area bodybuilder, powerlifter and manager of NOW Sports in Bloomingdale, IL. "During workouts, I continue to notice incredible bursts of energy" and maintained "20 pound gains were not uncommon during my mass cycles while taking Creatine."
The Top 5 Creatine Myths
Myth #1: I Can Get All Of The Creatine I Need From Food.
Well, that depends. Are you trying to build a great body or maintain motionless life on a futon? Because if you opt towards the later, sure. Go nuts. For those of you who are trying to improve you physical self, pay attention.
Whether you're aware of it or not, your body is constantly looking for the energy it takes to maintain life outside the gym. The Creatine from your day-to-day diet will accomplish this task in great fashion.
But when the time comes to load plates, sprint or cage fight, rest assured that you'll burn through that in no time. Supplementation is a sure fire way to keep your ATP reserves armed to the teeth.
Myth #2: Caffeine Reduces The Absorption Of Creatine.
Not at all. In fact, a now famous 1998 study (et al. Vanakoski, 1998) determined that "Creatine uptake was rapidly and efficiently absorbed, as reflected by plasma contractions." In light of these positive results, many users now stack caffeine and/or Guarana with their Creatine.
Myth #3: I Need To Load Creatine For 5-7 days In Order For It To Work.
For years, it was assumed that loading was the only way to see sizable results from Creatine. Then a number of non-clinical studies were flushed on to the scene stating that the loading phase was nothing more than a marketing ploy enveloped to sell more bottles of Creatine.
Here's the bottom line. The need to load is completely unique to every individual user. From a personal perspective, I've had great results by loading 15 grams in small, divided doses for three days, followed by 8 weeks of maintenance at 5 grams per day thereafter. Of course, this is just one out of a million potential scenarios that can be employed when "upping" your Creatine pool.
Warning: Do not under any circumstances rush home with your new bottle of Creatine and down 15-25 grams in one sitting. If you do, stay very, very close to a toilet and 8 rolls of the softest tissue you can get your hands on. Savvy?
Myth #4: Creatine Offers No Other Health Benefits.
There are a lot of scientists out there who would love to lay the smackdown on anyone who said that to their face. In fact, Creatine has been the subject of intense research that continues to investigate its role in heart health, mental clarity, herpes (you heard right), degenerative diseases (muscle wasting), auto-immune system challenges and a bevy of others.
Myth #5: Creatine Prevents My Body From Properly Utilizing Protein.
Don't worry, if you're taking your Creatine prior to training and supplementing your recovery protein at the end of your workout, you have nothing to fear.
I won't bore you with the metabolic specifics, but let's just say that the processes at work here are completely separate, and pose no genuine threat for interference with one another.
10 Tips For Taking Creatine
- Take it 15-30 minutes prior to your first rep.
- Never neglect your other nutritional needs (protein, multi vitamin, enzymes, antioxidants, etc...)
- Taking Creatine before bed won't deliver better results. It might even keep you awake.
- Don't over-do it. Find a moderate dose that works and stick with it.
- After week 8, give your body a one week vacation. Re-load as you see fit.
- Creatine has no caloric value, so don't worry about getting fat.
- Look for formulas that bond Creatine with compounds such as L-carnitine or L-glutamine for added synergism.
- Always select a quality brand from a trusted manufacturer committed to quality.
- Listen to your body. If you notice pain or discomfort from taking Creatine, give it a rest.
- Train smart, have fun, and never forget that you have limits.