The Simple Guide to Creatine

Creatine pronounced (Kre'ah-tin) is becoming increasingly popular in the health and fitness supplements market. No doubt you've heard of it but it's unlikely that initially you'll have any idea of what it is or why it could help you achieve more and reach your goals.

Creatine is a supplement to primary increase muscle size, it's not a weight loss supplement, creatine should be taken as per suppliers recommend guidelines together with a structured exercise programme for increasing muscle size and a balanced healthy diet.

It's worth noting that it will only have any effect if you do indeed work out, it will have no effect if taken on it's own without working out, other than increasing the amount of Creatine stored in your body which is useless as you are not working out.

What is it?

Creatine Structure

Creatine Structure (Image Credit; Wiki)

The most common form being Creatine monohydrate, it is a combination of amino acids naturally found in the body as well as dietary sources such as meat and fish. 

How does it work?

Before we get on to what Creatine does it helps to have some background knowledge to it's role in muscle contraction.

Within our bodies and more specifically our muscles, creatine needs to connect with phosphate in order for it to be in a form that we can use, this is called Creatine Phosphate (CP). Muscle contraction is achieved by breaking down ATP (Adenosine Tri-phosphate) which enables contraction of the muscle and is the only energy source your muscles can use for contractile activity. 

At this point we probably have enough energy released to provide action for about 4-6 seconds, this is not much time at all and therefore ATP needs to be regenerated from it's now broken down form of ADP (Adenosine Di-phosphate) back into ATP, this happens in a fraction of a second. This is achieved by the utilization of 3 pathways, one of these pathways uses Creatine Phosphate as the energy source to regenerate ADP into ATP.

Creatine is simply a high energy molecule that regenerates ADP to ATP, this is used in order to regenerate ADP to ATP, this all happens while slower metabolic pathways (the other two pathways used for regeneration of ADP to ATP) are adapting to the increase demand. Our muscles actually store more Creatine Phosphate than ATP and coupled together the stores of ATP and the almost instant regeneration of ATP with Creatine Phosphate allows for maximum muscle power for around 15 seconds, enough to complete a hard set of 6-8 bench presses.

What Does it Do?

We now know what Creatine is and how our bodies use it, so lets have a look at how it's going to help your workout and the stimulation of muscle hypotrophy (increased muscle size)

The theory of using Creatine to cause muscle hypotrophy is that we can increase the amount of Creatine Phosphate stores in our muscles, which in turn will slightly increase the amount of maximum muscle power at any one time. Basically, this could increase the amount of reps by 2-3 on each set. This will ultimately lead to an increase in tearing and damage to the muscle. Providing we have a good diet and adequate rest, the muscle should re-build more muscle fibres and lead to muscle hypotrophy.

Summary

Creatine does not directly increase muscle size, it provides the means for this to be possible by giving your muscles the ability to perform additional reps at maximum power. This action leads to increased muscle damage and subsequently increased muscle repair and growth.

Side Effects

As with any additional supplement or performance enhancing product, sometimes side effects are reported and creatine is not without it's fair share. Some of the most commonly reported side effects for creatine use are listed below: 

  •  Odema (water retention) especially in women 
  •  Undesirable weight gain (through water retention) 
  •  Muscle cramps and spasms Gastrointestinal (abdominal) discomfort 
  •  Muscle tears 
  •  Nervous twitches 
  •  Heightened awareness and insomnia 

As well as these side effects it's possible there are others, supplements will effect people differently, it's worth noting that in many cases people using Creatine do not report any side effects at all.

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