Creatine is the most researched and well understood training supplement. Creatine is also one of the most widely used, and trusted, sports nutrition supplements for weight trainers wanting to maximize muscle mass.
Creatine helps increase the speed and force of muscle fibres and helps them repair more quickly and scientific studies have found that taking a regular creatine supplement increases the reserves of creatine in muscle fibres. This means that the benefits of creatine supplements could be further reaching than just being used as a sports supplement.
Catabolic muscle wastage, cachexia and sarcopenia
If you’re suffering from a catabolic wasting condition where your muscles are starting to decrease considerably in size (muscle atrophy), then creatine supplements could help you. The term ‘catabolic’ refers to the breakdown of muscle tissue, and is the opposite of the term ‘anabolic’ which means the building up of muscle tissue.
Catabolic muscle wasting can be caused by chronic illnesses like cancer or HIV or a severe lung disease such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and is referred to as cachexia. Muscle wasting can also be attributed to advancing age and is called sarcopenia.
Both cachexia and sarcopenia can lead to frailty, a decreased aerobic exercise capacity and an increased risk of infection. Cachexia tends to cause a more dramatic amount of muscle wastage and weight loss in a shorter amount of time than sarcopenia. Often, even if a person suffering with cachexia consumes the right number of calories, or even has high fat reserves, muscle wastage will still occur.
Creatine and muscle function
Creatine is crucial for normal muscle function (it helps supply energy to the muscles by assisting in the formation of adenosine triphosphate, ATP, the energy ‘currency’ of our muscles). For those of us not pulling on our reserves for weight training, or not suffering catabolic muscle wastage, our diet normally provides enough creatine for our needs. Creatine is found in meat and fish and is produced naturally by the body in low levels (it’s thought that vegetarians could be relatively deficient in creatine but further studies are required to consider this further).
We know that creatine supplements help increase the rewards from our workouts, so what about creatine supplementation for those with muscle weakness and atrophy?
Creatine and muscle atrophy
Turns out, its good news, both for the prevention and the reversal of muscle wastage. Research has shown that for those with low levels of creatine and experiencing muscle wastage, taking creatine supplements leads to creatine accumulation in skeletal muscle up to normal levels and improves lean muscle mass and muscle function.
Studies have shown that creatine supplementation improves the function of mitochondria. Mitochondria are the parts of our muscle cells involved in aerobic respiration that convert oxygen and nutrients into the ATP which powers our muscles. Therefore, improving mitochondrial function improves exercise capacity which in turn helps build lean muscle mass.
Although the exact mechanisms are not yet clear, studies have also found that creatine supplements have a positive effect on muscle growth by influencing protein regulation within the body leading to a reduction in the breakdown of overall protein. It’s also thought that creatine helps muscle fibres retain water which in turn helps anabolic muscle growth.
It’s important not to just focus on the reversal of muscle wastage, but also on the prevention. In cachexia, the fast twitch muscle fibres tend to degenerate faster than slow twitch. Fast twitch fibres store more creatine than slow twitch, so supplementation with creatine can have a more pronounced effect on the preservation of muscle fibres by being stored by the fast twitch fibres.
Early data from these studies suggests that for maximum benefit, creatine supplements should be taken along with gentle resistance exercise where possible.
Creatine is a cheap, safe, easily obtained supplement that can help both prevent and reduce muscle wastage and is well worth considering as part of a whole-body approach to treating the symptoms of muscle wasting conditions.
About the author:
This post was written in its entirety by Kelly Crawford, who is passionate about health, well being, running and minimalist. As a competitive runner, she has insight into the struggles of balancing work-outs with good nutrition and injury prevention. She is a contributing writer for HardBoiledBody.com – a site dedicated to health,
nutrition and fitness advice.