Overview: What is creatine and how does it work?
Creatine is an organic compound primarily found in vertebrates, which is an overwhelming biological division that comprises close to 70,000 species, humans included. The reason why creatine is mostly found in these animals is because the substance is crucial to the recycling of energy at a molecular level, especially when it comes to muscle and brain tissue. Despite the fact that we have known about the compound’s beneficial effect on physical performance for over a century, creatine only came to our attention in the 1990s, when several Olympic medallists disclosed that creatine loading was part of their dietary protocol.
Related: Creatine Loading: A Definitive Guide (LATEST RESEARCH) by DNA LEAN
Naturally, once this information reached the media, everyone wanted to test whether creatine could also help them achieve much-desired physical goals and performance levels, for athletes, in particular. Moreover, medical researchers have also explored creatine’s potential as a way to fight off the muscular degeneration commonly associated with sarcopenia or multiple sclerosis. Some creatine is naturally produced by our bodies from the synthesis of arginine and glycine. Factors that influence how much creatine is available to us at a given time include how much we exercise, certain hormones (such as testosterone), meat consumption, and the total amount of muscle mass. Roughly 95% of creatine is found in our muscles, while the rest is taken up by the brain.
4 Scientifically Proven Facts about Creatine
Over the past two decades, there’s been a flood of studies trying to accurately determine the benefits and potential drawbacks of creatine use. So many trials are now available that, especially in the past couple of years, medical researchers have focused on compiling extant literature into complex meta-analyses that can convey information that is more statistically significant. Although there have been claims of purported side-effects to supplementing with this compound, there’s been little corroboration from scientific investigations to support this aspect. Below, you’ll find a list of four facts about creatine that were verified by the medical community.
1. Creatine increases exercise performance
Following a training period of just 12 weeks wherein a strict protocol of resistance training was adhered to, participants supplementing with creatine saw a significant increase in their exercise performance. The positive effects were linked to the increased availability of creatine since the latter is known to facilitate adenosine triphosphate (ATP) regeneration. By supplementing with creatine, trial subjects noticed they were able to maintain a higher level of intensity throughout their training, while also being able to improve the overall quality of their sessions. The association between creatine and increased exercise performance is, by now, a well-documented matter.
2. Creatine increases lean tissue mass and strength
Creatine supplementation leads to increased performance during physical activity due to its ability to stimulate the growth of lean tissue mass. The same initial study on resistance training saw a 24% increase in type I muscle fibres (responsible for slow twitch, high endurance), 21% in type II A (used during sustained power activities), and 29% in type II AB (a hybrid of A and B, employed both during conditions of low and high strain), as compared to the placebo control group. The increase in exercise performance that creatine supplementation was linked to is partly due to an increase in strength.
A meta-analysis of 22 studies indicated that creatine supplementation will, on average, increase your one-rep max (1RM) by 8%, while your weightlifting performance will similarly benefit from a 14% boost. The more dramatic change was in the case of untrained individuals, whose strength escalated by as much as 31% in some cases. The researchers concluded that this effect is a consequence of the fact that test subjects become able to train at higher workloads with the help of creatine’s improved ATP metabolism, both in terms of weight and intensity. In turn this progression brings about a significantly higher growth in strength and performance.
3. Creatine helps injury recovery and prevents muscle damage
Several studies on injured athletes and ironman competitors have shown that taking creatine during a rest period will greatly enhance our muscle cells’ ability to regenerate, while also preventing muscle breakdown as a result of exhaustion. In the case of ironman competitions, it was observed that supplementing with creatine for at least one week prior to the event greatly decreases the markers of muscle damage in the post-competition period. Another study showed that when faced with an acute supramaximal resistance training session (i.e. hardcore 3 sets of 10 reps each, 120% 1RM), creatine supplementation helps prevent muscle damage, create a more favourable anabolic environment at a molecular level, as well as augment regenerative responses. This means that the compound can also take up the role of a strong antioxidant agent following an intense training session.
4. Creatine helps cognitive function
Last, but certainly not least, because creatine has such a fundamental impact on cell metabolism, several trials focused on establishing whether creatine could be considered a natural nootropic. Particularly in elderly adults, creatine supplementation was shown to decrease the brain’s natural impairment following the on-set of old age, alongside the diminishing that is brought about by sleep deprivation.
Safe and ethical
Due to the increased popularity surrounding the compound, several trial initiatives focused on whether creatine is safe for human consumption. Albeit not yet established for children under the age of 18, the substance was 100% proven to be safe and beneficial both for adults and elderly people. Not even in long-lasting supplementation (up to four years) could the researchers find any of the side-effects that some have reported following consumption, such as injuries, muscle cramps, or diarrhoea. However, all of the trials were done on individuals who had healthy renal and liver function – and most of the studies recommend that in absence of the latter two, one should not supplement with creatine.
More importantly, not all individuals respond to creatine supplementation in the same way. For instance, those who naturally have a high level of the compound were found to elicit less response as a result of creatine loading, which led researchers to conclude that the substance has a maximum biological pool beyond which it does not increase performance.
- Effects of creatine on exercise performance: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3407788/
- Effect of creatine on muscle mass and composition: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10449017
- Creatine and muscle damage: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3407788/#B40
- Creatine and aerobic activity: http://www.nrcresearchpress.com/doi/abs/10.1139/H07-072#.XHUe5sAza71
- On the lack of side-effects to creatine supplementation: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19124889
- Effects of Creatine Supplementation and Resistance Training on Muscle Strength and Weightlifting Performance: