BACK TO BASICS - THE ABC'S OF CREATINE

Don Gauvreau, MSc, CSCS, a.k.a. The Supplement Godfather

Creatine is arguably the most popular sports supplement ever, and for good reason! Creatine is one of the most researched supplements out there, and has been proven effective time and time again, not only in the research lab, but also in the gym and on the playing field; where it counts most! As most of you already know, creatine has the ability to increase strength, power, speed and overall athletic performance. So, read on to learn more about the ins and outs of creatine supplementation, and how you can use it to your advantage!

WHAT EXACTLY IS CREATINE?

Creatine is a naturally occurring compound derived from three different amino acids, arginine, glycine, and methionine. In humans, about 50% of daily creatine is biosynth-

esized in the body and the other 50% is generated through dietary sources. Foods such as herring, salmon, tuna, and beef are all high in creatine, but one would have to eat very large amounts of these foods to get the benefits achieved through supplement-

ation. Ninety percent of all creatine found in the body is stored in skeletal muscles.

HOW CREATINE WORKS

Creatine plays a key role in the body’s immediate (ATP) energy system, and has many secondary roles. After being ingested, creatine is absorbed into the bloodstream, most likely by the amino acid transporter, and usually reaches a maximum plasma concentration in less than two hours (1,2). While blood levels are elevated, the creatine transporter (CreaT) actively transports creatine into skeletal muscle, cardiac muscle, and the brain (1). At this point, there are a variety of mechanisms by which creatine exerts its ergogenic effects.

MODULATION OF ATP ENERGY METABOLISM

Creatine operates as an energy and pH buffer during exercise. Creatine kinase catalyzes a reaction between free creatine and phosphate ions (from the breakdown of ATP to ADP), resulting in phosphocreatine (PCr), which is then locked into the muscle cell due to its strong negative charge. PCr then reacts with ADP to form ATP during exercise, and during rest periods more PCr is generated. All of this equates to more energy and faster recovery between bouts of high-intensity exercise!

Creatine and its role in ATP energy production

INCREASES CELL VOLUME & PROTEIN SYNTHESIS

Supplementing with creatine has been shown to increase intracellular water retention, more commonly referred to as cell volumization (3). Not only does this have the benefit of making your muscles appear larger, but it also has anabolic effects. Hyper-hydration or cell volumisation stimulates protein synthesis and inhibits protein breakdown. In fact, cell volume has a direct correlation with the rate of muscle anabolism versus catabolism. 4 Numerous studies have confirmed that creatine’s cell volumising effects prevents protein catabolism and increases protein synthesis (1,5). Therefore, it’s extremely important for bodybuilders and athletes to increase or maintain adequate cell volume. A decrease in cell volume tells the muscle cell to breakdown protein, whereas an increase in cell volume tells the muscle to fill up the extra intracellular space by increasing protein synthesis!

INCREASES SATELLITE CELL ACTIVITY

Newer research shows that creatine supplementation has the ability to affect satellite cell activity. Satellite cells are small mononuclear undifferentiated cells found in mature muscle between the cell membrane of individual muscle fibres. Satellite cells are able to differentiate and fuse to augment existing muscle fibres and can also form new muscle fibres. When muscle cells undergo injury (like during intense weight training), satellite cells are released and they become activated. There is evidence suggesting that these satellite cells are capable of fusing with existing myofibrils to facilitate muscle growth and repair. Creatine supplementation, in combination with weight training, results in increased satellite cell activity. More specifically, research shows that creatine supplem-

entation in combination with weight training amplifies the training-induced increase in satellite cell number and concentration in human muscle fibres, thereby allowing enhanced muscle fibre growth in response to training (6). Simply put; creatine can increase the size of muscle fibres and even stimulate the growth of new muscle fibres!

THE HEALTH BENEFITS OF CREATINE

In addition to creatine’s powerful ergogenic benefits, it also has some incredible health benefits. First off, creatine is found in high concentrations in the brain, and has been explored in the treatment of a variety of neurodegenerative diseases. This is a newer area of research, so fewer human studies have been done on its neuroprotectant effects at this point. However, one study showed that supplementation of creatine at just five grams a day for eight days decreased task-evoked mental fatigue and increased oxygen utilization in the brain (7). Creatine also has cardiovascular protective properties and it’s found in high concentrations in the heart. It protects the heart in a variety of ways, and has been shown to reduce the incidence of arrhythmia, protect cardiac tissue from metabolic stress, and reduce cholesterol and triglyceride levels (8,9,10).

THE FINAL WORD ON CREATINE SUPPLEMENTATION

If you’re looking for a serious edge in the gym or on the playing field then you’ll definitely want to include creatine in your supplementation plan. With well over 300 published studies to back it up, creatine is supplement that you can safely count on to deliver powerful ergogenic benefits!

CREATINE DOSING AND STACKING PROTOCOLS

LOADING PHASE

•  Muscles appear to have a limit regarding the amount of creatine they can store, so

    there comes a point when taking more creatine doesn’t improve results.

•  The benefit that “loading” creatine provides is the saturation point of creatine in the

    muscles is reached quicker. Muscles that are saturated with creatine can work harder,

    repair faster, pump up harder, and appear much fuller.

•  The most common strategy used for loading is 4 to 5 days, taking 20 grams per day

    divided into four 5 gram servings.

•  Most people still find that loading is the quickest way to begin seeing real results

    from creatine.

MAINTENANCE PHASE

•  Once muscle creatine saturation is reached, it can be maintained using about 5 grams

    a day (the “maintenance” dose).

•  Full muscle creatine saturation can still be reached by only using a maintenance dose

    (without a loading phase); however, it will take approximately 30 days to achieve full

    saturation (instead of only 4 to 5 days when using a loading phase).

CYCLING CREATINE

•  There’s really no evidence that suggests cycling creatine is necessary, but most

    people do.

•  Two months ON followed by one month OFF works quite well.

•  Many people become accustomed to their new level of performance and mistake it

    for the creatine not working anymore. However, after a short break off creatine most

    people are quickly reminded of just how powerful a supplement creatine really is.

STACKING CREATINE WAXY MAIZE STARCH

•  It is recommended that you take your creatine post-workout with an insulin

    potentiating carbohydrate source, such as waxy maize starch.

•  A spike in insulin from waxy maize starch can further enhance creatine uptake by the

    muscle cells and result in greater overall benefits.

BETA-ALANINE

•  Recent scientific research shows that combining creatine with beta-alanine produces

    even greater benefits compared to creatine supplementation alone.11

•  In fact, one clinical study showed that beta-alanine + creatine supplementation

    produced a synergistic effect whereby total power output was dramatically increased

    and lean mass gains, strength increases and body fat reductions were greater than

    with creatine supplementation alone.12,13

•  Scientists believe that beta-alanine enhances the effects of creatine because of its

    ability to increase carnosine concentrations, and in turn, increase the total capacity of

    the anaerobic (immediate / ATP) energy system.

REFERENCES

1. Persky, A.M., & Brazeau, G.A. (2001). Pharmacol Rev, 53, 161-176.

2. Schedel, J.M., et al. (1999). Life Sci, 65, 2463-2470.

3. Saab, G., et al. (2002). Exp Physiol, 87, 383-389.

4. Waldegger, S., et al. (1997). Miner Electrolyte Metab, 23, 201-205.

5. Parise, G., et al. (2001). J Appl Physiol, 91, 1041-1047.

6. Olsen., S., et al. (2006) Journal of Physiology,

573, 525-534.

7. Watanabe, A., et al. (2002). Neurosci Res, 42, 279-285.

8. Rosenshtraukh, L.V., et al. (1988). Biochem Med Metab Biol, 40, 225-236.

9. Constantin-Teodosiu, D., et al. (1995). Br J Pharmacol, 116, 3288-3292.

10. Earnest, C.P., et al. (1996). Clin Sci (Lond), 91, 113-118.

11. Zoeller, R.F., et al. (2007). Amino Acids, 33, 505-510.

12. Harris, R.C., et al. (2003). Med Sci Sports Exer, 35, Suppl. 1:S218.

13. Hoffman, J., et al. (2006). IJSNEM, 16, 430-446.

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