The ABC's of
Whether you're an
accomplished athlete or you've just started an exercise program, you
need to know about creatine. Many supplements touted over the years as
performance enhancers have come and gone, but creatine is here to
stay. We predict that it will be one of the most popular
muscle-building nutrients ever made available to you. Why? Because it
works. Yes, it really works.
What is Creatine?
When we told our
friends that we were writing a book on creatine, some of them had
quizzical responses. "You're writing on creating? Creating
what?" "Is it an herb?"
Creatine is a
nutrient that is naturally found in our bodies. It is made from a
combination of the three amino acids arginine, glycine and methionine.
Creatine helps provide the energy our muscles need to move,
particularly movements which are quick and explosive in nature. This
includes the types of motion involved in most sports. Approximately 95
percent of the body's creatine supply is found in the skeletal
muscles. The remaining five percent is scattered throughout the rest
of the body, with the highest concentrations in the heart, brain and
testes. (Sperm is chock-full of creatine!)
The human body gets
most of the creatine it needs from food or dietary supplements.
Creatine is easily absorbed from the intestinal tract into the
bloodstream. When dietary consumption is inadequate to meet the body's
needs, a limited supply can be synthesized from the amino acids
arginine, glycine and methionine. This creatine production occurs in
the liver, pancreas and kidneys.
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How Does Creatine
Creatine is an
essential player in one of the three primary energy systems used for
muscle contraction. It exists in two different forms within the muscle
fiber: as free (chemically-unbound) creatine and as creatine
phosphate. This latter form of creatine makes up two-thirds of the
total creatine supply. When your muscles contract, the initial fuel
for this movement is a compound called ATP (adenosine triphosphate).
ATP provides its energy by releasing one of its phosphate molecules.
It then becomes a different compound called ADP (adenosine
diphosphate). Unfortunately, there is only enough ATP to provide
energy for about ten seconds, so for this energy system to continue,
more ATP must be produced. Creatine phosphate comes to the rescue by
giving up its phosphate molecule to ADP, recreating ATP. This ATP can
then be "burned" again as fuel for more muscle contraction.
(We'll discuss all this in greater detail in Chapter Six.)
The bottom line is
that your ability to regenerate ATP depends on your supply of
creatine. The more creatine you have in your muscles, the more ATP you
can remake. This allows you to train your muscles to their maximum
potential. It's that simple. This greater ATP resynthesis also keeps
your body from relying on another energy system called glycolysis,
which has lactic acid as a byproduct. This lactic acid creates the
burning sensation you feel during intense exercise. If the amount of
acid becomes too great, muscle movement stops. But if you keep on
regenerating ATP because of all the creatine you have, you can
minimize the amount of lactic acid produced and actually exercise
longer and harder. This helps you gain strength, power and muscle
size; and you won't get fatigued as easily.
Creatine has also
been shown to enhance your body's ability to make proteins within the
muscle fibers. Two of these proteins, actin and myosin, are essential
to all muscle contraction. So when you build up your supply of these
contractile proteins, you actually increase your muscle's ability to
perform physical work. And the more work you do (whether it's lifting
weights or running 100-meter dashes), the stronger you become over
divide their creatine use into two phases. The first phase, called the
loading phase, fills up the muscle fiber's storage capacity for this
nutrient. This phase usually lasts five to seven days. After that,
athletes reduce their creatine consumption to a lower dosage level
which continues for an extended period of time. This second phase is
called the maintenance phase.
How Much Creatine
Is In My Body?
The amount of
creatine you have in your body depends mostly on the amount of muscle
you have. (There is no creatine in body fat.) The average 70 kg (155
lb) person has a total of about 120 grams (4.2 ounces) of creatine in
their body at any one time. Vegetarians by and large have lower
creatine levels than meat-eaters. A study by Walker showed that the
average sedentary person uses up about two grams of creatine per day.
This creatine is broken down into a waste product called creatinine,
which is collected by the kidneys and excreted in the urine. Athletes
use up much more than two grams per day, with the exact amount
depending on the type of sport, intensity level and muscle mass.
Can I Get Enough
Creatine From My Diet?
The average person
consumes about one gram of creatine per day. Creatine is found in
moderate amounts in most meats and fish, which are, after all,
skeletal muscle. Good sources of dietary creatine include tuna, cod,
salmon, herring, beef and pork. Tiny amounts are found in milk and
even cranberries. While it would seem logical that chicken and turkey
have creatine as well, we were unable to find any published data to
confirm this. Cooking destroys part of the creatine that exists in
An important thing to
remember is that meats and fish contain a lot more than creatine. All
animal flesh contains relatively high amounts of cholesterol. Most
meats, especially beef and pork, also contain high quantities of fat.
One kilogram (2.2 pounds) of raw round steak contains only four grams
of creatine, but 119 grams of fat. Porterhouse steak has a bit less
creatine, but 325 grams of fat per kilo! Needless to say, you won't
live to your 90s if you clog your arteries with the fat and
cholesterol from all of the meat or even fish you'd have to eat to get
the creatine you need to improve your strength and power. What you
need is a nonfat, non-cholesterol supplement called creatine
Something New That Scientists Have Discovered?
While researching the
scientific information published about this nutrient, we were
surprised to learn that creatine was first discovered in 1832 by the
French scientist Chevreul. This was way before barbells were invented!
Creatine was first found in meats, and later, in 1847, a sharp
observer noticed that the meat from foxes killed in the wild had ten
times as much creatine as the meat from inactive, domesticated foxes.
He concluded that creatine accumulates in muscles as a consequence of
In the early 20th
century, it was discovered that not all of the creatine consumed by
humans is excreted in the urine. This led to the recognition that
creatine is, in fact, stored within the body. In 1912, researchers
found that ingesting creatine can dramatically boost the creatine
content of muscle. Then, in 1927, Fiske and Subbarow discovered
creatine phosphate, and determined that creatine is a key player in
the metabolism of skeletal muscle.
Since then, there
have been literally thousands of studies published on creatine.
However, most of the studies focusing on creatine and sports
performance have only been done since the early 1990s. It is these
studies that we will focus on in this book.
Who Can Benefit
Although the research
on creatine and exercise performance is relatively new, so far it
appears that the greatest benefits occur in those sports which involve
short, intense bursts of energy. That is because these sports rely
most heavily on ATP as an energy source. Athletes in bodybuilding,
powerlifting, martial arts, sprinting, and track and field events such
as javelin and shot-put will greatly benefit due to greater strength.
So would wrestlers, swimmers, football, hockey, basketball and tennis
players. We doubt that creatine will be of any benefit for people who
comfortably cruise on a cart around the golf course and occasionally
get up to putt. Other sports where creatine is not likely to be of any
significant benefit include bowling, skeet shooting and certainly
It is still unclear
whether athletes involved in endurance activities such as marathon
running or long-distance bicycling will benefit from creatine
supplementation. Stroud mentioned anecdotal reports that people in
these sports may benefit, although other studies show that creatine
either does not help or may actually be counterproductive. The
difficulty in these situations appears to center on the increased
muscle mass which creatine provides. While that's great if you're a
bodybuilder or wrestler, it can be a detriment if you have to carry
all that weight around during a marathon or triathlon. It becomes a
tradeoff between the increased strength you get from creatine and the
increased muscle mass. Further research will provide us with more
definitive answers as to what role creatine can play in endurance-type
90 And Still
with decreased muscle mass could also benefit from creatine
supplementation. Since creatine boosts strength and protein synthesis,
it should help to reduce the muscle wasting that can occur with
disease and the aging process. A new study by Earnest also shows that
creatine can reduce cholesterol and lipid levels in the blood, which
would be a major health benefit for everyone. Therefore, creatine may
one day help a large segment of the population to become more
physically fit on the inside and outside. powerhouse-supplements.com
Is Creatine Safe?
Experiments with the
administration of creatine to humans have been going on for over a
century. Dr. Paul Balsom of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm,
Sweden, is one of the world's leading experts on creatine. He states
in a review article published in 1994 in Sports Medicine that "to
the best of our knowledge, the only documented adverse effect that has
been associated with creatine supplementation is an increase in body
We suspect that most
athletes will gladly accept this "adverse effect."
One caution we'd like
to make is that the studies which used high dosages of creatine, such
as 20 grams per day, were only a month or less in duration. As a
result, we do not have controlled, scientific studies which indicate
exactly what happens to athletes taking large amounts of creatine for
many months or even years. The only long-term study on creatine to
date provided one gram per day to patients with gyrate atrophy, an eye
disorder. Sipila reported that creatine helped the condition.
Therefore, we do not yet fully know the consequences of high dose,
As part of our
research for this book, we distributed a detailed survey to athletes
in three states. Personal interviews with men and women who have used
creatine for over a year did not reveal any long-term side effects
which one should be concerned about. Nor is there a particular reason
to think that there should be a problem, given the way in which
creatine is synthesized and excreted by the body. The only short-term
side effect mentioned was diarrhea, which some athletes said occurred
when they took dosages greater than those recommended in this book.
The diarrhea went away when the dosage was reduced.
90 Is It Legal To
Use Creatine During Competition?
At the time of the
printing of this book, the International Olympic Committee has not put
creatine on its list of banned substances. This may be because it is a
dietary component of most meats and fish, so it is difficult to
distinguish who is taking oral creatine supplements and who is just
eating more meat. This situation is unlikely to change, so we are
predicting an explosion of creatine use at the Olympics and all
international events in the coming years.