It seems like the older I get, the advice that my parents gave me rings truer every day. Being an old school bodybuilder, my dad would give me guidance on my workouts that would go in one ear and immediately out the other. However, I’ll always remember what he said about creatine. It was the only supplement that truly worked for him as it was advertised. Almost 25 years later, it is still around and there is a good reason for it! Creatine has been clinically shown to increase muscle mass, increase strength and maximum anaerobic performance. When combined with the proper diet and program, this could be the missing piece to your puzzle.
What is Creatine?
This compound is naturally synthesized within the body by mostly the liver. Almost all of the creatine produced by the body is stored in skeletal muscle. However, we can consume creatine from protein sources like red meat and fish. In conjunction with other molecules, creatine helps with high intensity activity using the Phosphagen system.
The Creatine Phosphate in “creatine” (CP) provides an additional phosphate group with Adenosine Diphosphate (ADP) to synthesize Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP). The ATP molecules are what supply the body with energy. This reaction yields many ATP, but CP is not stored in the body in relatively large amounts. This results in high output for short bursts.
So what does that even mean?
ATP is what makes the muscle fibers contract. Therefore, ensuring you have plenty ATP available requires you to have plenty of Creatine Phosphate stored. The body stores around 80g to 100g of ATP for basic cellular functions to keep you alive and well. This isn’t enough to fuel the body through heavy squats or a 40 yard sprint. So in reality, the phosphagen system uses the creatine to maintain the current ATP stores in the body. With that being said, the body will store four to six times more CP than ATP to provide for the high intensity work.
Unfortunately, the “more is better” mindset does not apply to creatine dosage. According to the research of Hultman and associates, there is an increase of creatine content in muscle tissue by maximum of 20% from supplementation. Typically, you have two stages when consuming creatine: the loading stage and the maintenance stage. When loading, a dosage of 20g to 25g daily for four to five days is required to saturate the muscles. Once the loading has been completed, only 2g is required to maintain the elevated levels of creatine.
Technically, you could skip the loading stage, but saturation would take closer to 30 days rather than five days with the initial loading.
Because creatine plays a key role in the Phoshagen system, benefits will be seen in higher intensity activity. Obvious strength gains were made in trained athletes by two or even three times what was normally lifted. With this being said, the quality and perceived exertion throughout the workout may be improved with less fatigue and quicker recovery. That in itself is a powerful tool when trying to achieve more muscle mass. However, it seems as though creatine supplementation is not an instant workout enhancer. Studies have seen lasting improvements in subjects who have been using creatine for extended periods of time (usually 28-84 days). This also applies to sprinting and/or plyometrics. The initial loading stage may not necessarily give you the benefits you are looking for, yet as you continue into the maintenance stage, the improvements will begin to show.
With all of this in mind, you have to look at what you are training for. Are you wanting to add size and lift heavier with the possibility of increasing your vertical? If so, creatine is a simple choice. However, if you are looking to maintain or train for longer durations, creatine supplementation would be a waste of money. Either way you look at it, creatine is one of the few supplements that actually work the way it says it will.