Creatine is a staple in the bodybuilder’s arsenal. When creatine entered the market it was considered a natural replacement for steroids. Marketing hype claimed that it was going to change the market forever. Creatine, reportedly, increased strength and lean muscle mass and strength as well as steroids. The affordable price of creatine made it an instant success. Bodybuilders everywhere jumped on the creatine wagon.
As new supplements hit the market, with more hype, creatine was forgotten. When creatine did not live up to its hype in real world results, people turned their attention to new products. Many new supplements, like hormonal pre-cursors, joined the game and overshadowed creatine. Just like so many other well-hyped supplements, they rode the crest of fame and soon languished in infamy. Following the normal trend, new supplements came on scene to replace these and quickly followed suit but creatine is still around. Creatine does have some solid, research-backed results. The real-world results, which really are the only ones that count, have backed up the research results. To understand the benefits of creatine it is important to know what it is and how it works.
Creatine introduces extra phosphates into the energy cycle, at the cellular level. Phosphates are an important part of ATP (adenosine tri-phosphate.) ATP is the immediate energy cycle, it is used for short explosive bursts of energy. It is used for most cellular functions and to produce energy at the cellular level. Activities such as explosive weight lifting, short sprints, and jumping rely on ATP to produce the powerful forces needed. When energy is needed the bond between one of the phosphate molecules and the adenosine molecule is split resulting in a release of energy and leaving a phosphate molecule and ADP (adenosine di-phosphate.) ADP must find a free floating phosphate molecule to bind to in order to become ATP again and create a potential for energy.
This is where creatine enters the picture. Creatine places many more phosphates into the cycle for more potential. Additional phosphates means that the ATP energy cycle lasts longer and may produce more energy, resulting in more powerful contractions and delay of the lactic acid energy system. This introduction of more phosphates means more ATP being stored in the muscle cells. This results in more powerful and longer lasting muscular contractions.
Creatine also affects the amount of water stored in the muscle. The additional phosphates creates an imbalance within the cell, requiring more water to be introduced to balance the cell. The muscle cells increase in size with the added water, creating a fuller muscle. A leverage advantage is created which leads to greater power output by the muscles, as well. The temporary increase in size is gradually replaced by protein and structural cells, leading to harder muscles.
Since creatine pulls water into the muscle cells, dehydration is a concern. When supplementing with creatine water intake should be increased to offset this factor. It will also ensure that the water is available to be pulled into the muscles. Extra water is beneficial to overall health anyway.
Dosing of creatine can follow two basic structures. Some people swear by the loading and maintenance formula. This requires anywhere from 2 to 5 days of large doses of creatine to load the muscles followed by a maintenance period. This maintains the creatine at optimum levels. The loading phase may be repeated every 12 to 18 weeks, if needed. The second dosing schedule is a level dosing formula. This follows a level dose from start through the entire supplementation period. The maintenance dose may be slightly higher than in the loading and maintenance formula. In either dosing schedule, taking the creatine with a drink containing simple carbohydrates, such as juice (grape juice is preferred) my increase the uptake of the supplement.
There are hundreds of different manufacturers and each one has a slightly different formula. Each one can supply pages and pages of research about their product and why it is the best. Although the different formulations might approach the issue from a slightly different angle, they are all essentially the same. Any supplement that will introduce extra phosphate molecules into the ATP system will result in more energy, which is the ultimate goal.
Creatine is a simple supplement with a simple process for increasing power output and muscular size. Creatine works at a cellular level to produce more energy for stronger contractions, meaning more strength and more weight lifted. This translates to larger and stronger muscles. Now, isn’t that the goal of all bodybuilding supplements?