Creatine monohydrate is a naturally occurring acid found naturally in meat, particularly beef, although to get it in large enough concentrations to see the performance enhancing benefits of it, we need to take it in much higher dosages than we might get from eating a good cut of steak and this is why itís a popular and effective supplement.
Creatine is made from a combination of three amino acids: arginine, glycine and methionine and is therefore nitrogenous. Itís important to maintain a positive nitrogen balance to facilitate muscle growth through regular protein feeds, which can then be broken down into the essential amino acids the body needs for recovery and growth.
What is the function of Creatine?
Supplementing with Creatine Monohydrate has been shown to significantly increase the concentration of creatine in skeletal muscle where it is stored as creatine phosphate (PCr) and it releases the phosphate to fuel anaerobic activity (short bursts of powerful movement such as sprinting), where a molecule called Adenosine Tri Phosphate (ATP) uses that phosphate to power certain cellular and metabolic functions.
ATP is broken down to Adenosine Di-Phosphate (ADP), where it loses one of its phosphate molecules to fuel activity. The loss of this phosphate provides the energy to power your cells as we exert ourselves. As ATP stores become depleted, performance levels will drop significantly and we wonít be able to perform at the intensity we did for the first ten seconds or so.
Creatine phosphate helps to restore ATP by donating phosphate to ADP to reform ATP. This is how and why creatine has been shown to boost performance, strength and power in numerous studies. Athletes and gym users performing strength work will benefit the most from creatine supplementation, as it supports these activities. Interestingly; some of the first people to see great results with it were Linford Christie, Sally Gunnell and Colin Jackson back in the early 90's and since then more and more athletes have taken it and research continues to mount up noting the benefits.
What are some more of the positive effects from Creatine supplementation?
Creatine also increases the fluid content of muscle cells, this is no bad thing, as it takes in nutrients with the water, remember that well hydrated muscle cells are more anabolic, this gives even more reason to stay well hydrated. Consider drinking up to a litre per 20kg of bodyweight on training days and add electrolyte drops to improve muscular contractions and prevent cramping. It can also take glucose out of the blood stream and into cells boosting energy and promoting an improvement in body composition.
Noticeable mass gain is often reported in the first week of use but this is thought to be down to water and glycogen storage in the muscles initially though research shows that creatine increases the activity of satellite cells boosting growth. This promotes an increase in the cross sectional area of your muscle fibres, which in terms of physics, shortens the levers, technically making you stronger in the gym. A 2008 study showed that it boosts Insulin-Like Growth Factor-1 (IGF-1) levels by 24% in an 8-week period. IGF-1 is powerfully anabolic so over time it will lead to muscle growth as well. Itís even been shown to boost cognitive function, slow ageing of the skin and prevent muscle wasting in the hospitalised.
What does Creatine do and how is it used?
Creatine is produced in the liver, but it can only produce about two to three grams per day, this is where the supplementation comes into play. Saturating the fast twitch fibres with creatine boosts performance. The fibres are comprised of Type IIa and Type Iib fibres.
Type Iia fibres or Fast-Twitch Oxidative Glycotic (FOG) use glucose very rapidly to help regenerate ATP which fuels muscular contractions in conjunction with electrolytes as previously mentioned. Type IIb are Fast-Twitch Glycotic (FG) and these have the most storage space if you will for ATP and PCr. To maximise the performance of these fibres you need a combination of good nutrition, smart supplementation and scientifically based strength and power work to fuel and develop the right fibres. Type I fibres are Slow Oxidative (SO) and donít really grow very much but fuel aerobic, endurance activities, these donít benefit from creatine supplementation, though these are worth developing as the have a high density of capillaries providing much needed fresh blood to the muscles during activity, also speeding recovery between bouts of high intensity.
Are there any downsides?
There are anecdotal reports of digestive problems from creatine, but I have never experienced any of these and nor have my clients. I do recommend all of my clients to use the micronized monohydrate form which is more bioavailable (or hydrochloride if theyíre in the states, where this is widely available and much more absorbable) and they do this in conjunction with the strategic implementation of glutamine to aid the lining of the digestive tract, fish oils for way too many benefits to list in a creatine feature, psyllium husks to clean the digestive tract, acidophilus to line the digestive tract with ďfriendly bacteriaĒ and digestive enzymes to ensure that all the foods consumed get utilized. This ensure that their digestive system functions optimally.
I also eliminate wheat based carbs and any allergens so this excellent gut function may stop any leaky gut type problems and will also boost immunity as over three quarters of your immune systemís receptors are found there. This may be why my clients and I have never run into any problems from creatine and people who pay less attention to gut function might. Creatine has been studied for potential negative side effects yet no significant changes in serum metabolic markers, serum electrolytes, blood lipid profiles, red and white whole blood cell haematology, muscle and liver enzyme efflux, or quantitative and qualitative urinary markers of renal function were discovered, however it is advised that those with renal issues do not use Creatine. Rest assured that literally hundreds of clinical studies have reported positive benefits from creatine though.
So how should I take Creatine?
With patience! It is not a steroid and will not produce alarming muscle building or performance enhancing effects, despite what some manufacturers allude to in their advertising features, but used in small doses in conjunction with getting in the powercage and dominating gravity, sleeping like a baby and eating like a horse it is one of the hundred proverbial things you can add to give you an extra 1% to get 100% better, and in time will certainly aid you to improve athletic performance and recovery as you favourably alter body composition.
Itís been noted through research that Dextrose and Alpha Lipoic Acid can improve creatine uptake, recently, Fenugreek Extract has also shown to do this too. Due to Dextrose improving the absorption, it makes sense to consume it post workout when this carb spike insulin, you only want this to happen post workout, aiding glycogen replenishment, which is the carbohydrate stored intra muscularly. Contrary to the popular belief that creatine needs to be cycled, it doesnít, the loading phase just isnít necessary, just be patient and take 3-5 grams in your postworkout shake with Dextrose and ALA on training days. You need at least 75ml of water for every gram of creatine in there and about 3ml of water for every gram of carbohydrate to ensure it gets stored as glycogen in the muscles.
So, now you know what it is, how it works, and have an easy, practical and no-nonsense way to implement it!
By Alex Ferentinos
International Rugby Union & Sevens Player, Sports Nutritionist, Fitness Instructor, Writer and Model.
Alex runs an online Nutrition and Fitness Consultancy.
There is no hype, there are no fads, just research proven methods and the truth about what works, removing wasted money, guesswork, and years of trial and error on your part. He has helped people in the public eye from rockstars to television personalities to regular commuters. He keeps his feet firmly in the real world and lends an understanding ear, taking into consideration your daily schedule, exercise routine, bodyweight and goals and the way you eat; everything is then painstakingly fine-tuned on his part, streamlining your whole approach to nutrition and fitness, designing easy to follow meal planners and bespoke training programs that fit harmoniously into your life, ensuring goals are reached.
The only thing he canít do is do it for you!
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