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Creatine: A Summary March 26, 2009

Posted by Matt Brown in Human Enhancement.
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As arguably the most popular supplement on the market creatine gets alot of press, some of it true and some of it not.   After several conversations with friends and acquaintances who were taking creatine yet had absolutely no idea what it actually did I figured I might as well explain it.

Creatine is an organic acid found in the body and is an integral part of the body’s energy system.  The human body uses a molecule called Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) as it’s “energy currency.”  Energy in ATP is stored in the molecular bonds between the three phosphate groups (hence Triphosphate.)  When the body needs energy one of the phosphate ions is broken off, forming ADP and realising the power stored in the molecular bond.  Since most of ATP’s energy is stored in the third phosphate group’s bond ADP is pretty useless as an energy source so the body constantly needs to replenish it’s supply of ATP.  It has a few ways of doing that.  One way is through anaerobic glycolisis, breaking down glycogen stored in the muscles and liver and producing a small amount of ATP (2 net if you’re interested.)  The byproduct of this process is pyruvate, which can then be used in aerobic glycolisis which as the name implies requires oxygen but produces far more ATP.  Unfortunately both these processes take time , so when the body needs energy immediately it turns to creatine.  After ATP is broken down into ADP, releasing it’s stored energy, creatine bonds the ADP and phosphate ion back together thus reforming it into ATP.  With creatine the bodies’ supply of ATP, about 2-3 seconds worth, is increased to about 10 seconds worth.

Now that we know what creatine does the question then becomes what beneficial effects does creatine supplementation have.  Most often creatine is used during resistance training to encourage muscle hypertrophy, a task it does this very well since the increase in energy allows more reps at a higher weight.  It is especially useful when training for muscular strength (6-8 reps at 80% or more of 1RM) or power as this is when the muscle is primarily using it’s immediate stores of ATP.  It is less effective when training for muscular endurance (12 and above reps at 60% or less of 1RM) and does very little for cardiovascular endurance.

There is also some evidence that creatine supplementation may increase cognitive abilities.  A study (1) conducted at the University of Sydney found that creatine supplementation for six weeks increased memory and intelligence in young, vegetarian subjects.  However, another study (2) by Bloomsburg University found no effect of creatine supplementation versus a placebo in young adults, so it is not yet clear whether or not creatine improves cognitve function, improves it only in certain groups or not at all.  If you’ll allow me to speculate a bit, if creatine is found to be a nootropic it is most likely because it increase the amount of energy the brain has access to before it has to produce more, identical to it’s effects in the muscles. 

In conclusion, the bottom line is that creatine is safe and effective as a supplement for increasing muscular strength and hypertrophy and may increase cognitive function.

 (1)  http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?tool=pubmed&pubmedid=14561278

(2) http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6T0P-4SHF4KD-5&_user=10&_rdoc=1&_fmt=&_orig=search&_sort=d&view=c&_acct=C000050221&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=10&md5=f08b62515738bacf3dd872aa44d341be

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