Creatine is a substance that is found naturally in muscle cells. It helps your muscles produce energy during heavy lifting or intense exercise. Taking creatine as a supplement is very popular among athletes and bodybuilders in order to gain muscle, enhance strength and improve exercise performance
Chemically speaking, it shares many similarities with amino acids. Your body can produce it from the amino acids glycine and arginine.
Factors that affect your body’s creatine stores include
- meat intake
- amount of muscle mass
- levels of hormones like testosterone and IGF-1.
About 95% of your body’s creatine is stored in muscles as phosphocreatine. The other 5% is in your brain, kidneys and liver
When you supplement, you increase your stores of phosphocreatine. This is a form of stored energy in the cells, as it helps your body produce more of the energy molecule called ATP. When you have more ATP, your body can perform better during exercise.
Creatine also alters several cellular processes that lead to increased muscle mass, strength and recovery.
How does Creatine help you gain muscle?
- Boosted workload:Enables more total work or volume in a single training session, which is a huge factor in long-term muscle growth.
- Improved cell signalling:Can increase satellite cell signalling, which aids muscle repair and new muscle growth.
- Raised anabolic hormones:Some studies noted a rise in hormones, such as IGF-1 with creatine supplementation.
- Increased cell hydration:Lifts water content within your muscle cells, which causes a cell volumization effect that may play a role in muscle growth.
- Reduced protein breakdown:May increase total muscle mass by reducing muscle breakdown.
- Lower myostatin levels:Elevated levels of the protein myostatin can slow or totally inhibit new muscle growth. Supplementing with creatine can reduce these levels, increasing growth potential.
Creatine can also improve strength, power and intense exercise performance
One review of scientific literature showed an addition of a creatine supplement to a training program increased strength by 8%, weightlifting performance by 14%.
Another study demonstrated that in well-trained strength athletes, 28 days of supplementing increased bike-sprinting performance by 15% and bench-press performance by 6%.
These noticeable improvements are primarily caused by your body’s increased capacity to produce ATP.
Normally, ATP becomes depleted after 8–10 seconds of high-intensity activity. But because creatine supplements help you produce more ATP, you can maintain optimal performance for a few seconds longer ie 1-2 more reps at the end of a set.
Human research suggests that creatine may also aid older adults, vegetarians and those at risk of neurological diseases.
Vegetarians tend to have low creatine stores because they don’t eat meat, which is the main natural dietary source of creatine.
How much Creatine do I Need
Historically many people who supplement start with a loading phase, which leads to a rapid increase in muscle stores of creatine.
Common protocol was to load with creatine, take 20 grams per day for 5–7 days. Split into four 5-gram servings throughout the day absorption may be slightly improved with a carbohydrate – or protein-based meal due to the related release of insulin.
Then take 3–5 grams per day to maintain high levels within your muscles. As there is no benefit to cycling creatine, you can stick with this dosage for an extended period of time.
The alternate is to bypass the loading phase and simply consume 3–5 grams per day. However, it may take 3–4 weeks to maximize your stores with this approach.
Since creatine pulls water into your muscle cells, it is advisable to take it with a glass of water and stay well hydrated throughout the day.
Creatine supplementation Safety
Creatine is one of the most well-researched supplements available, and studies lasting up to four years revelled no negative side effects. There is also no evidence that creatine harms the liver and kidneys in healthy people who take normal doses (however those with pre-existing liver or kidney problems should consult with a doctor before using any supplement).
Although people associate creatine with dehydration and cramps, research does not support this link. In fact some studies suggest it can reduce cramps and dehydration during endurance exercise in high heat.
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