Anyone who regularly uses supplements to boost their training will be familiar with creatine. It’s one of the most popular supplements on the market, thanks to its reputation for increases performance, strength and muscle mass. As well as boosting exercise, creatine appears to have a range of health benefits. Scientific studies show that it can even help to protect against neurological disease.
But what exactly is it and how does it work?
How do creatine supplements build muscle mass?
Creatine occurs naturally in our muscle cells and helps muscles to produce the energy they need to lift or exercise. This is why creatine supplements, such as ON Micronized Creatine Powder are used by bodybuilders, athletes and gym goers.
Chemically, creatine is similar to amino acids and can be produced by the body from arginine and glycine. There are various factors that affect how much creatine your body can store. These include how much exercise you take, whether you eat meat, your muscle mass and hormone levels. Hormones including IFG-1 and testosterone are particularly important with regards to naturally produced creatine.
Almost all (95%) of the creatine in your body is stored as phosphocreatine in the muscles, with the rest stored in your liver, brain and kidneys. Taking creatine supplements increases the amount of phosphocreatine your body stores as a form of energy in the cells. This is what helps the body create a higher number of ATP, which are high-energy molecules.
It’s easiest to think of ATP as a kind of energy gauge. When you have higher ATP, your body will be stronger and perform better when you exercise. Creatine also physically alters various cellular processes that can help to aid recovery, increase strength and build muscle mass.
Creatine improves overall health as well as athletic performance
There are various ways that creatine can improve your overall health and athletic performance:
- Increase stores of phosphocreatine in your muscles.
- These stores produce ATP, which boosts high intensity exercise.
- Increase the amount of work you can do in one session of exercise.
- Improve satellite cell signalling, which helps muscle growth and repair.
- Raise anabolic hormones, such as IGF-1.
- Increase the water content in muscle cells, which aids muscle growth.
- Reduce protein breakdown and increase total muscle mass.
- Reduce myostatin levels, which can slow muscle growth.
Studies show that creatine works for both short- and long-term muscle mass growth. It can help all kinds of people, regardless of their starting fitness point. For example, taking creatine supplements can help everyone from elite athletes to older previously sedentary people.
For example, a study on creatine supplements and their effect on strength training in older people shows that leg strength and muscle mass of participants was significantly increased. In addition, an overarching review of the most popular supplements by the National Institute of Health shows creatine is the most effective supplement available to build muscle mass.
Strength and endurance levels offered a boost from creatine supplements
Evidence also shows that creatine can improve your strength and endurance during high-intensity exercise. A study shows that creatine supplements increased participant’s strength during their training programme by 8%. More specifically, it boosted weightlifting performance by 14% and bench press maximum weight by almost 43%, compared with training and not taking creatine.
A benefit of creatine that is less well-known than its effect on athletic performance is how it affects the brain. In the same way as your muscles, the brain needs lots of ATP to function properly and also stores phosphocreatine.
Studies show that it’s possible that creatine supplements could improve all kinds of conditions related to the brain. These include epilepsy, ischemic strokes, Huntingdon’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s. However, most of these studies so far have been on animals, and creatine hasn’t yet been included in formal treatments for neurological diseases. An encouraging study of children with traumatic brain injury shows that after six months on creatine, fatigue fell by 70% and dizziness by 50%.
How much creatine supplement should you take?
It’s common to begin supplementing with creatine with a ‘loading phase’ of 20g per day for 7 days. This can be split into 5g servings throughout the day and will quickly increase the creatine stores in your muscles. After this, maintenance levels should be at between 3 to 5g per day.
You don’t have to carry out the loading phase, however, and can simply take around 5g every day. If you supplement in this way, it’ll take up to four weeks to maximise the amount of creatine stored in your muscles. It’s important to drink lots of water while taking creatine supplements.
Creatine is one of the cheapest and most effective supplements to take, and while it’s marketed towards athletes, it’s also useful to know that it could benefit vegetarians and older people who don’t have enough natural creatine in their bodies too.