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Creatine – Far More Than Just a Sport Supplement

Creatine – Far More Than Just a Sport Supplement

by October 17, 2014

Creatine is a poorly understood supplement that for far too long has been relegated to the singular role of boosting athletic performance. In recent decades some remarkable research has shown how versatile this supplement truly is and how it can play an important role therapeutically.

What is creatine?

Creatine is an essential & naturally occurring nutrient formed in the liver, kidney & pancreas. It is produced from the three amino acids methionine, arginine & glycine. We produce about 1–2 grams per day, we consume 1 gram per day (mostly from beef, herring and salmon), and we excrete 2 grams per day via urine. About 90–95% of the body’s creatine is found in skeletal muscle. Creatine is stored in the body in a form known as creatine phosphate.

What does creatine do?

Every cell in our body uses a molecule called adenosine triphosphate (ATP) for energy. To generate energy from this compound one of the phosphates is removed from ATP to form adenosine diphosphate (ADP). ADP must then be then converted back into ATP and the cycle continues. Creatine’s basic role is to regenerate the ADP by giving it a phosphate and turning it back into ATP. In a nutshell when we deplete our ATP, creatine phosphate regenerates it.

Athletic benefits

Creatine has been the focus of some nearly 300 studies many of which have focused on athletic performance. Creatine is arguably the best known and most effective natural muscle enhancing supplement available. Creatine has been shown to:

  • Allow for greater muscle contractions
  • Increase muscle size
  • Accelerate protein synthesis
  • Reduce protein degradation
  • Speed up muscle recovery
  • Increase lean weight gain
  • Increase the rate of ammonia excretion therefore reducing levels in the blood
  • Improve power
  • Reduce lactic acid build-up 

Creatine’s role in improving athletic performance however has been focused on sports that involve rapid bursts of energy for short durations. These would include bodybuilding, power lifting, sprinting, football, hockey, etc. Although some studies have shown promising results for long distance athletes like marathon runners others have shown that the increased muscle mass and water retention can slow down a marathon runner. It should also be noted that athletes that are involved in concussive sports (sports where concussions frequently occur), like boxing, football and hockey may benefit from using creatine. A study published in 2000 in the Annals of Neurology  found that mice that were given creatine has significantly less brain damage from a concussion than the mice that were not.

Therapeutic benefits

As impressive as the research may be on athletic performance it is creatine’s impressive therapeutic possibilities that are in my opinion the most exciting.  Creatine has been shown to:

  • Protect the brain from damaging chemicals called neurotoxins
  • Protect us from free radicals by acting as an antioxidant
  • Improve short term memory & IQ
  • Protect the brainstem and hippocampus from hypoxia (reduction of oxygen supply to tissues)
  • Improve blood and oxygen flow to the brain
  • Extend endurance in congestive heart failure patients
  • May help those with neuromuscular diseases like Lou Gehrig’s disease, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s disease

Creatine and seniors

By far one of the most active areas of research on creatine is its ability to help seniors age more gracefully. Dr Joseph Debé in his book The Ultimate Creatine Handbook refers to creatine as the “ultimate anti-aging nutrient”. Creatine has been shown to improve the overall quality of life of seniors especially when combined with exercise. The loss of muscle, known clinically as sarcopenia, is a condition to be taken seriously. With the loss of muscle is a resultant loss of function, strength and overall quality of life. Creatine is being used widely by seniors with dramatic results. Increased energy, more strength, increased mobility, improved muscle tone and an overall better sense of wellness. Increasingly more doctors are now seeing the value of this supplement and recommending it to their patients and many are noticing impressive results.

Maximizing absorption

Creatine is available in both a powder and capsule form (powders are less expensive and more convenient). The best researched form is known as creatine monohydrate. Although other forms of creatine are available stick to the tried and true creatine monohydrate. To maximize the absorption of creatine it is best taken with juice or better still a protein shake blended with juice. If you workout the best times of day to take it would be either before or immediately after your workout or both. If you don’t exercise take it when it’s the most convenient for you. When taking creatine it’s important that you stay well hydrated and have no less then 8-10 glasses of water daily!

Dosage

1 teaspoon (5 grams) a day is the recommended dosage. Some have the mindset that if a little is good more is better. That’s not the case with creatine. Don’t exceed this dose. Some recommend doing what’s known as a creatine cycle. This simply involves taking creatine daily for three months and then going off it for one month and repeating. When you’re exercising, even on your rest days, it is important to continue taking creatine.

Considerations

Although creatine has been found to be safe in numerous peer reviewed studies it is advisable to avoid it if you have a kidney or liver disorder unless you speak to your doctor. Because diabetics are often prone to kidney disorders it is advised that they also speak to their doctor before using it. Creatine hasn’t been researched on individuals under the age of 18 so it is advisable for those only 18 or older to use it.

Conclusions

Creatine has come a long way since it was first used as a supplement by bodybuilders and other athletes. Increasingly non-athletes, seniors and people with specific medical conditions are discovering the wonders this supplement can afford!