Creatine: Hail to the King
Often called the king of supplements, creatine is one of the most widely used supplements in the athletic world. To some people the name conjures up images of overly pumped bodybuilders in a roid-rage, or regular people swelling up to hulk-like levels. Let’s go beyond the myths and dive in to the facts:
Creatine is simply a combination of three amino acids: glycine, arginine, and methionine, and amino acids are the molecules that combine to form proteins. The body uses amino acids to grow, repair tissue, break down food, and perform many other functions. Our bodies produce 1 to 2 grams of creatine naturally in the kidneys, liver, and pancreas, and that creatine is then stored in the skeletal muscles. Extra creatine in our system can come from high-protein foods like red meat and seafood and of course – supplementation.
Why Would We Want More Creatine?
It is commonly understood and accepted that creatine improves strength, increases lean muscle mass, and helps the muscles recover more quickly during exercise. Creatine is already found naturally in muscle cells and helps your body produce energy during exercise. Much of the benefits of creatine appeal to people who lift weights, but healthy muscle mass is beneficial to athletes and non-athletes alike. According to doctors like Dr. Howard Luks, muscle mass correlates with a decrease in all-cause mortality. The more muscle mass we have, the better for our longevity.
Anyone could supplement with creatine, but most who consume it are athletes and lifters actively engaged in tearing and rebuilding muscle – and for good reason. Studies show that creatine supplementation can increase muscle mass, strength, and athletic performance. In fact, one study showed that a 20 gram dosage of creatine for 5 – 7 days could result in a 5 – 15% increase in performance and strength.
95% of the body’s creatine is stored in the muscles in the form of phosphocreatine. When we take supplements, we increase our storage of phosphocreatine. This stored energy in the cells helps your body produce more ATP, or adenosine triphosphate, which is the main energy source of the cell – often referred to as the body’s energy currency. The additional energy stores of phosphocreatine can be used to produce more ATP which is the body’s main energy source for heavy lifting and high intensity exercise.
For anyone who is exercising, taking creatine makes a lot of sense. According to healthline.com, it can enable greater volume in a training session, aid in muscle repair and new growth, can raise growth hormones specifically IGF-1, lowers myostatin levels – which slows and blocks new muscle growth, and can help reduce muscle breakdown. Creatine also adds water content to the cells of your muscles, which increases cell volume and can also aid in muscle growth. This is responsible for the “swole” look many people talk about with creatine. However, this occurrence is usually the result of a loading-phase and does not last.
The Loading Phase and Regular Dosage
Many creatine supplements recommend starting with a “loading phase”, in which you consume 20 grams of creatine for the first week and then taper off. If you enjoy meat and fish in your diet, your muscle stores of creatine are likely 60% full. Creatine loading rapidly saturates these muscles stores to capacity. 20 grams seems to be agreed-upon dosage for a week-long loading phase, and then you can maintain high creatine stores in your muscles consuming between 2 – 10 grams per day . If you’re not in a hurry to look swole, however, creatine saturation occurs naturally after about 30 days. One can start with a regular dose of 3 – 5 grams per day and achieve the same effects on maximizing your storage in the muscles in time.
Creatine is not a steroid nor it is a highway to massive weight gain. It is a naturally occurring substance in the body and can boost athletic performance when supplemented at higher doses. If you don’t take creatine and supplements and decide to dive in head first at 20 grams a day for the first week, you are bound to see a dramatic effect in your gym training and possibly in the mirror too – until you taper off. If you’re not in a hurry to hulk-out, then adding a dosage of 3 to 5 grams a day will result in increased muscle mass, strength, and performance over time – especially in high-intensity exercise. Creatine is safe, well-researched, widely-used, and effective. There is good reason it’s often called the king of supplements – long live the king!
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