The best way to learn, often is to teach. If you want to figure out just how thoroughly you know a subject – try explaining it to someone else. I was actually going to write a post about creatine and coffee, but after reading through a lot of studies I took a step back and thought about how I would explain what creatine was and what it does in a simple way. Unable to give any good explanation, I read into it, and will now try to give you a short, un-scientific, enables-you-to-explain-it-to-others description of what creatine is and does.
Creatine is naturally produced in the human body from amino acids primarily in the kidney and liver. It is transported in the blood for use by muscles. Approximately 95% of the human body’s total creatine is located in skeletal muscle.
To get this one out of the way; never confuse creatine with creatinine as the latter is a waste product.
Creatine helps turn ADP back into ATP. If you have read some marketing material of creatine, you may have bumped into this statement. It is very true, but unless you have a medical degree you probably are pretty lost on what it actually means.
All of this is part of the krebs cycle, that is our body’s way of extracting energy from the food we ingest. If you want a really good and easily understandable explanation of this, then take a few minutes to see this presentation by Doug McGuff in the middle of his very long speech – it is the most easily understandable explanation I have ever come across. However if you are only interested in the short explanation, then skip the video.
I will try to be true to the name of my blog and keep it simple. Your muscles needs energy to function. This energy comes from the food you consume. When you are rested and start max effort work, your muscles will be provided with energy through ATP. ATP is short for Adenosine triphosphate, which is only interesting because; upon delivering energy to the muscle, it gives away one phosphate(the energy), and thereby ends up as Adenosine diphosphate(ADP).
Locally in the muscles working, there is a very clever, limited recycling system, that can turn ADP back into ATP. This extends the time your muscles can deliver max effort briefly, if the system is working overtime, as in max effort lifts or sprints. What enables this is phosphocreatine, that reacts together with the enzyme creatine kinase – forget the names but this is, as you may have guessed from the names – where creatine comes into play. Creatine kinase is relatively abundant in the muscles, or at least not the limiting factor. But phosphocreatine is where supplementation with creatine works it magic.
Your stores of phosphocreatine are limited, so given our max effort lift or sprint – when your supplies of phosphocreatine runs out, you are no longer able to produce the same amount of effort by recycling ADP into ATP. Your body will then switch to another energy system, which can run for longer, but not produce the same peak effect.
Therefore, what you do with creatine supplementation is make your phosphocreatine stores larger, which enables you to run your max-effort energy system, a little longer. Think of it as a bicycle with an electric motor, that recharges from your pedalling, and has it energy stored in a battery. When you activate it, you can cycle faster because of the joint effort of your legs and the electric motor, but only for as long as the battery holds power, then you are back to rely on only your legs, until the battery is recharged. Then what creatine does it giving you a larger battery along with a larger generator, so you can recharge as fast as before but run max effort longer.
This was the performance part of the equation, but creatine has even more positive effects up its sleeve. When it comes to building muscle, a lot of people, myself included, think of creatine as only pushing water into the muscles and not actually giving any real size gains. That the gains would only come from the increased ability to train harder. But a lot of studies actually point in another direction. Without going into too much detail, creatine should help decrease the breakdown of muscle and increase the growth of “fast twitch” muscle fibers – this was something that I did not know, before researching for this post.
Furthermore creatine helps your muscles absorb more glucose(carbohydrates) and carbohydrates actually helps your body store more creatine – so that should have you ingesting the two of them together, if you are not already.
What further surprised me, was that studies even have shown positive effects on both intelligence and longevity. Creatine is surely one of the most well known and well documented performance enhancers of all time.
I will not go into any details about how and when to ingest, since I during this research also found some rather interesting information about a slightly different approach, than the one preached for decades. My plan is to try it out and then get back with an evaluation.
One thing I however will do is answer a question that seems to be present in the comments of every article about creatine – what sort should we ingest? Stick to creatine monohydrate – that is the most researched form of creatine, that has been around as supplementation since the early nineties. The other fancy forms of creatine, has to the best of my knowledge not been able to prove any of their claims in studies, yet.
The great thing about creatine monohydrate, is that it is possible to find really cheap. Like this for instance; a great amount from a renowned brand: NOW Foods Creatine Powder, 2.2 Pounds