Article on Creatine

How does creatine work?

When working with my personal training clients, the subject of supplementing with creatine monohydrate frequently comes up. When it comes to performance enhancing supplements, creatine is still my favorite (though personally I don't use performance enhancing supplements a whole lot).

I'm big on trying to do my best to educate my clients and pass off whatever knowledge or know-how I have regarding not only why I have them what I have them doing in the gym, but also why I prescribe specific foods for them as well as educating them on how different supplements work - especially performance enhancing supplements. I never add performance enhancing supplements into my clients plan, but educate them on these products and let them decide.

So I'm guessing that you've probably used creatine, in some form, at some point in time.. right? I thought so. Now my question is this - did you know why it did what it did? If not, read on..

We have three different forms of energy in the muscle. ATP, creatine phosphate, and glycogen. Looking back at the numbers I learned years back (though I doubt they're right on point), ATP lasts 1.26 seconds. (If you wonder where I got that number, and the following numbers, it was from a seminar I attended in Dayton, OH that Tom Platz was the speaker of.) So let's look at ATP like this - ATP is the energy source your body uses for a one rep max. Let's say the ATP tank is powerful, yet small, and is depleted after a true one rep max. That's why your true max only moves that one time, you're out of fuel. Then your body moves to creatine phosphate in the muscle for energy. Creatine phosphate lasts 11 to 15 seconds. This is how long the typical resistance training set would last, assuming you have the proper weight and it's hard for you. After that amount of time, your body moves to glycogen in the muscle, which is primarily used (along with bodyfat depending on your nutrition and other factors) when we are doing cardiovascular activity.

When you hit failure in a resistance training set, assuming the weight wasn't too light, what happens is your body has used up the ATP in the muscle, then used up the creatine phosphate in the muscle, and then moved to using glycogen, which isn't a good enough energy source to enable your muscle to keep moving the weight. The reason why we need a 2-3 minute break, if the weight was heavy enough and the set was intense enough, is these two first primary energy sources are depleted and need to replenish themselves. Glycogen helps contribute to reformation of creatine phosphate, and creatine phosphate helps with reformation of ATP in the muscle. Once this cycle is done, it's time to pick the weights back up.

When supplementing with creatine, we get the benefits in a couple of different ways. When we force more creatine into the muscle by supplementing with it, we extend the amount of time we can lift x amount of weight. So let's say you were benching 225 for ten reps, and after taking creatine you suddenly moved up to fifteen reps - this is because with more creatine stored in the muscle, your muscle is able to push the weight for a longer period of time without running out. The extra creatine phosphate contributes to less recovery time between sets as well.

The second way that creatine works (and this causes me to opt for creatine monohydrate rather than the other products, but that's my personal preference) is that creatine (monohydrate primarily) causes some water retention and bloating. People now days try to avoid this effect but don't understand the importance of it. When you are holding more water, and somewhat "bloated," your muscle has more room to accommodate for a larger contraction, which in turn will enable you to lift more weight.

Hopefully this clears up any questions you may have regarding how creatine works. When it comes to choosing a creatine, I can't necessarily say that one is better than the other, it's all in your personal preference. I have recently tried the SCIFIT CEE and it was pretty good, but good old creatine monohydrate is personally my favorite any day (mixed with waxy maize for supreme absorption purposes. If you don't know about waxy maize, read the "years of taking supplements" article I wrote).

Jason Michael - C.P.T. - The Supplement Guru of Team i-Supplements

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