Creatine is one of the most popular supplements available on the market with sales estimated at $400 million annually1. This popularity comes for a good reason; creatine is one of the few supplements that consistently demonstrates its effectiveness in a high number of research articles. This series will go over what creatine does in the body and what the research says about its effectiveness in a wide variety of goals including body composition, strength training, and cardiovascular performance.
What is creatine?
Creatine was first discovered in 1832 but only gained popularity after the 1992 Olympic games. Since then, recreational, collegiate, and professional athletes widely adopted its use1.
Creatine is an amino acid derivative made from glycine, arginine, and methionine. It’s made naturally in the liver, kidneys, and pancreas, and is also available in foods such as milk, meat, and fish. The typical diet provides 1-2 grams of creatine per day. The average male body contains a creatine reserve ranging from 120 to 140 grams1. The most popular, and arguably the most effective, form is creatine monohydrate. Other types include creatine citrate, creatine ethyl ester, creatine nitrate, and creatine pyruvate.
What does the body use creatine for?
We consume calories in the form of fat, carbohydrates, and protein. Though each of these macronutrients have unique roles in the body, they also provide it with energy. At the cellular level, all calories are converted into a substance known as adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is an adenosine molecule combined with three phosphorus groups (the triphosphate). It provides the energy to power all muscle contractions2.
ATP powers muscle contractions by being converted into adenosine diphosphate (ADP). Converting ATP into ADP breaks a bond and releases energy. The body has a process to recycle ADP back into ATP to further power muscle contractions efficiently2.
Creatine comes in the form of creatine phosphate. Providing the body with an increased pool of phosphate reserves (in the form of creatine phosphate) theoretically improves the conversion of ADP back into ATP. This allows the body to synthesize ATP quicker, providing more energy for muscle contractions. This should improve performance in many different activities2.
What are some potential benefits of creatine?
The body is good at either providing large amounts of ATP slowly (good for aerobic exercise: running, swimming, biking, cardio) or quickly making small amounts of ATP (good for short bursts of anaerobic exercise: sprints, weight lifting, sports).
Creatine helps speed up ADP to ATP conversion which gives it quicker access to more energy during high demand activities. It should improve short but intense activities such as maximal lifts, high intensity exercise, and sprints, and may also increase muscle mass, improve recovery, and decrease body fat.
The Bottom Line
Though creatine is one of the few supplements with ample research backing its use, there is plenty of marketing hype encouraging misuse to improve sales. This series will clear up this hype and separate lies from facts.
- Butts, J., Jacobs, B., & Silvis, M. (2017). Creatine Use in Sports. SAGE Journals, 10(1), 31-34. doi:10.1177/1941738117737248
- Adenosine Triphosphate. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/Biology/atp.html