Creatine has been one of the most popular health supplements of the last few decades, and with good reason – very few supplements have the same kinds of conclusive research in to their effectiveness. Creatine is one of the few sports supplements that works as advertised – but what exactly does it do?
Creatine is essentially a fuel source for ATP, which works to deliver energy to the body in short bursts. The result is an increased capacity to perform high intensity exercise, which will ultimately lead to increased muscle size and workout performance if performed on a regular basis.
Without going in to the specifics of how the body produces energy, producing energy during periods of high intensity activity would not be possible without the natural creatine that is in our bodies. Supplementing your diet with additional creatine has been shown to increase the amount of energy available, and is a key reason why it’s so popular with athletes and bodybuilders.
Another key benefit of the supplement is the ability it has to help improve the recovery process. It has been shown to reduce the amount of damage caused to muscle tissue by high intensity exercise, and it also works to help improve the ability of the body to recover when the muscles are damaged. The result is a reduced recovery period, ultimately allowing you to train harder and more often.
Creatine has also been shown to increase muscle volumisation, as it contains a property which causes muscles to ‘inflate’. This helps stimulate protein synthesis, which ultimately helps the body deliver protein to the muscle to help them repair and grow, and also helps to provide a more muscular appearance – never a bad thing!
Many people experience some scale weight gain during the first couple of weeks of creatine supplementation, but this is largely caused by additional water retention in the muscles. Water is able to travel more rapidly from the bloodstream to the muscle tissue, ultimately leading to higher bodyweight. The weight will disappear if and when supplementation is stopped.
Beyond the fitness benefits of creatine, it has also been shown to have a positive impact on brain function. It was found that creatine is an effective neuroprotectant, and is thought to help protect the brain against the free radicals, peroxides and oxygen ions that are thought to be behind various neurodegenerative conditions. Creatine was also linked to an improvement in short term memory in a placebo controlled study on vegans.
Unfortunately it’s almost impossible to get the optimal amount of creatine through diet alone. Creatine supplements generally provide around 5g of creatine a day, and to get the same amount eating beef (one of the foods highest in creatine) you’d have to eat around 2.5lbs every day, which is approximately 2800 calories. Safe to say creatine supplements are the healthier (and cheaper) solution!