Creatine is a chemical that is normally found in the body, mostly in muscles. It is made by the body, from the amino acids glycine and arginine, and is made primarily in the kidney and liver and is transported by the blood to the muscles and stored. It is also obtained from certain foods – mostly fish and meat.
Creatine helps to supply energy to all cells in the body and primarily to muscle. This is done by converting creatine into creatine phosphate or phosphocreatine and then into adenosine troposphere (ATP). ATP produces the contractions of a muscle’s proteins. When muscles are performing work ATP is broken down into ADP (adenosine diphosphate) and energy is given off.
The concentration of ATP in skeletal muscle is enough to result in a muscle contraction of only a few (10-15) seconds. Fortunately during times of increased energy demands, the system rapidly resynthesizes ATP from ADP. Creatine acts as a reserve for the ATP. Thus the increased amounts of creatine will allow the body to supply ATP as a faster rate. This allows the individual to workout longer and maintain a high level of strength. (With creatine as a supplement the body is exposed 4 grams of creatine per kilogram whereas red meats give 1 gram of creatine per large serving.)*
Creatine supplements are popular among athletes, bodybuilders, wrestlers, sprinters and others who wish to gain muscle mass and enhance athletic performance, particularly during high-intensity, short-duration sports like jumping and lifting weights. There is some evidence supporting the use of creatine in improving the athletic performance of young, healthy people during brief high intensity activity.
Many think creatine is effective for athletic performance. The effectiveness is influenced by several factors including the fitness level and age of the person, the type of sport and the dose. It does not seem to improve performance aerobic exercises or benefit older persons, or highly skilled athletes.**
Neither the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) or the International Olympic Committee have banned its use, although there is controversy.***
Vegetarians and other people who have lower total creatine levels when they start taking creatine supplements seem to get more benefit than people who start with a higher level of creatine. Skeletal muscle will only hold a certain amount of creatine; adding more won’t raise levels any more. This “saturation point” is usually reached within the first few days of taking a “loading dose”.**
Not all studies have shown that creatine improves athletic performance, nor does every person respond in the same way. ***
Studies have shown little or no adverse impact on kidney or liver function from oral supplementation and that oral creatine supplementation of a rate of 5-20 grams per day appears to be safe and devoid of adverse side-effects. ****
However there is always the potential for side effects and interactions with medications. Therefore dietary supplements should always be taken only under the supervision of a knowledgeable health care provider. Side effects can include weight gain, muscle cramps and pulls, stomach upset, diarrhea, dizziness, high blood pressure, liver dysfunction and kidney damage. Some persons may gain weight. This is because creatine causes the muscles to hold water, not because it is actually building muscle.
There is some concern that creatine supplementation can harm the kidney, liver or heart function. However such effects have not been proven.
Creatine causes muscles to draw water from the rest of the body and causes minor water retention. This can also cause dehydration. Also do not exercise in the heat as one can become dehydrated. Thus WHILE CREATINE IS BEING TAKEN IT IS NECESSARY THAT THE INDIVIDUAL REMAINS HYDRATED.
It is recommended that persons with kidney or liver disease should not use this supplement. Also persons with asthmatic symptoms should use caution. It is advised that pregnant and breastfeeding person should not use creatine as there has not been sufficient study. If there should be problems with metabolizing creatine, this has shown to cause low levels of creatine in the brain which can result in mental retardation, seizures, autism and movement disorders. * There has not been a lot of long term, unbiased, research done with this product and in such instances, it is sometimes advisable to proceed with caution.
There has been some mention that with creatine’s ability to increase muscle mass and strength, that it may help fight muscle weakness in illnesses such as heart failure and muscular dystrophy. Much more work needs to be done in this area.
(To clarify – Creatinine is a breakdown product of creatine and is produced by the body. It is a chemical waste product produced by muscle metabolism and to a smaller extent from eating meat. Healthy kidneys filter creatinine and other waste products from the blood. A creatinine lab test is done to learn how well the kidneys are functioning. An increase of creatinine in the blood means that the kidney is not functioning well.)
* Hogans, Tavarus, Creatine Monohydrate, Psychology Department, Vanderbilt University.
** Web MD, Creatine
*** University of Maryland, Creatine
**** Wikipedia – Creatine