Creatine has become highly popular in recent times owing to the improvements it provides in increasing muscle strength, muscle mass, as well as exercise performance. Creatine is found naturally in the body as well, mostly in the muscles and also in the brain. Creatine is also found in certain foods such as seafood and red meat. This chemical substance can also be produced in the laboratory and is today used as the most popular supplement for improving performance in the gym. The supplement has been widely studied and is today one of the most scientifically valid supplements for exercising. Apart from exercise, though, there are many other health benefits of creatine.
Today, we take a look at the various performance and health benefits of creatine.
What is Creatine and What Does It Do?
A nitrogenous organic acid, creatine is found throughout the body, particularly in the muscle cells. Creatine is responsible for supplying energy to the body’s cells. The primary function of creatine is to help the muscles produce energy during any high-intensity exercise or during heavy lifting. While creatine is found naturally in the body, it is also found in foods such as seafood and red meat. Creatine is also obtained from supplements, which have become quite popular today, especially amongst bodybuilders and weightlifters. The supplement is used by bodybuilders and weightlifters for enhancing their strength, gain muscle mass, and for improving overall exercise performance.
Creatine supplements are also used by athletes for improving their performance. Even elderly people use it for increasing their muscle mass and also for treating certain problems which occur when the body is no longer able to metabolize creatine completely.
There is a lot of evidence to show that creatine can help in preventing skin aging, treating muscle diseases, helping people suffering from multiple sclerosis (MS), enhancing cognitive ability, and many more.
Chemically, creatine shares many similarities with different types of amino acids. In fact, your body is capable of producing creatine from glycine and arginine, two main amino acids in the body.
Nearly 95 percent of the body’s creatine is stored in the muscles. The muscles store creatine in the form of phosphocreatine. The remaining five percent of creatine is found in the kidneys, brain, and liver.
When a person takes creatine supplements, they help increase the storage levels of phosphocreatine in the muscles, thus creating stored energy in the body’s cells. This also helps the body produce more high energy molecules known as ATP, known as the body’s energy reserves. When the level of ATP increases in the body, you are able to perform better during exercise.
Creatine is also known to change many cellular processes that cause an increase in muscle strength and muscle mass, and also boosts the recovery process of muscles.
Here are certain fast facts about creatine:
- Athletes and bodybuilders use creatine for assisting in their high-intensity training
- Creatine is used for increasing body mass
- Many studies are now looking at using creatine for helping in the treatment of diseases such as depression and Parkinson’s disease
- Since creatine is used to build muscle, the supplement is also useful in treating people who have muscular dystrophy
- Some studies have even shown that creatine supplements can help boost memory
Creatine has been observed to be relatively safe for most people when taken in moderate doses, however, the long-term safety of creatine is yet to be researched
Performance and Health Benefits of Creatine
Helping Muscle Cells Produce More Energy
One of the biggest benefits of creatine, for which it is used worldwide, is that creatine supplements help the muscle cells produce more energy. How does this work?
Creatine supplement help to increase the muscles’ reserves of phosphocreatine. Phosphocreatine is known to help with the production of new ATP in the muscle cells. ATP is the primary molecule in your cells that is used by the body for producing energy and for other basic day-to-day functions. ATP is also required by the body during exercise.
During exercise, the body uses ATP. It breaks down the ATP to produce energy during exercise, giving you a much needed extra boost of energy.
Your ability to perform optimally can become limited if the rate of ATP resynthesis is slowed down. When you start taking creatine supplements and it increases the production of ATP, you are able to use ATP reserves more as creatine has increased your phosphocreatine reserves. This allows the body to produce more ATP energy, fueling the muscles during exercise, particularly high-intensity exercises.
According to a study conducted in 2012 by the University of Greenwich at Medway, in the United Kingdom, and the Victoria University in Australia found the following about creatine:
- Creatine helps increase the effects of resistance training on body mass and body strength
- It boosts the benefits and quality of your high-intensity speed training
- It helps improve endurance performance during aerobic exercise which lasts for over 150 seconds
- Creatine is helpful in improving power, strength, as well as fat-free mass
- It also helps improve your daily performance and neurological function
- It is also known to benefit in anaerobic exercise. There is some doubt about whether or not creatine helps boost performance in other types of exercises.
This is how creatine helps boost your performance. Using creatine supplements helps provide extra ATP energy, thus improving your performance during high-intensity exercise.
Creatine Helps Increase Body Mass
Studies have shown that an increase in the creatine content in your muscles gives rise to an increased body mass. However, according to data from the US National Library of Medicine, creatine does not actually build the muscles. This increase in body mass actually occurs because creatine increases the ability of muscles to hold water.
According to a study done by the University of Florida and published in 2003, it was concluded that the benefits in body mass from taking creatine supplements was most likely due to water retention in the muscles.
It can also be, though, that the increase in body mass is actually a result of being able to work harder while exercising.
Supporting Other Muscle Functions
Creatine is known worldwide for being one of the most effective supplements for increasing muscle mass. However, not only does creatine increase the muscle mass, but it also brings about changes in many of the body’s cellular pathways that help in the growth of new muscles. For example, a study done by the Department of Physical Education and Rehabilitation at the Université Catholique de Louvain in Belgium found that creatine supplements increase the formation of proteins that help in creating new muscle fibers, thus aiding in the growth of new muscles.
- Creatine also helps in increasing the levels of IGF-1, which is a growth factor of the body. IGF-1 helps promote a further boost in muscle mass.
- As stated above, creatine helps increase water retention in the muscles. This process, known as cell volumization, also helps in increasing the muscle size quickly.
- Some studies have also shown that creatine can lower the levels of myostatin. Myostatin is a molecule that causes stunting in muscle growth. Lowering the levels of myostatin can help grow and build muscles at a faster pace.
Repairing Muscle Damage After Injury
Research by the Center for Sports Science and Human Performance in the United Kingdom has shown that creatine supplements help prevent muscle damage. It also boosts the recovery process of muscles after an athlete or bodybuilder has experienced a muscle injury.
- Creatine is also known to have an antioxidant effect, especially after resistance training. Creatine supplements also help lower the incidence of cramping.
- Due to these benefits, creatine is also said to play a big role in the rehabilitation of brain injuries.
Improving Performance in High-Intensity Exercises
Several studies over the years have shown that creatine has a direct and important role in the production of ATP, thus substantially improving the performance during high-intensity exercises. A study by the International Society of Sports Nutrition in the United States has shown that creatine boosts and improves several factors related to high-intensity exercises, including:
- Ballistic power
- Muscle endurance
- Sprint ability
- Resistance to fatigue
- Faster recovery after injury
- Increased brain performance
Unlike other sports supplements that only work for athletes who are at an advanced level, creatine has some or the other benefit for everyone, regardless of what fitness level you are at.
In fact, one study even found that taking creatine helps improve performance in high-intensity exercises by nearly 15 percent.
Role in Parkinson’s Disease
Parkinson’s disease is marked by a decrease in the production of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a key neurotransmitter and a significant reduction in the levels of dopamine can cause the death of brain cells. It causes many types of symptoms, including loss of muscle function, tremors, and speech impairments.
Creatine supplements have shown to have benefits in treating some of the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease in mice. The study was done by the
Neurology Service at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston showed that creatine successfully stopped 90 percent of the decrease in dopamine levels.
Doctors often advise people suffering from Parkinson’s disease to perform weight training in order to treat the loss of muscle strength and function. When creatine is combined with weight training, it improves muscle strength and functioning by a great extent, as compared to only doing weight training.
However, a current study done by the Chenzhou No. 1 People’s Hospital in China showed that in five controlled studies on Parkinson’s patients, who were given 5 to 10 grams of creatine every day, creatine did not have much impact on their daily functioning and activities.
This indicates that further research is still needed to determine the exact impact creatine has on patients of Parkinson’s disease.
Impact on Other Neurological Conditions
It has been observed that one of the key factors in many neurological diseases is the decrease of phosphocreatine in the brain. We already know that creatine helps increase the levels of phosphocreatine in the brain. This is likely to help slow down the progression of the neurological condition. A study done on mice suffering from Huntington’s disease, it was seen that creatine helped restore the brain’s reserves of phosphocreatine to 72 percent of the pre-disease levels. This was compared to only 26 percent in the control mice. The study was done at the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. The study also showed that once the levels of phosphocreatine were restored, the mice were able to maintain their daily function and also experienced a decrease in cell death by 25 percent.
Further research on animals has shown that taking supplements of creatine can help some other neurological conditions as well, including:
Creatine supplements have also shown to have a positive effect on ALS, which is a condition that affects the motor neurons in the body that are needed for movement. Creatine has shown to improve the function of motor neurons, it lowered muscle loss, and also increased the patient’s survival rate by over 15 percent.
While more studies are needed to be done on humans, researchers are of a firm belief that creatine supplements will prove to be beneficial against neurological conditions as well.
Lower Blood Glucose and Fight against Diabetes
Studies have shown that creatine supplements help lower the levels of blood sugar or blood glucose. Creatine does this by boosting the function of a transporter molecule that is responsible for bringing blood glucose into the muscles, known as GLUT4.
A study undertaken over a 12-week period at the Laboratory of Applied Nutrition and Metabolism of the University of São Paulo in Brazil looked at how creatine is able to affect blood sugar levels, especially after consuming a high-carb meal. The participants who combined exercising with creatine were shown to be much better at controlling their blood sugar levels as compared to those who only exercised.
It has been observed that the blood sugar response to any meal in the short term is an accurate and important marker for determining the risk of diabetes. The faster the body is able to clear out the sugar from the bloodstream, the better it is.
While the benefits of creatine in lowering blood sugar levels are positive, more research on humans is required to understand the long-term effect of creatine on diabetes and blood glucose control.
Effect on Brain Performance
Creatine has been shown to have an important effect in increasing the performance of your brain. It also has a crucial role to play in maintaining the brain’s health and function.
Studies have shown that the brain requires a substantial amount of ATP to keep performing difficult jobs with ease. As we already know, creatine helps increase the production of ATP. Creatine supplements increase the levels of phosphocreatine in the brain, helping the brain to produce more ATP. Creatine also helps the brain function by boosting the function of mitochondria and the levels of dopamine at the same time.
One of the best natural sources of creatine is red meat. This is why vegetarians are often seen to have low levels of creatine. A study that focused on vegetarians taking creatine supplements, found that there was a 30 to 50 percent improvement in the intelligence test scores as well as memory functions in the participants.
For the elderly population also, having creatine supplements for just weeks has shown to have significant improvements in their recalling ability and their memory. In the elderly, creatine is known to improve brain function, lower the incidence of age-related muscle loss and loss of strength, as well as provide protection against many types of neurological conditions, as discussed above.
Nevertheless, in spite of many positive results from studies, further research is still needed on young and healthy people who are eating red meat and seafood regularly.
Protection for the Heart
Further studies on mice have shown that creatine supplements help protect the heart after a stressful event and also helps boost the repair activity of the heart.
Creatine is known to lower the levels of homocysteine in the body, which increases the risk of heart disease. Reducing homocysteine in the body can significantly help your cardiovascular health. Even a daily dose of 20 grams of creatine can help lower your cholesterol levels by five percent, and also reduces your risk of getting a stroke or a heart attack.
There is no doubt that creatine has become a major business today. It is said that in the United States alone, people are spending over US$2.5 billion per year on sports supplements, the majority of which contain creatine.
Another point in favor of creatine is that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) allows the use of creatine and therefore, this supplement is used widely amongst professional athletes.
However, creatine has not shown to be effective for all sports. It has also shown to improve brain function, improve exercise performance particularly in high-intensity exercises, fight against many neurological conditions, and also accelerate the process of muscle growth.
If you want to check whether creatine works for you or not, you should try adding this supplement to your daily regimen and observe the changes or benefits.