Power of Creatine: Brain & Body Boosts
I’m generally not someone who widely recommends supplements because a lot of those ingredients are already being obtained by a person’s diet, so supplementing is oftentimes just a waste of time and money. However, the two that I most commonly recommend (depending on the situation) are protein and creatine supplementation — today, we’re going to talk about creatine.
Animal products, such as beef, already contains creatine. While it is possible to get the same amount of creatine from beef as you do in an average scoop of creatine powder (most commonly 3-5 g), it’s not likely because you would have to eat about 2-3 lbs of beef everyday! I don’t know about you, but that’s a lot of beef, which could get really expensive and make you feel really uncomfortable since that is so much food. Instead, for the 99% of us that don’t want to spend your time eating an entire cow a day, you’ll probably be better off just taking a creatine supplement.
Creatine isn’t just something for the gym bros, but it’s something that might serve as a benefit for you and reaching your fitness goals. Research indicates that supplementing with creatine can help with building muscle mass, improving training performance, and, what I find to be most thrilling, possible neurological benefits.
Increased Muscle Size
You’re probably wondering why I’m talking about increasing muscle size when you’re not looking to get big and buff and looking like a bodybuilder. Even I’m not interested in looking like a bodybuilder, but the reason is that as you age, muscle mass begins to deteriorate. In the process called “sarcopenia”, you begin to see the rate of muscle loss beginning to speed up after age 40, in which one begins to lose approximately 0.5% of muscle per year. After age 50, the sarcopenia rate increases to 1-2% per year, and after age 60, it can be as high as 3-5% per year. Through resistance training and a nutritious diet, sarcopenia, while it cannot be outright prevented, it can, however, be slowed down. The good thing about creatine supplementation is that this can help you with maintaining, and possibly building, your muscle mass, even if you are already over the age of 40.
I first tried creatine supplementation when I was in the Navy. Since I was in a construction battalion, the Seabees, we would have to do PT quite often, and this included having to run. I was always one of the faster guys in my battalion, but when I started taking creatine, I felt myself feeling heavier and slower than before. I didn’t know it at the time, but this is called “cellular hyper hydration”, in which muscle fibers take in more water than normal. Even though I didn’t like the added water weight because it was slowing down my running, hyper hydration is actually a good thing. Research indicates that it may decrease muscle breakdown and make carbohydrates more ready for use by the muscles.
Creatine supplementation isn’t reserved only for the gym bros. In fact, several studies that included women, adolescents, and seniors demonstrated benefits of taking a creatine supplement as an effective way to grow and maintain muscle mass. When coupled with a well-designed resistance training program and nutritious diet that provides an adequate amount of protein intake, it is likely that the benefits may be even more impressive.
Did you know that creatine is produced by our own bodies? It’s true. The liver, kidneys, and pancreas form creatine phosphate from amino acids arginine, glycine, and methionine. In the creatine kinase stage of energy production, creatine phosphate donates a phosphate group to form adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is the main energy source for muscles to work. Energy production coming out of this stage is for short bursts of energy, around 15-30 seconds where one has to perform an explosive exercise. Since most weightlifting sets last about that much time, the idea behind creatine supplementation is that it allows that body a chance to perform at a higher level when more creatine is available. For example, think of two race cars in the final 5 laps, where one has just enough gas to get to the finish, and the other has a full tank, the care with the full tank can be more aggressive in its speed.
Why is it that researchers believe that creatine supplementation may be able to improve training performance? Remember, in the body, creatine donates a phosphate group to provide more energy (ATP) to fuel muscle contractions, and when more creatine is pooled in the body, that allows there to be more ATP available. According to Wax et al. (2021), this increased maximal strength and workout output, as well as power performance and sprint performance. Not only that, but creatine supplementation can also help muscles recover faster.
Not only can creatine supplementation be helpful for your muscles, but did you know that there may neurological benefits, as well. Back in 1999, a study indicated that creatine supplementation may help fight ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), unfortunately, subsequent studies demonstrated that this was not so. However, McMorris et al. (2007) suggested creatine supplementation may aid in cognition for elderly individuals. Moving forward to a meta-analysis published last month, Prokipidis et al. (2023), from a selection of 8 studies that met the requirements, researchers concluded that creatine supplementation enhanced memory performance in healthy people, particularly those 66-76 years old.
There is actually emerging evidence suggesting potential benefits from creatine supplementation for recovering from concussions. A 2017 study published in the journal Concussion, researchers were able to find that supplementation may reduce neuronal damage, and improved cognitive and somatic symptoms. However, as promising as this research is, many experts are still unsure about how definitive the effectiveness is for helping people recover from concussions, but since creatine supplementation is a safer alternative to many pharmaceutical drugs, some doctors are advising their patients to take creatine.
When I started to feel heavier and slower after beginning to take creatine, I knew that I hated the feeling, which is why I swore off of creatine for several years. It wasn’t until I began to be more interested in nutrition and ergogenic aids that led me towards taking a closer look at the benefits of taking creatine. Looking back, it’s likely that my body would have adjusted to the additional “water weight” from the cellular hyper-hydration, and I probably would have been able to return to my normal running speed in a couple weeks. In fact, there has been recent evidence has surfaced that suggests creatine may also assist in endurance training, but that science is still really new. So, if you were to ask me if I would recommend you to start taking creatine, as always, I would start with “It depends”, but there’s a good chance that I’d eventually say yes.