Creatine has been around for quite a while. That is no accident. As a bodybuilding supplement it has gone through several cycles of popularity and obscurity. But, it has always remained. This is because it works.
Creatine has lived up to its claim time and time again. It increases power output, increases muscular size, and boosts muscular endurance. The power output and strength increases come from an increase in the amount of ATP available for each muscle contraction. Muscle size is increased temporarily through an increase of water in the muscle and in the long term due to the strength increases and stimulation to produce additional muscle cells. Muscular endurance is increased because it takes longer for the ATP energy system to be depleted, which delays the start of the lactic acid system.
What makes creatine work so well is its simplicity. Creatine supplements introduce extra phosphate molecules into the ATP (adenosine tri-phosphate) energy cycle. This is the energy cycle responsible for cellular energy and immediate, powerful muscular contractions. The ATP molecule is split and phosphates are released, this breaking of the bond releases energy. The result is an ADP molecule that is looking for a phosphate to bond to. This is where creatine comes in. It increases the amount of free-floating phosphates in the system to increase the amount of ATP available for use. This energy system can sustain the energy needs of the muscles solely for the first 90 seconds. After this the lactic acid system begins to kick in, and by three minutes of sustained activity the ATP system is exhausted.
There have been many formulations of the creatine supplement. Some offer a quicker absorption, some come with special sugars that enhance absorption and transport, and others have supporting nutrients that enhance the effects of the creatine. How the creatine is formulated may change the way, and speed, it is delivered into the system, but any quality creatine supplement will increase the available ATP in the body.
Bodybuilders will also notice a fuller appearance to the muscles while using creatine. Creatine causes an increase of water inside the muscle cells. This increase is not a permanent growth and until the space is replaced with solid structures inside the cell it may be lost. This temporary increase in size does help increase leverage, which in turn increases the amount of weight that can be lifted. This increased weight causes more damage to the muscle fibers, which also causes new fibers to be built. So, in the long run, creatine supplements can cause a permanent increase in muscle size.
Due to the water pulling effect of creatine within the cells, dehydration can be an issue, especially for a hard training athlete. Proper hydration before, during, and after workouts can help prevent dehydration. Drinking plenty of water throughout the day is important for an athlete anyway, to maintain proper hydration. When taking creatine the amount should be increased by at least 16 ounces.
Creatine is a supplement and should not replace sound nutritional practice. It will do very little when coupled with a poor diet. However, as part of a solid nutritional plan it can be a great aid. Weight training is also important. Creatine, without a stimulus to produce extra ATP, will have very little, if any, effect. The strength training will stimulate the body to produce, and store, more ATP and the creatine provides the pieces to do just that.
Creatine is one weapon in the bodybuilder’s arsenal. It is not a miracle supplement, and will not produce “steroid-like” results. It will, however, provide the needed support for a hard training strength athlete or bodybuilder to help them reach their optimum performance level. The simplistic way it works makes it a safe, effective, and necessary, part of any athletes supplement program.