First of all, Creatine is not a steroid! Creatine is an organic acid naturally produced by the body. It can also be obtained from food or supplementation. It plays a critical role in forming the specific energy needed to create muscular force and movement. Depending on your muscular need for force, your body uses different primary fuels. When you are doing something for a long time at a low intensity, your body likes to use fat as its main fuel. As you crank up the intensity, your body looks to stored carbohydrates for energy. When you are doing things at a very high intensity of muscular force, lifting weights, short sprints (under 8-15 seconds or so), plyometrics, etc., your body uses a very specific method for obtaining the large amounts of energy rapidly needed. Creatine is one of the primary “fuels” involved with this process.
Without question, creatine is the gold standard by which all strength-related supplements are judged. The basic premise for how and why creatine works so well is pretty straightforward, but a little dense in terms of the science if you aren’t familiar with the Krebs Cycle or ATP production:
We store creatine in our muscles. A phosphate group can be easily attached to creatine, thereby forming phosphocreatine, which is also stored in our muscles. When muscles do work, they use adenosine triphosphate (ATP). The process of “using” ATP involves removing a phosphate group, which turns adenosine triphosphate (three phosphates) into adenosine diphosphate (two phosphates). Phosphocreatine swoops in to rapidly donate its phosphate group, ADP becomes ATP, and we’re ready to do more work in a very short amount of time (2)
High-intensity exercise is characterized not only by the use of a large amount of total ATP, but more critically by its need for rapid access to ATP. Compared to rest, the rate of ATP demand increases up to 1,000-fold (1) during intense exercise. If ATP isn’t available within a reasonably fast time frame, performance simply cannot be sustained, and intensity drops as a consequence. Phosphocreatine provides rapid ATP replenishment, but a muscle can only store so much creatine and phosphocreatine at a given time. In this sense, creatine can be thought of as a quantitatively limited, but fairly instantaneous, reservoir for the replenishment of ATP. The purpose of creatine supplementation is to increase the amount of stored creatine, thereby bolstering the capacity of this rapid ATP-generating energy system. In addition, creatine has been shown to increase lean body mass (3), presumably due to increased intramuscular fluid retention and improved resistance training capacity. (4)
Literally hundreds of studies have shown creatine monohydrate to effectively increase muscle creatine storage and enhance physical performance.
However, does that mean it is for EVERYONE? Nope.
Creatine is a supplement, which means it will enhance performance supplementary to how you are already training your body.
With our adult, or college/teen performance group, there are a few other ways that they can all enhance performance that will be more beneficial than taking a 5mg scoop of powder daily.
Here’s a quick list.
Sleep: At least 8 hours per night, more if possible. During sleep is when the body repairs and builds. Little sleep, little muscle repair. In addition, an alert, rested body is able to perform at a higher level!
Nutrition: Energy and nutrients from calories is the ONLY thing that provides building blocks for muscle. Eat 4-6 nutrient-dense meals per day, focusing on getting protein, complex carbohydrate, and unsaturated fat. Better nutrition, more energy, more intense workouts!
Training: Training provides the stimulus for your body to use calories from food to repair and become bigger and stronger. A training program should be safe, progressive, challenging, and well-balanced. Most of all, it needs to be consistent. Usually 3-4 days per week is ideal for weight training to see maximum benefits. Hire a professional to design it; don’t get it from the internet.
When To Use Creatine
If you are maximizing the effects of proper sleep, nutrition, and training, and you could use just a bit more explosive energy, then creatine will almost certainly provide you with that result. If you are thinking that creatine can help you in spite of your poor sleep patterns, crappy diet, and inconsistent training regimen, think again. There aren’t any shortcuts.
Before you look to supplements to enhance your performance, take an inventory of your lifestyle and training habits. Log your sleep, nutrition and workout routines for a month, see if your performance improves. If it does, then maybe you are still a few steps away from needing a supplement. If improvements are minimal, and you feel like you’re doing most everything in your power to be better, then supplementing properly may be beneficial.