We’ve all heard of creatine, and know it has long held a place high in the supplement choices of top-level bodybuilders.But why exactly is creatine revered as an essential mass gainer? How exactly does it work? And most important of all, is it actually worth taking?
Creatine is a naturally occurring compound found in foods such as meat and fish. It is also produced in small quantities within the body and stored in muscle cells, where its primary purpose is to power high intensity muscular actions by enhancing the body’s ability to resynthesise ATP (adenosine triphosphate – the molecule at the heart of all human movement). Due to the effect it has on muscles, it has become one of the most popular sports supplements in the world, with many studies backing up the claims of its incredible safety. Creatine is also useful for endurance athletes, although anecdotal reports suggest the benefits aren’t as great compared to strength/power training athletes. This is likely due to the fact endurance athletes don’t require such a rapid re-synthesis of ATP.
The method of action of creatine is rather complex, and to understand it fully some basic biochemistry knowledge is needed. The body uses ATP as its energy source for muscle contraction - it fuels almost every bodily process we have. When we ingest carbs, proteins and fats, which are then converted by the body to ATP. This is where the energy you feel after a big meal comes from, as the body is literally burning food like a car burns petrol. Now it gets a little more complex. When the body uses ATP, it converts it into a molecule called ADP. ADP is almost useless to the body and serves very little purpose, but this is where the magic of creatine shines through. Through a complex method of action, the creatine you ingested earlier will convert this ADP right back into ATP. Essentially this gives you more energy and fuel to perform whatever physical activity task you are doing, which in our case would be lifting heavy weights. The muscles will now have more energy available to them to perform movements, allowing increased levels of muscular hypertrophy to be achieved in our workouts, and subsequently repaired by our protein rich diet to build bigger, stronger muscles after our session!
Now that you know about the amazing effects that creatine supplementation has on the body, the main question left to answer is how much should you take, and when? It is common practice when cycling creatine to go through a "loading phase", where you rapidly raise the levels of creatine in your body to get the maximum effect as soon as possible. This is usually 5g, taken 4 times daily for approximately 5 days. Cycling creatine for 4 weeks is common practice, so after the 5 day loading phase is completed, a 20 day maintenance phase should be followed. For someone who is looking to add size as well as increase their strength and endurance, 5g taken once daily is usually sufficient to see good results within the month. It should be noted that a common side effect of creatine is a lesser need to urinate, as creatine supplementation causes slight water retention. This is nothing to worry about, and this side effect disappears quickly after discontinuing supplementation.