Creatine (methyl guanidine-acetic acid) has been on the bodybuilding scene since the late 1980’s as a supplement purported to dramatically help increase muscle mass and endurance. Can creatine live up to it’s billing as muscle builder?

Just what is creatine anyway? Is it something that’s banned in baseball? Can it give you an unfair advantage hitting home runs?

Creatine is a substance naturally found in human muscle tissue. Creatine is created in the liver from the amino acids glycine and arginine. After it leaves the liver it is transformed into creatine phosphate by combining with phosphorus, which is used by the brain and skeletal muscle.

Creatine phosphate is able to combine with ADP to create ATP (adenosine tri-phosphate). ATP is used by skeletal muscle cells to transport chemical energy. It’s vital for energy metabolism, but the entire function is far too complex for this post and my small brain. Just know that you need a supply of ATP for energy, and when its level in the muscle cells drops, so does performance.

That’s why creatine supplementation can be beneficial to help maximize muscular energy, especially for people who train hard and/or get insufficient amounts of creatine in their diet, such as vegetarians.

Can creatine supplementation make your muscles respond better to high intensity training? Experiments done in the U.S. as far back as the mid 1970’s, and possibly farther back in the Soviet Union, seem to demonstrate that it does. According to a 1975 paper based on research done by Ingwall, Morales, Stockdale, and Wildenthal creatine supplementation stimulated the sysntesis of some types of proteins, and promoted skeletal muscle hypertrophy (hypertrophy is an increase in the size of tissue). For the layperson, that means your muscles get bigger.

It can really have some positive benefits on muscle size, strength and overall performance. According to the Medical College of Wisconsin: “Sprinters who loaded with creatine (25 grams for 5 days) significantly increased their peak and average sprint power output compared a group taking an inactive placebo.” and  “NCAA division 1A football players who took creatine supplements for 28 days during the off season experienced gains in total body mass, and increased their weight lifting ability. They also had faster sprint times than players in a control group who did not take creatine.”

That sounds like pretty powerful stuff. However, creatine’s effects are on highly trained individuals. You can’t just take creatine, watch Sports Center, and sit back as your muscles grow bigger and bigger. You have to engage in some sort of training to make it work for you.

According to the book Exercise and Sport Science by Garrett and Kirkendall “Creatine supplementation during resistance training has also been shown to augment skeletal muscle fiber hypertrophy.” The book also states that “Recent data indicates that creatine supplementation may enhance the physiologic adaptations (e.g. muscular strength and free mass) to resistance training in men and women…)

Other studies have shown that creatine in the body can help with anabolism, just as with anabolic steriods. (Creatine is not a steroid, and does not function as one) According to studies, this is likely due to increased protein synthesis. However, creatine doesn’t effect all protein synthesis equally.

Experiments done by a team at 4 different universities throughout Europe in 2002 – 2003 found that after creatine supplementation sufficient to raise inter-muscular creatine levels by 21%. However, according the researchers “Exercise increased the synthetic rates of myofibrillar and sarcoplasmic proteins by two- to threefold (P < 0.05), and leg phenylalanine balance became more positive, but creatine was without any anabolic effect.”

What about the effects of creatine supplementation on body fat levels. Can creatine help burn off your excess body fat? Inasmuch as creation may help develop lean muscle mass, which leads to increased metabolism, creatine may help burn fat. However studies have shown that creatine supplementation has no real effect in fat burning outside of the effect that the increased muscle mass contributes to fat metabolism.

So, research has demonstrated that creatine supplementation can increase your muscle size, strength and overall performance, and that can help you to burn fat. But it has also shown that taking creatine will not peel the fat from your belly.

Until next time……………………lose your belly fat!