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What is Creatine?
Creatine is the most well-known amino acid among bodybuilders. In actual fact, it isn’t really an amino acid, but a tripeptide, like glutathione, a compound made out of three amino acids. It is formed mostly in the liver and kidneys from the amino acids:
Creatine is, however, also taken in through nutrition. Overall, the skeletal muscles are the body’s biggest reservoir. Over 90% of the creatine in the body is stored in the muscles.
This compound is crucially important in the energy supply of the muscles. Therefore it makes sense that the body stores it in the skeletal and cardiac muscles. Fast muscle fibres store the most. This reacts with phosphate to form the energy-rich compound ATP (adenosine triphosphate).
The consumption of this nutrient can support muscle-building. However, it is necessary to maintain the intake over a period of several weeks, while continuing weight training.
In other sports, the muscle wasting associated with the acute need for energy can be reduced by taking creatine supplements. This means that the balance between muscle building and wasting changes in favour of the former. Overall, these supplements can improve both the general performance and the regeneration time of athletes.
The following intake recommendations are based on Burgerstein’s Handbook of Nutrition (12th edition), p.285. They are the consumption guidelines for weight training.
“Fast Load” is the more aggressive approach, with a quicker initial intake of this compound:
- Loading phase: 300mg creatine per kilogram of body weight => if the body weight is 70 kilograms, 21g per day in 4 doses. This phase only lasts five days.
- Maintenance phase: only around 3g per day for a period of 4 to 12 weeks.
- Weaning phase: no creatine for at least 4 weeks
This Fast Load method is, however, not recommended by nutritional scientists. This is because the actual added value of the muscle gained is not high and the kidneys can be overloaded by the metabolic products of creatine.
This is the preferred approach today, as there is no proof that higher doses result in significant improvements in muscle-building.
- Loading Phase: 3g to 5g per day over a period of 4 weeks
- Maintenance Phase: 3g per day over a period of 4 to 12 weeks
- Weaning Phase: 4 weeks or more with no creatine
Creatine also has important uses outside the area of bodybuilding. Patients can take this compound as a supplement to support certain medical treatments. It is possible that it can help lower the blood sugar level of diabetic patients who play sport.
Studies have indicated that the consumption of this compound can support cardiac output in cases of heart failure or after a heart attack. These studies are however, ambiguous, and any treatment of these conditions should be undertaken by a doctor.
Find out more about creatine and hair loss here
Creatine leads to a short-term increase in the water retention of muscle cells. Therefore patients with kidney failure or damage should avoid consuming this compound.
Additionally, you should not take more than 5g of creatine for a period longer than three months. This is because the metabolic products of this compound can potentially damage the kidneys. Scientists have also found that it can cause hair loss in some cases.