Definitely the hottest product out on the athletic supplement market today is creatine. A variety of individuals from professional athletes, to recreational weight lifters, to young high school athletes have started taking creatine in the last few years. It has been estimated that 3 out of 4 athletes that participated in the last Olympic Games were taking creatine.
What is Creatine? Creatine is a compound that is made naturally in our body (primarily in our liver) which is used to supply energy to our muscles. It is composed of three amino acids; arginine, methionine, and glycine bound chemically together. It's chemical name is actually "methlyguanido-acetic acid". Once it is manufactured in the liver, it is carried in the bloodstream and then transported into the muscle cells where it is linked to a phosphate group (and now called creatine phosphate) and stored in the cell until it is used as energy. The metabolite is called creatinine, which is excreted in the urine.
Why would I want to take a "creatine supplement"? The average person creates and uses about 2 grams of creatine per day. Food sources like red meats and fish are natural sources of creatine, so a person can get a small amount of creatine from a normal diet (a 8 oz steak contains only about 1 gram of creatine). It is believed that athletes in the former USSR began taking creatine to enhance athletic performance as early as the 1970's. It was not until the early 1990's that scientists discovered that consuming high amounts of creatine could increase muscle creatine levels by about 25%. In a study in 1994 at Texas Women's University, it was shown that increasing muscle creatine levels led to an increase in strength and lean body mass (muscle).
Who will benefit from creatine supplements? Any person, male or female, will benefit from creatine if their goals are to increase strength and build muscle tissue. Creatine is not a miracle supplement, however. You have to train your muscles in order for them to benefit. It will not make you stronger or leaner without strenuous exercise. So, if you are involved in a sport that requires quick, powerful, explosive movements like football, soccer, volleyball, wrestling, tennis, etc. or are just serious about lifting weights, getting stronger, and increasing lean muscle tissue, creatine monohydrate is most certainly the supplement for you.
In practical terms, here's what creatine can do:
- increase the amount of energy available in the muscle so that it can do more work and decrease the time of muscle fatigue,
- more creatine in the muscle seems to increase the amount of water
taken into the cells; this will only increases the volume of the cell
but seems to be involved in triggering an increase in protein/muscle
- more creatine in the muscle increases the amount of work a muscle
can do therefore allowing a person to lift heavier weights which will
also trigger an increase of protein/muscle production,
- it has recently been thought that creatine can act as a "lactic acid
buffer" which means it may improve recovery time and prolong the onset
of muscle fatigue.
What do I look for in a creatine supplement? Creatine
supplements are sold in two popular forms, creatine monohydrate and
creatine citrate. The most popular form is creatine monohydrate.
Creatine monohydrate is simply a molecule of creatine attached to a
molecule of water to make it more stable. This forms a tasteless, white
powder that can be mixed with any liquid. It also comes in tablet form
but is more expensive that way. The other form, creatine citrate, is
made of a molecule of creatine bound to a molecule of citrate (much like
the citric acid coating sour patch kids). This form of creatine is
thought to mix better in water but tastes very sour. In addition to
tasting bad, it only contains about half as much "free" creatine per
gram as creatine monohydrate. So economically, creatine monohydrate is the way to go.Purity is another issue in purchasing a creatine supplement.
There are so many companies out there selling creatine so cheap that
you've got to wonder if it's actually creatine they are selling or some
other mysterious white powder. We've heard from a few people that
creatine supplements did nothing for them--well possibly it wasn't
creatine they were taking. Be sure the creatine is at least 99% pure.
Not just 99% pure, but 99% pure creatine monohydrate!
The creatine manufacturer should be able to provide documentation that
the product has been analyzed and tested by an independent laboratory
(not one owned by them). Be leery of those companies that sell creatine
at "too good to be true" prices or you may not see any benefits from
your "creatine" supplements!