It’s one of the most popular supplements on the market, and supplement companies seem to put it on almost everything. A few years ago, creatine supplements were regarded with suspicion. Many thought of them as cheating, and many still do. Yet within the fitness community they have become a go-to for everything from endurance training to powerlifting.
What is Creatine?
ATP (adenosine triphosphate) is the fuel your muscles use to create energy, which in turn creates motion. To keep your muscles fueled, the body utilizes three main pathways to supply muscles with ATP.
The first pathway is stored ATP, meaning muscles at rest will store ATP to be used in case you decide to exercise. Stored ATP burns up almost immediately and is only good for sudden, explosive movements.
The second pathway for ATP is the creatine pathway. The creatine pathway is a medium-duration method for refueling muscles that converts creatine, a compound that is naturally produced in the body, into ATP. Many foods contain small amounts of creatine, but your body makes most of its creatine from the food you eat. The creatine pathway is the one thought to be most used for weight training sessions because while it exhausts quickly – within 30-45 seconds – it also replenishes fairly quickly.
The third ATP pathway is oxygen, which converts glucose into ATP. This pathway is used for endurance training and is a slow-burning, consistent pathway to keeping your muscles fueled for running, cycling, or other long-duration activity.
How Do Creatine Supplements Work?
Because the creatine pathway for replenishing ATP is the primary pathway used for weight training, the thought is that creatine supplements will help increase strength and muscle performance in the gym. Many supplement companies espouse that creatine saturation of the muscles can drastically increase muscle mass and strength.
Do Creatine Supplements Work?
Scientific literature on the subject is quite sparse. However, a few studies conducted in the last few decades have revealed mixed results. For example, a study conducted in 1992 showed that creatine supplementation did raise levels of stored creatine in muscle tissue. The study did not, however, discuss the physiological consequences of this uptake.
In 2000, the American College of Sports Medicine conducted a study in which it compiled data from a large volume of studies, and found, “Creatine supplementation does not increase maximal isometric strength, the rate of maximal force production, nor aerobic exercise performance.” This study literally flies in the face of how supplement companies market creatine.
Most concerning, a study conducted in 2000 demonstrated that creatine may cause kidney and liver problems, especially in high doses over long periods.
The Viking Trainer’s Take
It’s important to understand that supplement companies are out to make money. They will market whatever is successful. Creatine has been shown to be beneficial to athletes experiencing a plateau, but for most people it is entirely unnecessary. Furthermore, there is intrinsic risk involved with taking supplements like creatine. First, there is the troubling evidence that it can cause liver and kidney issues. Second, manufacturers of creatine are not particularly well regulated, so you never really know what else is in the creatine you are taking. Therefore, for most people, creatine is not a viable option. Does creatine work? It certainly does in certain circumstances, but it also certainly does not in others. It’s best to stick with eating good food. That will always go a far longer way than taking supplements.