A beginners guide to creatine

Published: 09th April 2009
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The Beginners Guide To Creatine

What is Creatine?
Creatine is a compound that can be made in our bodies or taken as a dietary supplement. The chemical name for Creatine is methyl guanidine-acetic acid. That sure is a mouth full - which is why it is much easier to just call it creatine. Here is the chemical makeup of creatine -

Creatine is made up of three amino acids - Arginine, Glycine and Methionine. Our liver has the ability to combine these three amino acids and make creatine. The other way we get creatine is from our diet.

How much Creatine do we have in our body?
This varies based on the amount of muscle mass you have and your weight. On average a 160 pound person would have about 120 grams of creatine stored in their body.

Where is Creatine stored in our body?
It is believed that 95 - 98% of the creatine in our body is stored in our muscles. The remaining 2 - 5% is stored in various other parts of the body including the brain, heart and testes.

So what does creatine do?
Now is when the fun begins. First, before we answer this question - understand that the theory of what creatine does - is just that - theory. It is amazing how little we actually know about what goes on in our body. Anyway, we will outline what the majority of research currently agrees on in terms of what role creatine plays in our body.
1. Provide additional energy for your muscles

Time for a quick and simple biology lesson. In your body you have a compound called ATP (adenosine tri-phosphate). Think of ATP as an energy containing compound. What is important to know about ATP is that the body can very quickly get energy from a ATP reaction. You have other sources of energy such as carbohydrates and fat - but they take longer to convert into a useable energy source. When you are doing an intense quick burst activity - such as lifting a weight or sprinting, your muscles must contract and need a quick source of energy. This immediate energy comes from ATP.

Okay - still with us? Here is where it gets interesting. When your muscles use ATP for energy a chemical process happens where the ATP is broken down into two simpler chemicals ADP (adenosine di-phosphate) and inorganic phosphate. This process of ATP turning into ADP releases the energy which gives your muscles the ability to contract. Unfortunately, we do not have an endless supply of ATP. In fact, your muscles only contain enough ATP to last about 10-15 seconds at maximum exertion. In case you were wondering - no, the ADP can not be used to create more energy for your muscles.

Here is where the creatine comes in - or more specifically the creatine phosphate (CP). We don't want to go into great detail on creatine vs. creatine phosphate now (that is in a later article) - all you need to know now is that the majority of creatine that is stored in the muscles bonds with abundant phosphorus stores in the muscles and is converted into Creatine Phosphate (CP). CP is able to react with the ADP in your body and turn "useless" ADP back into the "super useful" energy source - ATP. More ATP in your body means more fuel for your muscles.

2. Volumization of your muscles

Looks like we just made up that word -Volumization - doesn't it? Actually, it's just a fancy name for the process of pulling fluid into the muscle cells and thus increasing the volume of the muscles. Creatine has been shown to pull water into your muscle cells, which increases the size of your muscles. Don't get to excited - it is not clear how great an effect this has. Point #1 is a much clearer benefit of creatine.

3. Buffer Lactic Acid build-up

New research has shown that creatine can help buffer lactic acid that builds-up in the muscles during exercise. This leads to that nasty burning feel you get in your muscles. Scientifically it is a complicated process - basically the creatine bonds with a Hydrogen ion and that helps delay the build up of lactic acid. More research needs to be done to see if this point is true.

4. Enhances Protein Synthesis

There is some data to indicate that creatine helps put the body in a more anabolic state where protein synthesis can occur. The more protein synthesis - the greater the muscle gain.

Well - there you have what creatine does in a very simplified nutshell. Of all 4 points - point #1 is the most use of creatine in the body. The other points are more debated - but still look to be valid.

Is the 120 grams of creatine in my body enough?
Maybe. The whole idea behind taking creatine as supplement is that if you workout you burn-up a lot of creatine. If you take a creatine supplement you will have more energy - because the ATP energy cycle can go on for a longer time. We go into supplementation in another article - but here is the quick run down. Unfortunately your muscle's creatine supply is not limitless. The average human has between 3.5 and 4 grams of creatine per kilogram of muscle. Once you use up the creatine in your muscle you have to rest your muscles and wait a while before you can exercise the muscle again. Studies have shown that the human muscle can store up to 5 grams of creatine per kilogram. So, by taking a creatine supplement you can raise your levels from 3.5 to 5 grams of creatine - and thus enjoy more of the benefits of creatine.

What happens to creatine that is not used by the body?
Excess creatine is eventually converted into the waste product creatinine and excreted from the body.


Is it safe for teenagers to use creatine?
Again we must state a definitive, absolute - maybe! This is a very tough question to answer and is hotly debated. Let's start by looking at some facts:

The body is growing up until age 18

When are body is in its growth phase it is very important not to do anything that could interfere with growth. It is for this reason that it makes sense to spend some time trying to determine if creatine could in any way interfere with growth.

Creatine has never been proven to interfere with growth

This is obviously a good sign. However, critics will point to this next fact -

Creatine has not been studied long enough to guarantee it does not interfere with growth

It is true that long term studies with teenagers have not been done. In addition, for ethical reasons they probably never will be done. No one wants to pump teenagers full of creatine for a few years just to see if it harms them. So what we are left with is the old "is the glass half empty or half full" debate.

You can look at the facts and say creatine has not been linked to long term growth problems so I think it is safe for teenagers. Someone else could easily say - more research needs to be done before we can draw any conclusions. Our feeling is that if you want to be completely safe don't take creatine until you are older than 18. It is not that we have read anything that tells us that creatine is dangerous to teenagers, but if you want to error on the safe side - don't use it just in case new research comes out later.

One thing we want to mention is that it is unfair to hold creatine to a higher standard than any other food or supplement. Many parents will let their children drink can after can of soda without researching the possible dangers of caffeine. Then when it comes to creatine they want a guarantee that it is completely safe. Well, there are no guarantees in life - and it is important to understand that we take risks everyday when we eat or drink certain foods.

A very powerful argument could be made on the negative effects of sugar for teenagers. However, there is little public outcry to ban sugar sales to minors. Our point is that it is great to be a concerned parent - but creatine may not be the only thing you should be evaluating.

In the end, we feel that you have your whole life to use creatine - so why rush into it before you are 18. If you workout hard in the gym - that is the real key to building muscle mass. As you get closer to 18 it becomes a "less risky" decision if you decide to use creatine. Inversely we believe that 12 - 15 year olds are just too young to really be using any supplements. Of course, every person is different and it is best to make your decision with your doctor and parents.

If a teenager does decide to use creatine do you have any advice?
Whatever you do - do not take more than the recommended dosage. We believe it makes sense to use less than the recommended dosage. Perhaps 4 grams of powder instead of 5 grams. You may want to consider the creatine serum because it has less creatine per serving.

If you find you have any negative side effects you should stop taking the creatine.

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