Creatine is one of, if not the most popular sports supplements in the world for mass gain. Surveys performed on creatine use in athletes indicate that creatine is used by over 40% of athletes in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), and that athletes from about 20 different NCAA sports reportedly use creatine. Creatine use in power-sport athletes may be even more prevalent, with up to about 75% of powerlifters, boxers, weightlifters, and track and field athletes reportedly using the supplement. And a survey of gym/health club members conducted in 2000 reported that about 60% of members are creatine users.
Why is creatine so popular among athletes and gym-goers? Quite simply because it works, and it works well. Literally hundreds of studies have been done on creatine showing its effectiveness for increasing muscle strength, muscle power, muscle size, overall athletic performance and even enhancing certain areas of health.
Creatine is a nonessential dietary protein-like compound found in high abundance in meat and fish. It is synthesized in the body, primarily in the liver, from the three amino acids, arginine, glycine and methionine. Muscle tissue does not produce creatine, and therefore it must take up creatine from the bloodstream. Once inside muscle cells, creatine gets a high-energy phosphate attached to it and is then known as phosphocreatine (PCr) or creatine phosphate. It is this high-energy molecule that is one of the most critical components of creatine’s beneficial effects in the body. That’s because creatine donates its high-energy phosphate to create ATP (adenosine triphosphate), which is used by the muscle for the rapid energy it needs for muscle contraction, such as during weight-lifting. Supplementing with creatine is reported to increase the content of PCr in muscle by approximately 20% (see Figure 1). Having more PCr in muscle cells means more ATP can be rapidly produced during exercise, which can lead to gains in strength, power, speed and muscle growth.
Numerous studies have reported significant improvements in one-rep max strength of subjects taking creatine. For example, Belgian researchers reported in a 1997 issue of the Journal of Applied Physiology that untrained subjects taking creatine while following a 10-week weight-training program increased their one-rep max on the squat by 25% more than those taking a placebo while following the same program. A 1998 study by University of Nebraska (Omaha) researchers found that trained collegiate football players taking creatine while following an 8-week weight-training program gained a 6% increase in their one-rep bench press strength, while those taking a placebo experienced no strength gains at all. A review on creatine printed in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research reported that out of 16 studies investigating the effects of creatine on one-rep max strength, the average increase in strength was about 10% more in those taking creatine as compared to those taking a placebo (see Figure 2).
Studies also show that creatine enables subjects to complete more reps with a given weight. University of Queensland (St. Lucia, Australia) researchers reported that competitive powerlifters taking creatine while preparing for a competition increased the number of reps they were able to complete with 85% of their one-rep max by 40%, while those taking a placebo experienced no change in the number of reps they were able to complete with the same weight. In the 2003 review paper discussed above, the researchers determined that out of the 16 studies, the average increase in reps performed while taking creatine was about 15% more than those taking a placebo.
Source: Muscle and Fitness.
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