What is Creatine: The Yet Unknown Phenomenon of Supplement Science



What is Creatine?

How does this stuff actually work? A small background of ATP is warranted here...

ATP, short for Adenosine Triphosphate, is a small molecule that releases energy when each successive phosphate is removed (there are three phosphates attached to the adenosine base). The energy stored in each phosphate bond releases heat when the bond is broken. This type of phosphate bond is known to store large amounts of energy, driving muscle contractions.

Each successive removal of a phosophate provides less energy. So, the greatest amount of energy can be harvested from the first phosphate removed from ATP.

When your muscles are flooded with ATP (as is the case in normal activities), creatine sops up the excess. Basically, the third phosphate of ATP is transferred to a molecule of creatine, thus making ADP (Adenosine diphosphate) and creatine phosphate. Creatine is essentially an extra phosphate "tank" from which phosphates can be removed and reattached to ADP.

The ADP is then sent back to the mitochondrion to attach another phosphate. ATP results, and the cycle continues!

The idea here is that more creatine = more ATP storage = decreased fatigue in anaerobic exercises

So, how can this energy be used for later?

Well, as you know, muscles use large amounts of ATP when you're exerting yourself. As this happens, the levels of ADP rise continuously. This lowered ATP/ADP ratio also forces lactic acid to build up in the muscles, resulting in the "burning" sensation you feel when you run out of ATP (usually in anaerobic activities like power lifting and sprinting). In fact, this is also why you feel "out of breath" - the increased acidity of your blood inhibits the ability of red cells to collect and carry oxygen to your tissues. The response of your brain is to increase respiration speed! Therefore, you breathe hard.

This is a survival mechanism to ensure minimal muscular damage during exertion - if we didn't have it, we'd work out once and have to quit for extended periods of time. Muscle wasting would result, bones would become weak and we'd live much shorter lives. The "burning" and "panting" saves our lives.

On the contrary, building more muscle can also help us live longer, better lives. So, we want to either work a slightly longer period of time before feeling the burn or allow ourselves to work longer in the presence of the burn. This increases muscle micro-tears thereby increasing muscular growth from any individual workout.

Again, this "burning" is due to the lack of ATP to fuel muscle contractions resulting in a buildup of lactic acid. Creatine replenishes this ATP supply for a short period, acting as sort of a reserve fuel tank. Hence, it puts off the burning until later!

Creatine phosphate transfers it's phosphate to ADP (which has a large concentration in a tired muscle), creating another molecule of ATP that can be used for another contraction. So, in essence, if your muscles are saturated with creatine, the longer and harder you'll be able to push your muscles. Bear in mind that your muscles create it's own storage of creatine. But, when taking creatine supplements, you're simply adding to this storage supply.

So, what is creatine?

A molecule created by your muscles which is used as a phosphate storage tank. It's used to replenish ATP in tired muscles, especially during anaerobic activities such as heavy lifting, sprinting and explosive movements.

Creatine Supplements

The safety of taking creatine supplements is still under investigation, although they haven't shown much in the way of side effects. Some researches claim that large amounts can cause liver damage, but, again, results are inconclusive. Check the other articles in "creatine" series to determine how you should take creatine, if you decide to use creatine supplements.

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