Creatine is a popular supplement, usually taken in the form of a capsule, or as a powder dissolved into water. Creatine combines with phosphoric acid to form creatine phosphate, a key component of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Think of ATP as an organic bus that transport energy to your muscles to help you build lean muscle and lose weight.
During an exercise session, your muscles contract and relax. Imagine lifting a dumbbell. With each rep, your bicep contracts while your tricep expands and vice versa. The energy you use to raise and lower your arm is transported through ATP, a molecule made from creatine phosphate and other substances which is a key source of the body’s energy production.
Every muscle has some ATP built in, but the body doesn’t have that much intrinsic ATP – the natural supply barely lasts 3 seconds. If you want to train harder and use your muscles longer, you have to produce more ATP, meaning you need more creatine.
The Role of Fat
Your muscles also have glycogen, a form of stored carbohydrates. Glycogen can be anaerobically broken down to produce more creatine, which can then be converted into creatine phosphate and tapped to make more ATP. This second burst will last 8 to 10 seconds, and it releases lactic acid as a by-product, which isn’t ideal. It’s also not the target of active exercise.
Instead, you want to burn fat, because that’s how you ensure you’re losing weight. Burning fat requires oxygen, and that oxygen takes a couple of minutes to reach your muscles, at which point you’re now using stored fat to release creatine and form ATP. This oxygen-derived ATP can push you through a 90-second stretch. So the cycle runs throughout your exercise session.
That said, people who use supplements are often more interested in gaining mass than burning fat. So by consuming creatine at the start of their work-out, they can generate more ATP and work their muscles without waiting for glycogen lag time. They can also sustain more muscle contractions, making their resistance training more effective.
Benefits and Drawbacks of Creatine
Trainers will tell you creatine is best for short bursts of exercise, because of the glycogen-creatine-ATP link. Studies have proven its effectiveness for weights and sprints, but there’s no evidence it works for endurance sports like marathons. The most notable benefits of creatine include sustaining longer, harder workouts so you can enjoy more muscle gains and better results while getting less fatigued in the process.
Usage and Safety
Because supplements don’t require a prescription, it’s easy to overdo it, but you should always follow the usage suggested on your product label. If you exceed the recommended dosage, you could experience a number of nasty side effects, including rashes, nausea, diarrhea, fatigue, anxiety, breathing problems, and even weight gain.
Creatine can over-power your kidneys as well, so it’s not advisable for people with a history of diabetes, kidney disease, or liver disease. Creatine could inadvertently dilute your meds if you have these conditions. Similarly, you should also be wary about mixing creatine with coffee or ephedra. If you’re taking diuretics or anti-inflammatories, your supplements could cancel out the effects of your prescription, so be sure to talk to your doctor about alternatives that don’t have creatine contra-indications.
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