Posted 1 month ago

How does creatine work?

The fact that creatine can increase training performance, aid recovery and help us in our endeavour to continually add muscle mass is widely accepted and extensively supported by research and evidence.

However, it wasn’t until one of my clients asked me “how does creatine work?” that I actually realised that many of us might not know but are curious about the physiology of creatine. Therefore, my aim with this article is to provide a simplified explanation of this process.

When we train, our aim is to lift weights and contract the intended muscles to move that weight. That is, we’re trying to contract muscle tissue and in turn we expend energy, which is regulated by different energy systems in the body. There are two main energy systems that cells/our body uses to create/transform energy: (1) the aerobic system, meaning that oxygen is used in that process, and (2) the anaerobic system, meaning that oxygen is not utilised in that process. Creatine is related to the latter – the anaerobic system – and specifically, to the phosphocreatine system.

This energy system provides the working muscle(s) with rapid available energy, without any need for fuel or oxygen, and it does this for roughly 8 to 10 seconds. After that time, our body will go into producing energy from aerobic respiration (breathing).

Still with me?

Let’s use weightlifting as an example.

Every muscle in our body has creatine stores. However, creatine in the body is stored in its bound form, known as phosphocreatine or Pcr (creatine + phosphate). Thus, in the first 8-10 seconds of muscle contraction, what our body does is split the Pcr molecule to its component parts (phosphorous + creatine).

For this split to occur it must react with a molecule called adenosine di-phosphate or ADP. In very simple terms, the reaction between phosphocreatine and ADP gives us phosphorous, creatine and ENERGY. This unit of energy is called ATP. (Figure 1)

(Figure 1)

The more ATP our cells can produce when we’re lifting, the more energy we can produce, which translates to giving it more beanz on the hack squat. As such, the more creatine we take, the more phosphocreatine our cells store, and the more phosphocreatine molecules there is to split to create more ATP. You can start to see how the cycle works now.

As you can see, this reaction is also reversible. This means that once we are finished lifting, the ATP transfers its energy back to creatine, producing ADP and Pcr. Therefore, it’s well evident that if you supplement creatine daily it is not only available to take part in the reversible reaction, but also increases those internal creatine stores, in turn, providing us with a little more available energy past the usually 8-10 second mark.

This might only give us an extra 1-2 seconds of anaerobic energy, which will allow for an extra rep, which doesn’t sound like much, right? But when we think about it in terms of progressive overload, we can start to understand that an extra rep, on every set, of every session, of every year, really does add up.

It’s for that reason that I’ll always suggest my clients supplement creatine across the year. There is no need to load it like some might say, just 5g daily will be sufficient. I wouldn’t say there is any ‘must consume’ time across the day, but taking it in around the workout parameters would be best.

In summary, phosphocreatine is stored in muscles, it reacts with ADP to produce creatine and energy, and the more creatine we have in the body, the more energy we can produce to get an extra rep or two when lifting.

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Vaughan Wilson Bsc Hons