Creatine, an amino acid (building blocks of proteins), is used in muscle cells to store energy for explosive and intense exercise such as sprinting. The specific name for creatine stored in muscle cells is Phosphocreatine (creatine phosphate). Intense exercise lasting approximately 30 seconds causes phosphocreatine to break down to creatine and phosphate, thus regenerating the central source of energy, adenosine triphosphate (ATP). When ATP cannot regenerate fast enough, output power is reduced because phosphocreatine becomes depleted – which is basically failing to cope with the difficulty of the exercise. However, the rate of regeneration of phosphocreatine following sprints may increase if the muscle is carrying extra creatine. This would therefore mean the body would suffer less fatigue, enhancing their athletic performance. Research has also indicated that creatine can also help with muscular growth.
The way creatine is used in the body effects what sports it is needed for most. Creatine is used and perhaps needed by athletes in sports with high intensity and minimal duration – weightlifters, sprinters, and numerous other athletic-type events are some. This does not mean athletes in sports that involve all three energy systems – ATP-PC, lactic acid and aerobic systems – with intermittent work patterns will not be benefit from creatine supplements (e.g. soccer, basketball, football, racquet sports). A person that has higher creatine levels will more than likely still have an enhanced ATP-PC system, which will give them an advantage before their body starts using the lactic energy and aerobic systems.
Evidence on whether creatine supplements are actually useful is a debatable topic and relatively new topic. Although early twentieth century documents discussed how creatine ingestion led to an increase in body mass, it was not until the early-1990s that the role of creatine as an erogenic acid became prominent. Soon after, there was a dramatic increase in creatine supplement sales. A 1998 British newspaper study found 100% of rugby league and weightlifters used the supplement. Research into the affect of creatine is quite limited and needs further research. But there is still enough evidence to show creatine supplements decreases muscular fatigue in professional athletes, thus increasing the effectiveness of the ATP-PC system. Conversely, creatine supplements do next to nothing for untrained or elderly people. Since meat is a primary source of creatine, vegetarians appear to have more benefits to supplements than non-vegetarians, because they have lower average body stores of creatine. Creatine supplements have not been well researched on women, and more information is needed to determine whether it has similar effects to what it has on men, despite it initially being believed it had the same effect.
The side effects of increased volumes of creatine in the body need to be further researched. According to a book published by, Balsom, Soderlund and Ekblom, the only side effects to daily dosages of 1.5–25g of creatine supplements a year was weight gain. However, more recent publications have shown there may be other side effects. Some athletic trainers and coaches believe creatine supplements may increase the amount of soft tissue injuries, and athletes training in hot, humid conditions may suffer severe cramps earlier. These cramps have been attributed to the fact there may be less water salts in muscle. Richard Kreider (1998), though, disputes this, and notes there had not been studies at that stage to prove this theory. Kidney and liver damage are also believed to be potential side effects.
The legal use of creatine supplements is a controversial and debatable topic. Most importantly, however, creatine supplements are not on the IOC’S (International Olympic Committee’s) banned substances list. They are therefore quite easy to access, online at gyms, pharmacies, and in some cases, the supermarket. Nonetheless, creatine supplements from the supermarket are not recommended by the majority of people posting on internet weight gaining internet pages. Prices vary dramatically, and as with most products, it is categorically cheaper to purchase creatine over the internet. You can expect to pay $20-30 for 500-1000g of the product in stores.
Although research indicates the ATP-PC system can be improved by increased amounts of creatine, the most effective way may simply be by regular physical training with short repetitions with high intensity. This would mean sprints for 8-10 seconds, but most importantly, leaving a break between sprints of 40-60 seconds. The reasons why this is vitally important is it allows the body time to replenish phosphocreatine stores in the muscle, thus preventing the body’s lactic or aerobic systems from taking over and becoming the predominant system.
In summary, creatine supplements appear to be safe and are a legal way to improve the body’s ATP-PC system for an athlete. However, the possible side effects need to be known, and athletes taking the supplement need to be aware about the amount of research conducted thus far have been fairly limited, so there may be additional consequences, especially in the long-term.