Chances are, you may never have heard of the nutrient creatine before. Most people haven’t, in fact. But did you know that this organic composition of glycine, arginine, and methionine (all of which are amino acids) is critical in sustaining exertive muscle function and fostering muscle growth? True enough! Here’s how, as Robert DiMaggio (founder of Iron Magazine) explains (and I paraphrase and connect):
Creatine, or creatine phosphate, is naturally found within our bodies and is a key resident in our muscle fibers. Not only does our body produce creatine in small amounts (one gram per day), but we ingest creatine in the foods we eat–if we eat them. One pound of red meat or one pound of fish yields us two grams of creatine to our bodies for use. There’s a double dose in herring. Certainly, we can’t all say we eat that much meat every day, so most of the time we’re left only with our one gram of naturally produced creatine, even though our body needs much for muscle maintenance, especially if you’re a particularly active individual. How much creatine your body needs for maintenance is scaled according to your body weight: if you’re 140 lbs or under, your body needs 5-6 grams, for those who are 141 lbs to 168 lbs, your body needs 6 to 7.5 grams daily, while if you are between 169 and 199 lbs, you need 8 grams of creatine daily to support active optimal muscle function. It’s apparent that most of us (especially vegetarians) don’t get anywhere near the amount of creatine we need in order to exercise effectively and build strong and enduring muscle. In other words, we need to supplement, and the majority of health food stores (such as Native Sun or WholeFoods) carry creatine–it’s safe (NOT a steroid) and proven. DiMaggio suggests ingesting creatine tablets (which are vegan and synthetically produced) with an insulin accelerator or “shuttle” such as grape juice or cranberry juice (but never orange juice). The naturally occurring sugar in fruit juice sends creatine on a quick trip straight into your muscle fibers; as a result there’s a 60% greater intake of creatine by your muscle cells. Further, it’s critical to hydrate yourself as you supplement with creatine — we’ll find out why shortly.
So now that we know what creatine is and how to get it, what exactly does creatine do that makes it so effective and necessary? It’s no secret–I learned of creatine through chiropractor and nutritionist Dr. Steven Nickels, a practicing Jacksonville, Florida practitioner. Essentially, what creatine does is lend its single phosphate group to the incomplete molecules of ADP (adenosine diphosphate) in order to create ATP (adenosine tri-phosphate). ATP gives us that quick burst of energy to get our muscles contracting and moving actively–but our body’s natural reserve of ATP will only get us through the first ten seconds or so of our run or exercise. That “burn” you feel after a little while of intense activity–that’s your body screaming for more ATP. It’s quickly depleted, and creatine serves to replenish the supply, and keep your muscles going longer and stronger. The fact is, as Dr. Nickels relates, if active and pumping muscles can’t find the necessary energy (and phosphate/ATP) to keep going — it’s going to dip into the reserves within your whole body. Whereas exercise is supposed to build you up and make you stronger, weight-lifting and strenuous exercise in someone who does not have much creatine (like vegetarians) will cause the very resourceful human body to feed off of itself in order to survive, depleting reserves of critical nutrients necessary to the maintenance of your immune system (and other functions) in order to sustain itself. Definitely not good. Besides, if creatine is not available in the needed amounts, your body will turn also turn to glycolysis as a means of producing energy from carbohydrates turned to sugar (leaving you with adrenaline but not much energy after your workout)–and the outcome of this is lactic acid production, and all the stiffness and soreness that generally comes with a stressing workout. Let’s eliminate that “day after” effect if we can, shall we?
Another function of creatine lies in its capacity to increase the level of cellular hydration, which is markedly different than water retention. On the contrary, proper cellular hydration (triggered by the presence of creatine) allows you to perform at high-intensity levels for longer periods of time, with fewer side effects, and with an increased propensity to build muscle mass. A fully hydrated cell expands to allow other foundation-building amino acids into its confines, elements that construct muscle mass from the ground up. Now, ladies, not to worry–taking proportioned amounuts of creatine as a supplement to your active routine will not make you “bulky” or “unseemly,” it will simply burn fat more effectively and allow you to gain visible results in reduced time, safely and naturally.
One last important note to add is that it’s absolutely essential to drink lots of water when supplementing your body (and your workouts) with creatine. Since the presence of creatine allows for an increase in the production of ATP which, in turn, gives you the capacity for muscle contractions and endurance across many repetitions, you’ll need to be drinking a great deal of water to reduce any muscle spasms or cramps you may have. So keep at those workouts, drink plenty of water during exercise, give your creatine supplement the “shuttle” boost of grape or cranberry juice for maximum replenishment, and keep drinking water. You’ll find yourself the life-manager of a better, stronger, and more defined you!