Even after twenty years on the market, creatine is still one of the most researched supplements in the business and has become an important part of any serious muscle-building program.
The amazing thing is that, in study after study, scientists continue to find NEW benefits of creatine supplementation, and it can be confusing to keep track of the growing catalog of good things to say about creatine.
To help you decide whether creatine is right for you, here is a list of its MAJOR performance benefits as we know them at this point.
The main benefit of creatine supplementation for lifters is its ability to increase the stores of phosphocreatine in your muscles. That creatine is then available during intense muscular contractions to help replenish adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is your main fuel source for quick bursts of activity but which diminishes in just a few seconds. When you have more fuel available for your working muscles, you can do more reps with whatever weight you have on the bar, and then bump up the weight the next time around.
This is not just a theory, either, as multiple studies have shown strength increases as much as 15% in just a few weeks.
What really put creatine on the map as a powerhouse supplement was the quick and massive lean weight gains that many early users experienced. As it turns out, the creatine stored in muscle cells tends to draw water into those cells, too, which swells your muscles and promotes bigger, tighter pumps within just a few days of beginning to use the supplement.
As long as you’re drinking enough water to stay hydrated in general, the increased muscle volume will stick around, and researchers have found that a well-hydrated muscle cell is more anabolic than one that is slightly dehydrated. So, not only does creatine give you a mass kick right off the bat, but it promotes continued growth in the long term, as well.
Even if you don’t cut your caloric intake at all, creatine use can help you slash your bodyfat percentage as long as you are training hard. How does that work, you may be wondering?
Well, thanks to creatine’s ability to suck water into your muscle cells, most lifters experience a 3-10 pound increase in scale weight once their phosphocreatine stores are fully “loaded.” Since water contains no fat, that mass bump is all lean weight. More lean tissue with no added fat means a lower body fat percentage and an enhanced appearance for you.
Even better, since creatine helps you lift more weight and gain muscle in the long term, you will increase your daily caloric burn and trim more bodyfat over time, assuming that your calorie intake remains constant.
While strength athletes are mostly concerned with what creatine can do for our muscles, it turns out that the supplement may have even more important benefits for us as we age. Researchers at Boston University found that creatine can be an important tool in helping neurological patients recover from acute conditions like stroke and ischemic attacks, and it may guard against the degenerative effects of ailments like Parkinson’s Disease.
As with its strength and muscle benefits, the key mechanism for creatine action in neurological disorders appears to be its role in maintaining ATP stores inside of cells, which helps to preserve overall cell health.
Better neurological health also has a direct benefit to the lifter, because the stronger our nerve impulses are, the stronger our muscular contractions can be.
Not only does creatine help you get stronger, it can also help improve your power. What’s the difference?
Basically, strength is your ability to move a heavy object over whatever period of time it takes you to do so (doing a leg press, for example), while power is the ability to demonstrate that strength in a short period of time (sprinting).
A 1998 study by led by F. Vandebuerie found that creatine supplementation increased sprinting power by nearly 10%.
Sprinting, like lifting weights, is a short-burst activity that requires immediate muscle fuel for optimal performance, so creatine’s ability to replenish ATP is likely a big help with power activities. Couple readily available fuel with better nerve impulses, and it’s not surprising that creatine helps you turn up the power.