We’ve all heard how great creatine is and how it can help increase strength in a relatively short period of time. But…What is creatine and how does it actually work? How does it get you strong?
Creatine is a substance that is produced in the liver and kidneys at about a rate of 2 grams per day.
Creatine is naturally occurring, and is derived from 3 non-essential amino acids – arginine, glycine, and methionine.
Basically, 90 to 95 percent of the body’s creatine travels to the muscles, heart, and other body cells via the blood stream. However, a large majority of this creatine is stored in skeletal muscle.
Once consumed, creatine travels to the muscles via the blood stream. Once inside the muscle cells, it is turned into a substance called creatine phosphate.
Creatine phosphate is used for very short term energy bursts for such activities like strength training and other sports that require short, fast bursts of activity. How does it do this? Creatine phosphate aids in replenishing your reserves of ATP. Adenosine triphosphate -ATP is the molecular fuel that provides the power for muscular contractions.
So, whenever you do an activity that requires short term burst of energy such as strength training and weight lifting, your body relies on ATP. ATP is used as the primary fuel source for short term energy bursts that lasts for about 5 to 10 seconds (Of maximum muscular output). However, after this time period elapses, your stuck with little ATP reserves which means low fuel.
Your ATP reserves need to be replenished after the first 5 to 10 seconds on intense muscular contractions. Wait a minute, doesn’t glucose (from carbs) provide the fuel for energy? Yes, glucose does convert to ATP which provides the energy needed for muscular contraction but this process takes time (At least 20 seconds to kick in).
In the meantime, your body turns to creatine phosphate it stores in the muscle for immediate fuel. Creatine phosphate can be converted to ATP very quickly (This process takes only a fraction of a second).
For example, let’s say your going for a heavy duty bench press. Your going for four to six monster reps with a heavy weight. You have enough ATP stores in your muscle to do 5 to 10 seconds of intense work, probably one or two reps. Thereafter, your body will begin to search for creatine phosphate for additional energy (For the completion of an another couple of reps).
Now, depending on how much creatine phosphate you have in your “muscle stores”, you can hope to get another 15 to 20 seconds of additional work from your muscles.
If the activity goes on for more than 20 seconds, your body looks to break down glycogen in order to replenish ATP reserves (fuel from carbs). However, if you’re trying to build muscle and strength, we know that we need to lift heavy weight for low repetitions. And since this activity can take anywhere between 5 to 20 seconds to complete, we need more quick acting energy.
However, because you get only a minimal amount of creatine from your diet, there’s just not enough creatine to convert to creatine phosphate to be stored in the muscle. And of course, we now know that creatine phosphate is needed to convert to ATP. Therefore, since you lack the short term energy, you don’t get the last couple of reps.
Therefore, what if you had access to more creatine to be stored up in the muscle for this very purpose? Let’s say you’re stores of creatine phosphate were topped up in the muscle.
Wouldn’t this prolong the energy needed to complete those last couple of reps for that monster bench press? Of course it would! It only stands to reason that the more creatine phosphate you have in your muscles to be converted to ATP, the stronger your going to be.
This is the magic of creatine supplementation. By supplementing with creatine, you build up your stores of creatine phosphate in the muscle which prolongs the conversion of ATP. The result? You have more energy and power to blast up that weight. More power equals more muscle. That’s how it works to build muscle.
Remember, creatine boosts the pace of energy production in your muscle cells. It doesn’t build muscle directly. It builds muscle by providing more energy to the muscle for additional muscle contractions. More energy means more power. More power means more reps. More reps means more muscle growth.
Remember, a strong muscle will always be a big muscle – All things being equal.
In a nutshell, that’s how creatine works.
Blake has been weight lifting for about 28 years now. He's 45 years of age and started seriously training when he was 18 years old.
Blake is the founder of Building-Muscle101.com, a successful fitness website that has been around for more than 15 years.