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Creatine. A compound created naturally in the body by combining portions of three amino acids: glycine, arginine, and methionine. Under normal conditions, the body produces—and eventually excretes—approximately one to two grams of this substance per day. Sound simple? If your body is receiving an adequate intake of each of the necessary building blocks, it is.

Meats have always been the best dietary source of creatine and its precursor, amino acids. Even before the scientific community recognized the existence and benefits of creatine, professional and Olympic athletes were encouraged to consume large amounts of meats prior to competition. The results were predictable even then—increased muscle mass and improved athletic performance. As more was discovered about creatine, two things became evident. First, diet alone could not provide the amount of creatine necessary to maximize performance. Second, the benefits of creatine truly applied to everyone—not just those interested in body building or competitive sports.

The most commonly used form of creatine in today's sports nutrition world is a crystalline form bound with one molecule of water, creatine monohydrate. It is well-absorbed by the intestinal tract and easily reaches the blood for distribution throughout the body. This form of creatine is actively pulled into the muscle cells where an enzyme, creatine kinase, converts it into creatine phosphate. It is in this form that creatine is biologically active and is used to assist energy production within the muscle cells.

Many of us have heard of another useful "phosphate" molecule—adenosine triphosphate, better known as ATP. Both creatine phosphate and ATP contain high-energy phosphate bonds that release energy when broken. However, that is where the similarity between the two molecules ends. Both ATP and creatine phosphate use their energy potential in completely different ways.

Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is the fuel used to power the myriad of chemical reactions that must occur in order for the body to function. It is produced in the mitochondria of cells through a process called oxidative phosphorylation. In a way, the mitochondria act as factories which produce batteries (or, in this case, ATP). These batteries are then distributed so that they can provide power to various devices. As the demand for their stored energy increases, the batteries become depleted. In much the same way, our energy stores are depleted as we exercise.

Adenosine triphosphate releases its stored energy by breaking its phosphate bonds. In this way, adenosine triphosphate becomes adenosine diphosphate; and subsequently, adenosine diphosphate becomes adenosine monophosphate. Once depleted of its high-energy phosphate bonds, one might think that the body merely discards the AMP molecule as we would discard a dead battery. However, as with reusable batteries, AMP can be recharged to ADP and, eventually, back to ATP. In this instance, creatine phosphate acts as the battery charger by donating its high-energy phosphate. It is during this process, however, that creatine phosphate becomes free creatine and is later rephosphorylated during the recovery period. This recharging effect is seen primarily during high-intensity, short-duration workouts such as those involving weight training. Aerobic exercises such as jogging and tennis are considered low intensity, long duration and do not require creatine phosphate to "recharge" expended energy.

Now that the action of creatine has been explained, you may be wondering … exactly what are the benefits of creatine supplementation? In general, creatine delays muscle fatigue by replenishing cellular ATP. This process promotes increased strength and longer, more efficient workouts—an immeasurable advantage to which any regular exerciser can attest. Creatine supplements have also been shown to increase lean muscle mass and protect against muscle breakdown. By reducing lactic acid and ammonia levels that typically occur with vigorous exercise, this compound also lessens the muscle soreness associated with intense exercise. Studies have shown that after only five days of supplementation, athletes taking twenty grams of creatine per day were able to jump farther and sprint faster than those taking a placebo.

Women are sometimes inappropriately apprehensive about taking creatine. Some fear becoming too muscular and looking like a female version of Arnold Schwarzenegger! Simply stated, this will not happen unless one is actually training to achieve a bulked-up state. What most women notice, after beginning creatine supplementation, is a higher percentage of lean muscle, less body fat, and a toned physique. These attributes along with an additional increase in strength and stamina are features that most people—including women—desire.


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