Marketed as a muscular performance enhancer, Creatine supplements have become somewhat of a bodybuilding fad. In order to distinguish the hype from realistic supplement expectations, it is important to understand exactly what Creatine is and whether or not oral supplementation truly has any affect on the body's muscular development.
The human body is able to exert energy by breaking down molecular bonds. This is done by converting Adenosine Tri-Phosphate (ATP) to Adenosine Diphosphate (ADP). ATP is made up of one adenosine molecule and three inorganic phosphates. The energy-producing conversion to ADP is made when the ATP gives up one of the phosphate molecules. The body must then rebuild the ADP into ATP in order to repeat the process and continue to produce energy. ATP is usually used up very quickly and thus the body's muscles can only exert a certain amount of energy before giving out. As the body seeks to quickly restore the ATP it latches on to the phosphate molecules of phosphocreatine - a naturally occurring molecule in the muscles. So, as a carrier for much-needed phosphate, the creatine protein is essential for power athletes.
In an effort to increase the body's ability to work harder longer, many power athletes add a creatine supplement to their diet plan. Studies have indicated that increased consumption of creatine results in greater amounts of muscular creatine storage and phosphocreatine within the body. This in turn, can lead to a greater level of endurance during power athletics, such as weight lifting, football blocking, or sprinting.
Although creatine consumption increases muscular creatine storage and phosphocreatine, not all athletes will experience the same results. Each person's body can only absorb a certain amount of creatine. Thus, a person who consumes very little fish or red meat (both of which are high in creatine), will see a dramatic difference in their athletic training upon consumption of oral creatine. Conversely, an athlete whose daily diet is naturally high in creatine will experience less of a difference when taking creatine supplements. It is not recommended to take creatine on a consistent basis as too much creatine in the system may be hard on the liver and kidneys. Taking a break from a creatine supplement will not have adverse affects (other than muscle loss) because it is a nonaddictive natural substance. It is advisable to take creatine supplements 1-2 hours after eating since consuming the supplement with food causes the creatine to bind with the food molecules instead of absorbing into the body's muscles.
Research is still being done on creatine supplements to determine the long-term affects of oral creatine consumption. For the time being, creatine supplements can be effective in increasing the body's endurance for short bursts of energy. Ideally, creatine supplement consumers should take at least a bimonthly break in order to avoid potential liver or kidney damage.
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