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How does creatine work to build muscle?

image of a woman wondering how does creatine work

Creatine is a really cool molecule that has a nifty way of storing energy, just in case we need a burst of energy release. In the past we may have needed a heap of energy all at once to escape a dancer of fight and kill something (the ‘fight or flight’ response you may have heard about). Now a days we think of instant, on demand energy as a bonus in the gym and because humans are generally no longer ‘hunted’, this is a fair point.

Creatine is used by athletes to increase power output and muscle mass so it is an excellent supplement to take either before a gym workout to give you more power or after the session so you can boost your muscle size. Either way it works by building muscle.


When do you supplement with creatine?

If your exercise program involves daily walks and gentle exercise, creatine probably isn’t the supplement for you. However; if you exercise at a moderate or high intensity then supplementing your diet with creatine is probably a good idea.

Even if you are a weekend warrior and play weekend sport, supplementing with creatine will benefit your performance. It would be particularly beneficial if you’re involved in a high-performance sport, such as rugby.

It is also great for the average gym goer who wants to build muscle (and who doesn’t want that?). Also, the greater power in the gym will also result in better body composition in the long run.


What is creatine and what does it do?

Most people have heard of creatine as a ‘sports supplement’, and for good reason. It boosts performance by delivering more power when it is needed. When you eat creatine or take it in as a supplement, it forms a chemical called creatine phosphate (or phosphocreatine). When your muscle needs power, your body can relatively simply make more ATP (chemical energy) from phosphocreatine.

Another effect of creatine is that it increases the size of muscle cells. Along with the boost in power, your muscles will get bigger, which is simply a bonus. This means that creatine can be taken before or after you exercise.


How fast does creatine work?

Creatine takes about 30 minutes to work. However; to get the tissue saturation, it may take up to 30 days. In the past, high doses of creatine were ‘loaded’, where an individual would take 20-30g per day for a week. While this may be desirable, it is largely unnecessary and possibly cost prohibitive. Most experts argue about when is the best time to take creatine. I lean towards taking the powder after a workout, despite it giving you more power during a workout. This may sound counter intuitive but my purpose to work out is to grow more muscle. If I intended to compete in a sporting event, I would take the creatine about 30 minutes before the event to get the most out of my event.

Can Creatine make you gain weight?

Yes, it can. In fact, that is one of the ‘benefits’ of creatine. Most people think ‘gaining weight’ is a bad thing. Most people who lift weights at the gym, put on weight in the form of muscle. Everyone loves muscle and we all want to tone up. Creatine helps you build muscle, which is reflected in an increase in weight, but not in fat.


Creatine helps with weight gain two ways:

  1. It gives you more power in the gym, which means you can lift more and get bigger (I.e. put weight on).
  2. Creatine helps in increasing the cell size of the muscle.


What are the benefits of taking creatine?

In a word, creatine gives you power. Creatine forms a chemical called phosphocreatine, which acts like a battery that stores power. It is like having power on tap. When you need the extra power to push out that final rep, the phosphocreatine liberates a phosphate group, sticks it on an ADP (two phosphate group) to form ATP (yes, the energy chemical thingy) that gives you the power to get through the event. Creatine is found in animal flesh so it is replenished when you eat meat. Otherwise, supplementing creatine is a good idea if you want more energy during intense exercise.

What exactly does creatine do to your body?

Creatine is a group of amino acids, which can store your body’s ‘chemical currency’ for energy, called phosphate. Phosphate groups bind to creatine, forming a chemical called phosphocreatine. This chemical complex can store the phosphate needed to make the adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is the currency of energy in the body.

Creatine is found in all tissues in the body, which means that all animals have this system that they draw upon in times of need. It is even more important for animals because they may need to ‘fight or flight’ a certain situation that requires instant energy. For us humans, we use this extra power for weight training because being at the top of the food chain means we no longer need to escape our predators.