Long trusted by athletes and bodybuilders to help improve athletic performance, the muscle strength supplement creatine remains either unknown or shrouded in myth among the wider population. But increasingly creatine is being recognized by the medical community for the benefits it can bring beyond just athletic performance. From assisting in injury recovery to helping reduce the risk of falls in the elderly, creatine is a natural, safe, and effective tool all of us can use to boost our fitness plans, stay strong and active in the face of normal age-related muscle loss, and lead a better quality of life.
What exactly is creatine?
Contrary to common myth, creatine is not a steroid. In fact, it’s a short-chain amino acid (glycine and arginine) produced naturally by the liver and kidneys and also found in meat. It’s primarily stored in the cells of our skeletal muscle, where it regulates energy by converting adenosine diphosphate (ADP) to the energy molecule adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Think of creatine as a battery for working muscles, responsible for producing energy when called upon for contraction.
Natural stores of creatine are rapidly depleted during high-intensity exercise such as strength training, resulting in muscle fatigue. But supplementation increases the amount of creatine in our muscles, meaning more energy is available for muscle contraction. This allows us to create a stronger contraction and helps us to increase our workload during exercise, for instance by working with heavier weights. In this way, creatine has a direct impact on building and maintaining muscle strength.
Put simply, creatine helps us get the most out of strength training and resistance training. It’s useful in any situation where improving or recovering muscle strength is important. Athletic performance and injury rehabilitation are obvious examples. Creatine can help athletes of all ages maximize performance, and it can help patients recover muscle strength faster following injury or surgery, shortening recovery time and improving outcomes.
But one of creatine’s most promising benefits is its ability to help everyone offset some of the normal age-related muscle loss that begins around age 35 and accelerates as we grow older. Adding a tool such as creatine to our fitness routine can help us stay stronger and active with age, providing a range of well-understood health benefits as well as a higher quality of life. And research clearly shows that maintaining stronger muscles with age helps reduce falls in those over age 65, which often result in devastating injuries such as broken bones.
Safe and effective in adults of all ages
For the past half-century, creatine has been among the most well studied and widely used supplements in the world, and in hundreds of studies, it has been shown effective, safe and well-tolerated in amounts of up to five grams daily. And in the past decade, research has also demonstrated that when combined with exercise, creatine supplementation increases muscle strength even in the elderly.
So creatine isn’t just a tool for athletes anymore. It is an important addition to boost the goals of any fitness plan.
Naomi L. Albertson M.D. is Board Certified by the American Academy of Family Physicians and specializes in the non-surgical management of musculoskeletal problems, sports injuries, concussions, and the treatment of osteopenia and osteoporosis. A graduate of Tufts University School of Medicine, Dr. Albertson’s interest in bone health, exercise physiology and maximizing performance led her to develop Dr. Ni’s OC2, a bone health and muscle strength supplement for the unique frame support needs of adults over age 35. Visit her website, boneandmuscle.com.