“Uncle Bob” Santana returns to the podcast to discuss the third in the Holy Trinity of supplements: creatine. Creatine is one of the most studied supplements around, and consistently demonstrates a small but measurable performance boost for high intensity activity. Barring kidney disease, everyone should take it. Even your grandma.
Creatine is an endogenous substance, meaning the body manufactures it naturally. It is stored in the muscle cells as creatine phosphate, a molecule responsible for “recharging” spent ATP and thereby providing a fast, high-powered energy source for the muscles. As Santana explained in Episode #131, the body uses numerous energy systems to power activity. The first few seconds of heavy activity (like a 1RM or the first rep of a heavy set of fahve) utilize the localized ATP stored in the muscle cells. The ATP spent during these few seconds becomes ADP (adenosine diphosphate, i.e. a phosphate is lost), and creatine phosphate quickly recharges the ADP into more ATP. The phosphocreatine or ATP-CP energy system, therefore, kicks in once the initial stores of ATP are exhausted, and is the primary energy system used during strength training.
Supplementing creatine maximizes the amount of creatine phosphate available to power the ATP-CP energy system. In practical terms, creatine can provide the extra stamina for hitting that fifth rep on your heavy sets across. Throughout your training career, those extra reps add up.
Another theory about the mechanism of creatine involves intracellular hydration. Creatine draws water into the muscle cells — in fact, it is common to put on an extra few pounds of water weight starting supplementation — and, consequently, facilitates the flow of other important nutrients into the cell: glycogen for energy stores, and electrolytes to aid the action potential during muscle contractions.
Santana recommends supplementing with 5g of creatine monohydrate daily. Don’t bother with any of the other forms of creatine — they are more expensive and not proven to be any more efficacious than monohydrate. You can take creatine with anything, but try putting it in your protein shake. There’s no need to front-load it by taking 20g per day for the first week or two then reducing to 5g daily as a maintenance dose. Just begin with the 5g daily maintenance dose and, in time, probably a few weeks, you will get the same benefit.
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