Creatine has some untouted benefits. It does more than produce muscle gains. Having the ability to get an extra few pounds of lean muscle mass and improve athletic performance are the primary reasons bodybuilders and athletes turn to creatine, making it one of the most widely used and studied supplements throughout the world. However, it also appears to be strongly linked to brain function. Creatine offers a surprising boost to brain function, as well as muscle development.
Creatine does seem to improve brain energy. Messages back and forth from the brain to the body are sent from neuron to neuron in a highly complex network. Imagine going from performing functions on a desktop from the 80s to using the latest Apple device to communicate; this is the difference between relying on energy from ATP rather than using creatine in a PCr molecule as an energy shuttle.
Our neurons require energy to perform their function and depend on the creatine/phosphocreatine system. In the body, creatine forms energy bonds with a phosphocreatine (PCr). This molecule is important for providing energy to tissue with high and fluctuating energy demands such as muscle tissue and the brain. Without creatine and this molecule, and its relationship to ADP, the body relies upon ATP, a less stable molecule that requires more travel for energy exchange and must return to its source to get recharged. ATP is slower and needs energy more frequently to continue its processes. The choice of ATP and ADP as energy transportation options is similar to transporting energy to a destination via a bus rather than the subway. Creatine helps to send messages faster for quicker processing and improved brain performance.
As for more brains, creatine checks off the box on that too, although the effect occurs and has to be maintained with the regular use of creatine or creatine supplements. Volunteers in a recent study published in the American Journal of Physiology consumed creatine monohydrate for four weeks. Findings indicated that there was a significant increase in creatine concentrations in white matter, gray matter and the thalamus. However, effects are reversible. After three months without supplements, creatine levels returned to original levels.
In the research noted above, benefits vary from subject to subject. The largest of the volunteers, having the greatest body weight, appeared to show the smallest increase in brain creatine concentration so there may be a link between dosage and individual size. In addition, the U.S. National Library of Medicine notes that “Creatine doesn’t seem to improve the strength of body composition in people over 60.” Young, healthy people involved in high-intensity activities appear to benefit most from using creatine for athletic performance enhancement. Differences in brain function may be caused by age and also be activity-dependant.
Welcome omnivores. This message is for you. Creatine is found naturally and is richest in wild game. Lean red meat and fish, such as herring, salmon and tuna also offer a natural source of creatine. Individuals that eat a diverse diet of rich protein sources would naturally have higher creatine levels throughout the body. Creatine supplementation would be of benefit, especially over regular and sustained long-term use for muscle energy and brain function.
Where does this leave vegetarians? Individuals without natural sources in their diet would have lower levels of creatine levels and would show the most substantial benefit of creatine supplements. Individuals including vegetarians, vegans, those that eat little red meat, or others restricting calories and portions would experience a dramatic improvement from additional creatine to their diet through oral supplementation.
Accomplished athletes, such as Mark McGuire, John Elway and Sammy Sosa, use creatine. Supplementation is allowed in many professional sporting associations, such as the International Olympic Committee and the NCAA. In additional medical applications, creatine use has also benefited those suffering from depression, congestive heart failure, Parkinson’s disease and more. Future research may shed light on expanded benefits and proper dosage of creatine for all individuals.