Recently, I have taken the initiative to start routinely going to the gym, with the hopes that I can finally add some muscle to my pudgy frame. Though I hope to progressively accumulate muscle mass, I do not know the most efficient way. I was always told to consume protein after a workout (involving lifting weights), as it would apparently help build muscle, assuming that I had taken the liberty to work/stretch them out beforehand. But what is all this craze on creatine!? How come I see these behemoth shaped humans at the gym with these colorful juices that are apparently pre-workout/creatine? I always wondered why everyone at the gym, especially the huge dudes with a ton of muscle drank the supplement, but I never knew why.
What is creatine? And what does creatine supposedly do?
Creatine (or regularly sold Creatine monohydrate) is a supplement that promotes muscle growth and reduces fatigue when exercising. This leads to both an increase in muscle mass and overall power when weightlifting, as well as an increase in performance of an exercise. Creatine is actually already naturally found within our own bodies, as a molecule that releases forms of energy (ATP) to our cells when needed during times of strenuous workouts.
But does taking creatine actually work?
In order to draw a conclusion, we must first ask some preliminary questions. First, does creatine intake directly correlate to larger muscle mass, or reversely, does larger muscle mass correlate to in-taking more creatine? Additionally, does a confounding variable (Z) affect them both?
As stated earlier, creatine is already found within our bodies, so why do people take additional creatine supplements? Well, according to a study done by Physiol Genomics, creatine was tested to see its effects on mass and power output within the human subjects. This was an experimental study, performed with randomized double-blind placebo trials. 12 men were observed when given a control placebo and creatine supplement. They were given the placebo for 10 days, and muscular changes were observed through biopsies for a 28 day period. The subjects were then given creatine monohydrate for 10 days to later investigate its effect on the muscle. The study found that when given the creatine monohydrate, subjects saw an increase in the fat-free mass, (muscle mass and water retention) as muscle fiber diameter and over all weight increased up to 9%. In addition, it was shown to upregulate other cellular components, with their results believed to be possibly supporting muscle growth indirectly. The results were significant, as the p-value was less than 5% (p<0.05), meaning these results were very likely not due to chance alone. We can also rule out reverse causation, as increase in muscle does not necessarily mean increase in creatine. Though this study shows the results of taking creatine supplements alone, we must next ask how the results change when performing an exercise.
Because creatine is used as a performance-enhancer when exercising, many athletes take this supplement. In another study done by J Medical Association Thailand, creatine was given to long-distance swimmers to test its effect on endurance. The experiment, once again performed as a randomized double-blind placebo, consisted of 38 swimmers split into a control and test group. Half (19) were given a solution of creatine monohydrate within an orange solution twice a day, for a week, while the other half was given that same quantity of just the orange solution. Results fit the common belief that creatine is a performance-enhancing supplement. Swimmers that had taken the supplemented solution decreased their time. The results were determined have a significant difference between the control group timings and creatine-supplemented group timings, as the p-value was less than 5%.
Given the studies, creatine intake has shown evidence of having an effect on both muscle increase and growth, and positive performance. However, these are only two studies, and there can be many confound variables when testing just one substance on subjects, because the effects of other supplements such as protein, could have affected the studies. Though the p-values were less than 5%, the trial sizes in the studies were not large, so I would further the investigation and experiment process for a more thorough understanding of creatine’s benefits.
However, given the evidence and the large personnel (population wise and physical size wise) that takes creatine supplements in the gym, it may seem rational to begin taking creatine supplements if I want to fully pursue my initiative of accumulating muscle mass.