Monday, August 8, 2011

Creatine for Weight Loss... Wait, What?

No. That is not a typo. This post is going to be an explanation of how to supplement with Creatine to help accelerate weight LOSS and how it could, theoretically, help with endurance oriented sports/training. There is literally no information out there about how this could possibly work but, through some common sense and a short exercise metabolism lesson I think I will make a pretty good case.

First off, for the love of God, Creatine is NOT A BANNED SUBSTANCE by any governing sport body. This includes the NCAA, the Olympics, and any sport associated with WADA (the world anti-doping agency). These organizations basically ban only three types of substances: anabolic steroids, stimulants, and illegal street drugs. So, as long as you aren't taking your Creatine with rhinoceros testosterone and a crack rock, you don't have to worry about failing any drug tests.

Creatine is a combination of three amino acids (arginie, glycine, and methionine). Amino acids are just broken down proteins and they are used to make pretty much every tissue and cell in your body. The average person eats at least 1g of Creatine a day. What foods contain Creatine? Beef, pork, and fish have the highest amounts with up to 10g of Creatine per kg of meat in some cases. Surprisingly, there are trace amounts in milk, vegetables, and other carbohydrates as well. As you can see, this is what makes it impossible for Creatine to be a banned substance. In order for it to actually happen, the foods that contain Creatine would have to be either banned or restricted. If, for some reason, these governing bodies actually made meat illegal in sports, I think I would have to sit in front of The White House with 100lbs of steak, bacon, and ground beef and eat myself to death in protest...

In a meatless world, the 100lb Cheeseburger is King! Mmmmm... sweet, delicious protest.

What does Creatine actually do?

There seems to be a lot of confusion about what Creatine actually does in your body. In order to clear it up, I will give you a simple diagram:

There, that should clear everything up.

Just kidding but, by the end of this post, you will have a pretty good understanding of what is going on up there. Here comes that short metabolism lesson I was talking about earlier:

Your body uses a substance called ATP for energy. The problem with ATP is that it breaks down quickly during exercise. If ATP was not replenished in your body via metabolic pathways, we would burn it all up in less than 10 seconds of sprinting and less than 3 minutes of low intensity aerobic activity. Want to know what happens when you run out of ATP? Finishing your workout will be difficult because you will be dead. It is the break down of the high energy third Phosphate bond (ATP actually stands for Adenosine TRI-Phosphate, meaning 3 phosphates) that makes this substance so important for all human movement and activity. Once the Phosphate is removed, you are left with ADP (Adenosine DI-Phosphate, or 2 Phosphates). ADP can't do much in terms of cellular energy but its accumulation in your body signals other metabolic processes to become more active and help replenish ATP via different substrate/product pathways. Let's just consider short duration, intense activity for now.

So, ATP is being broken down into ADP during your highly anaerobic (no oxygen present due to high intensity/short duration of whatever physical task you are performing) exercise making it so your aerobic systems (oxygen present) are not working as much to replenish ATP during exercise. Your anaerobic energy systems do replenish ATP quickly but only in short bursts and only a very limited number with each cycle. Aerobic energy systems work much slower but supply much larger amounts of ATP over longer periods of time. This means some other mechanism needs to be replenishing your energy stores. Here is where Creatine comes in like Mighty Mouse to save the day.

He doesn't really seem to be doing a good job, actually.

ADP kinda sucks at getting phosphate on it's own (which would create a high energy third phosphate bond, making an ATP molecule). Creatine, on the other hand, binds very easily and rapidly to phosphate (creating phosphocreatine). An enzyme that hangs around ADP, kinda like it's wingman, is Creatine Kinase. This enzyme breaks apart the Creatine from the phosphate, pushes the creatine away, and shoots the phosphate towards nearby ADP. So, you don't take creatine to get "Jacked Up!" before workouts. You take it in order to make sure you have enough of it floating around to help ADP and phosphate to bind in order to, hopefully, keep a positive supply of ATP for energy.

Phew. Hopefully I haven't completely lost too many people, on to the cool part:

Creatine for Weight LOSS

Now, all recovery from all exercise happens aerobically. It doesn't matter if you just finished a Tri-Athalon or if you just did a 5 second maximal sprint. Think about it, what is the first thing you do after you do very intense strenuous work (like sprinting, heavy lifting, bare-handed lion hunting, speed eating, etc.)? You take a huge deep breath. Almost like you are fighting your lungs to pull air into your body... which you basically are. When you do intense exercise, the air is squeezed out of your muscles, creating a hypoxic (no oxygen) environment. Once you finish your intense efforts, your body goes into breathe or die mode until that oxygen is replenished. Sometimes, if the exercise is intense enough, this can take up to 36 hours. During this time, your breathing is elevated, the processes and mechanisms that work to replenish oxygen are in overtime, and you burn a significantly larger amount of calories while at rest.

Here is the question though: When doing high intensity anaerobic work, what activates your aerobic systems to kick start your recovery? One very big answer is a mechanism called the Creatine Shuttle. This mechanism takes that leftover Creatine from the breakdown of phosphocreatine and shot-guns it into your cellular mitochondria (part of your cells where aerobic metabolism initiates). This is basically a switch between anaerobic metabolism and aerobic metabolism. But, the thing is, they both start going nuts trying to replenish as much ATP as possible. When you go out jogging, energy primarily comes from aerobic pathways (unless you are running 3 minute miles or something ridiculous).

The common sense portion of this post: More Creatine in your system means more Creatine available for the Creatine Shuttle mechanism. This may or may not cause a 1)faster and more often activation of this mechanism at rest and once exercise has ceased, 2) a kick start to the excess postexercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) phenomena (responsible for the increased in calories burned up to 36 hours after intense exercise has ceased), and/or 3) a more intense and/or longer lasting EPOC effect.

Do I have any proof of any of this? Nope. Do I care? Nope. It's my blog, I can say what I want. Poop. See?

I can however tell from personal experience that there is a lot of misinformation on Creatine out there. "Don't take that, it's steroids" or "It's bad for your *insert organ here*" or "You're going to gain a lot of weight when you take it."

It's not steroids. Hopefully that has been cleared up now. There no research that suggests any negative side-effects from taking suggested doses in the short term. As far as weight gain, I lost 51 pounds from July 15th to October 23rd last year while taking Creatine. I increased the amount I was taking leading up to a Powerlifting competition. My weight loss had stagnated for 2 weeks before the increase and then fat was literally melting off again after.

So, there you go. Keep in mind, just like any other supplement or drug, Creatine is not the magic bullet and not everyone responds to it. I guess the point of this whole post is to always be thinking and always be critical to the information you get from media sources or stupid people (basically the same thing) in regards to what is best for YOUR own health and well-being.

Sprint. Kill. Eat several Kilograms of Meat a day.


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  2. Awesome article! Another upside to creatine is that it also improves cognitive performance under sleep deprivation. Makes sense considering that the brain also uses significant energy.

  3. I'm a female. Just bought my FIRST ever Creatine supplement today. The poor guy had to explain to me that it is not a bad substance - I had been tuned into horror articles.

    You really made me feel better about what I just purchased. What a great read. Really appreciate your time in doing this. Helped me out a lot.

  4. Good article, nicely and clearly written. Thank you.

  5. creatine, iron, and glutamine are the best to stack its iron for the oxygen, glutamine for the mucle recovery, and creatine to boost and the body up, o and fish oil just makes u shine so cool when u work out

  6. So glad to see this blog. The other day I was trying to figure why I'd gained back the 10# I'd lost about a year ago while diet and exercise remained mostly unchanged. I found my creatine bottle in a cabinet- I'd somehow got off my cycle and stopped taking it and forgot it. The creatine is the only thing I was missing since my weight loss. My instinct told me that was it so I've started back up. So glad to see someone who corroborates that idea, even if it is "just a blog"!

  7. A great factious piece of writing. I do agree with you that creatine allows you to work out at a higher intensity but you are ignoring its side effects. It can damage your kidneys and whole immune system. Personally, I think, body building through supplements is nothing but a curse.

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