Creatine Supplementation Enhances Muscle Anabolics at Several Levels
Creatine’s Known Anabolic Mechanisms
Level 1. Indirect Anabolics
Level 2. Direct Anabolics
Level 3. Muscle Volumizing
Levels 4-6. Creatine’s Other Anabolic Effects
Level 1. INDIRECT Anabolics: The Phosphate Connection
Training Adaptations: Creatine indirectly promotes muscle growth (anabolism) by extending an athlete’s exercise output. Explicitly, our muscles adapt to the increased load brought on by creatine supplementation with the production of new muscle proteins that then allow them to generate greater amounts of force as well as to become more efficient at producing and utilizing energy. In the jargon of the field, these structural and metabolic changes induced by exercise are known as ‘training adaptations’. Again, since this mode of creatine-based muscle anabolism is downstream of an enhancement in exercise output, it is indirect.
Below is a list of the key players (and the roles that they play) in this mode of muscle anabolism:
Phosphate Energy: Attaching a phosphate group to certain biological molecules endows them with the capacity to hold and store energy. And, although several biological molecules have evolved for this purpose (that is, to be ‘energized’ with an addition of a phosphate group) a molecule known as ATP is the most intimately linked to cellular processes and hence, is our most fundamental energy donor.
Adenosine TriPhosphate (ATP): Its name reflects its chemical structure, an adenosine with a tail of three phosphates at one end. ATP, by releasing one of its high-energy phosphate groups, liberates energy. This phosphate-bound energy is then made available to fuel a broad range of cellular processes such as, muscle contraction.
Adenosine DiPhosphate (ADP): After donating a phosphate group (to provide energy), ATP becomes ADP, a singly de-phosphorylated and largely de-energized molecule. Therefore, in order for exercise to continue, ADP must first be ‘recharged’ with the re-addition of another phosphate group, thereby recreating ATP. This cycle then repeats with each subsequent bout of exercise and recovery.
Importantly, the rapid recreation of ATP largely relies on creatine. One of creatine’s principal roles within the cell is to rapidly recreate ATP during moments of high energy consumption (see next).
PhosphoCreatine (PCr): Creatine serves as a high-energy phosphate reservoir for the rapid regeneration of ATP. In order for it to perform this important task, however, creatine must first be functionalized with the addition of a phosphate (within the cell). The product of this reaction is phospho-creatine (PCr).
PCr, in turn, replaces ADP’s lost phosphate group to rapidly reform ATP during physical exertion (see figure below – back arrow (<—-)).
PCr is Quick Energy: The process whereby phosphocreatine recreates ATP during exercise is much faster than the production of new ATP from the combustion of nutrients – a relatively slow process that requires the participation of oxygen.
Therefore, strenuous exercise will only continue as long as sufficient (stored) PCr is available to fuel muscular activity, afterwards the body will be limited by the relatively small amounts of ATP made available via cellular respiration and force output will be decreases accordingly.
During moments of rest, however, the cell is at leisure to stockpile ATP that is produced from stored nutrients and oxygen; part of this new ATP is then diverted to replenish the cell’s PCr supply. Our PCr reserves, in turn, are set aside for future use to power the next bout of strenuous exercise (see figure above – forward arrow (—->)).
Via such a mechanism the amount of phosphocreatine stored within our muscles determines our ultimate power output. Creatine supplementation, since it increases the amount of phosphocreatine (and creatine) stored within our muscles, heightens our ability to repetitively perform explosive bouts of strenuous exercise.
PCr Shuttle: Despite the apparently subsidiary role that creatine plays with reference to ATP production, creatine (phosphocreatine) is indispensable for cell survival. Phosphocreatine, as it is more mobile than ATP, can more quickly reach regions of the cell that would otherwise starve if having to depend on the slow arrival of new ATP from the mitochondria (the powerhouse of the cell). Phosphocreatine, on the other hand, is largely generated at the mitochondria from where it can quickly diffuse to regions of the cell where energy (ATP regeneration) is needed. ATP is thus regenerated locally with the help of phosphocreatine, a process known as the PCr shuttle.
PCr Surplus: Due to PCr’s phosphate buffering capacity, the cell typically stores several times more phosphocreatine (and creatine) than ATP. Moreover, the size of our creatine reserves increases with supplementation, effectively enhancing the energy buffering capacity of our muscles. This hoarding response is one of the principal reasons that creatine supplementation improves physical performance.
Click here to see the complete chemical structures of creatine, phosphocreatine, ATP (adenosine triphosphate) and ADP (adenosine diphosphate).
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