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Creatine Gives Muscles a Boost

By Maureen Williams, ND

Healthnotes Newswire (August 27, 2009)—Attention weekend warriors: want to avoid muscle fatigue and soreness from over-exercising? A new study has found that supplementing with creatine can reduce damage and speed recovery in muscles that have been injured through overuse.

The study, published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, included 14 men between 18 and 25 years old who had not been exercising regularly for at least six months. They were randomly assigned to receive either a creatine-fortified glucose drink or an unfortified glucose drink. The fortified drinks were prepared individually to provide 0.1 grams of creatine per kilogram of body weight (about 7 grams for an average 70 kg man) per serving.

Muscle protection by the glass

The men drank one serving of their assigned beverage three times per day for five days leading up to the experimental muscle injury. To induce muscle injury, the men underwent a single bout of strength-building exercises designed to damage the muscles that flex and extend the knee. Following this exercise, the men drank one serving of their assigned drink per day for two weeks.

All of the men had reduced strength in the injured muscles for two weeks after the damaging exercise, but those whose drinks contained creatine demonstrated less strength loss on the first four days. In addition, markers of muscle injury in the blood were lower in the creatine group than the control group for one week after injury.

The care and feeding of your muscles

Creatine is made up of the amino acids arginine, methionine, and glycine. Most of us get about half of our creatine from food (meat and fish) and our bodies synthesize the rest. Creatine is stored in skeletal muscle tissue where it helps provide energy for the cells.

Supplementing with creatine can increase muscle mass and improve muscle strength in people with neuromuscular diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease), and some studies suggest that it may enhance athletic performance in certain sports.

“The main finding of our investigation was that muscle strength remained higher in men who received a creatine supplement before and during recovery from a damaging exercise session,” said study co-author Dr. Alan Hayes of Victoria University in Melbourne, Australia. “This may be due in part to a faster muscle growth during the recovery period, but the lower levels of the enzyme, creatine kinase, noted in the days after the damaging exercise in the men who used creatine, indicates that they experienced less muscle damage.”

Avoiding injury

Many common types of exercise—including walking, running, cycling, and weight lifting—involve the same kind of muscle contractions used in this study. (Called eccentric contractions, these are exercises in which the muscle fibers lengthen while pushing against a force.) Muscle fatigue and soreness after exercise are caused by eccentric muscle contractions from activity and when muscle strength and conditioning are exceeded. In other words, the muscle soreness and fatigue you might feel after an extra long run or after cycling up an extra steep hill is due to the same type of muscle injury induced in this experiment. These kinds of athletic challenges also help you build strength.

In addition to considering creatine supplementation, you can take the following steps to avoid exercise-related muscle injury:

• Change your workout incrementally—many fitness experts recommend increasing the intensity or duration of your routine by no more than 10% each week.

• Warm up completely before you exercise by starting with a slow and gentle version of your workout or with unrelated exercises like calisthenics (not stretching—stretching cold muscles increases the risk of injury). There is some evidence that a proper warm-up can prevent soreness from eccentric exercise.

• Cool down with gentle stretching after exercise.

• Get plenty of sleep, nourish your body with healthy food about two hours before you exercise, and stay hydrated.

(J Int Soc Sports Nutr 2009;6:13)

Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice on Cortes Island in British Columbia, Canada, and has done extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.