Muscle Building Properties of Creatine
Scientific literature clearly demonstrates that creatine increases strength, power out-put and lean body weight, however very little research has been performed on what happens inside the muscle once creatine gets there. One way creatine is thought to exert its muscle building effects is by drawing water into a cell, increasing its water content. This volumizing effect is a potent trigger of muscular growth at the cellular level (see previous article). However, creatine may contribute to muscle growth in other very important ways and these possibilities have remained relatively unexplored.
One old, but well constructed study way back in 1974 demonstrated that creatine supplementation produced dramatic growth in muscle fibers.1 However, these findings were exhibited in invitro-lab-cultured cells, and, the skeletal muscle cultures were not human; they were taken from chick embryos.
Results showed muscle fibers bathed in a creatine solution accelerated protein synthesis rates (synonymous with building muscle) by three times the normal rate!1 The actin and myosin filaments (the workhorses of muscle fiber contraction) synthesized at a much faster rate in response to the introduction of creatine.1 BUT this study utilized very young fibers; this alone may have accounted for the enormous, accelerated growth witnessed. HOWEVER researchers clearly concluded that creatine was solely responsible for stimulating the dramatic, accelerated increases in protein synthesis. 1
The same researchers using adult rabbit and rat fibers grown within the body, not in a lab dish repeated these muscle building results with creatine!1 This finding alone is ground for further research! However, I cannot understand why there have been no further investigations on this remarkable property of creatine.
Interestingly, the researchers also tried to duplicate these results using the individual amino acids that make creatine (Arginine, Ornithine and Glycine).1 However this didn’t work and it makes sense, as creatine is not synthesized in muscle. The researches of this work concluded that creatine does function in the control of protein synthesis of skeletal muscle. However to this day, the exact mechanism still remains unknown.1
Recently, a study published in Oct 1998 demonstrated further evidence of creatine’s ability to influence the structural components of muscle cells.2
Under totally different circumstances this study showed that both mice and human muscle cells supplemented with creatine actually grew larger and survived longer.2
Using dystrophic skeletal muscle cells from Duchenne muscular dystrophy patients (a degenerative, terribly debilitating muscular disease) creatine supplementation was shown to improve Ca2+ handling in myotube muscle cells.2 The introduction of creatine actually improved calcium release and storage in these muscle cells.2
Calcium regulation is fundamental to muscle control and contraction. The most interesting aspect of this study from our point of view, is that creatine supplementation enhanced myotube number and formation by at least double the normal rate! 2 Creatine treated fibers exhibited more myotube branching and, an increase in size compared to untreated cultures.2
Each muscle fiber has an extensive network of interconnecting tubular channels (myotube systems) running through it. This network of tubular channels is needed to deliver the impulses that stimulate muscle fiber contraction. This study did not differentiate exactly which type of myotubules were affected but obviously they were Ca2+ related.
Increasing the branching network and number of these myotube channels would theoretically, provide a larger, stronger, more extensive contraction within muscle fibers. The ability to do this is basically what strength training is all about! Creatine supplementation also increased phosphocreatine levels (energy) and the survival rate of these dystrophic muscle cells.2
Before we get too excited, we must remember dystrophic muscle cells are not healthy ones, there is a big physiological difference. Put very simply; Dystrophin is associated with a complex of transmembrane glycoproteins that acts as a link between the muscle sarcolemmal matrix and the extracellular matrix. Loss of this complex results in the instability of the sarcolemma to hold and control flow of Ca2+. The muscle loses the ability to control muscle contraction.2 However, the possibility that the results exhibited in this study may be reproduced in other conditions cannot and should not be discounted.
This report demonstrates that creatine supplementation dramatically affects human Ca2+ transport cells in muscle in a very positive manner. Human muscle myotube cells treated with creatine grew, dramatically and survived longer.2
These studies are tangible, diverse examples of creatine’s anabolic impact on muscle physiology. The mere fact these research articles are worlds apart, yet positive, leads me to suspect that the physiological benefits of creatine supplementation are far more extensive than previously believed. We are only just starting to uncover creatine’s real benefits. So keep supplementing with creatine, it’s probably providing even more benefits than previously thought.
Ingwall et al. 1974. Specificity of Creatine in the Control of Muscle Protein Synthesis. Journ. Of Cell Biol.63.p145-151
S.M.Pulido et al. 1998. Creatine supplementation improves intracellular Ca2+ handling and survival in mdx skeletal muscle cells. FEBS Letters 439:357-362.