Definition: "An ergogenic aid is any substance or phenomenon that enhances performance "

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Creatine keeps inactive muscle strength up

Broken your arm recently? Has an injury stopped you from training for a while? Or just no time to train? If you're worried about losing muscle bulk and strength during a period of inactivity, then the sports scientists at St Francis Xavier University, in Antigonish, Canada have the answer for you: take creatine [chemical structure below] while you can't train.

That creatine helps most power athletes to build up muscle bulk is now an undisputed fact. The amino acid works like a molecular battery in the muscle cells: creatine can 'charge itself' using phosphate groups. By adding creatine to a muscle cell you make more phosphate groups available from which it can keep its supply of ATP topped up. More of the energy molecule ATP means that your muscle tissue contract longer at a high intensity. In other words, during sets with a weight that you can normally only manage for between ten and twenty reps you can now hold out for longer. More ATP means more reps, and therefore a stronger growth stimulus for your muscles.

The Canadians took this a step further and asked whether it's possible to use creatine to protect non-active muscle from breakdown. After all, muscle cells use phosphate groups for maintenance as wel. Experiments have shown that an ATP drip can help the body to build up muscle bulk.

The researchers carried out a study with young men between 18 and 25, none of whom had ever used creatine before. One group took a placebo for a week and had one arm put in a plaster cast. The other group did the same, but took twenty grams of creatine every day. The table below shows what happened to the muscles during that week.



Fat-free mass

-23,7 %

+0,9 %

Biceps 1RM

-221,5 %

-24,1 %

Triceps 1RM

-218,0 %

-23,8 %

Biceps max reps at 60% 1RM

-243,0 %

-29,6 %

Triceps max reps at 60% 1RM

-235,0 %

-26,5 %

The strength and endurance of the arm muscles in the placebo group halved during the period of inactivity. This didn't happen in the creatine group.

Researchers at the University of Trieste discovered that bedridden people retain more muscle bulk if they take whey. Your body retains muscle bulk more easily if you take fast protein rather than slow protein. [J Nutr. 2008 Nov;138(11):2212-6.]

J Strength Cond Res. 2009 Jan;23(1):116-20.