Check out the end of this article for our recommendations of Creatine and Beta-Alanine supplements.
As many of you know creatine has been on the supplement market since 1993. Creatine is an amino acid metabolite produced endogenously in the liver, kidneys, and pancreas. It can also be obtained from red meats & fish. In fact you get approximately 5 grams of creatine from 2 pounds of raw meat. Creatine works by regenerating ATP, which is the primary energy source for fast twitch muscle fiber (and all cells). In the “what have you done for me lately” supplement industry creatine often gets sold short (have to be careful with that term these days with everything happening on Wall Street). There is not a supplement on the market with more peer reviewed studies proving its effectiveness. That being said creatine is kind of a victim of its own popularity it has more myths about it than a poem written by Homer. The genesis of these began when the medical community assumed the increased plasma creatinine levels were a sign of kidney dysfunction (creatinine is a marker used to measure kidney function; it is a mixture of two creatine molecules). Creatinine is also the by-product of creatine. Well the hysteria stopped when researchers discovered a proportional amount of creatinine in the urine of creatine users. This was accomplished by performing a creatinine clearance test which is used to estimate glomerular filtration rate (GFR) (the standard test for kidney function). Aside from other silly “side effects” (I can’t stand the term side effects, as they are all effects whether intended or not) charged to creatine, many supplement companies have used creatine as an ingredient in their products but have tried to put their own spin on it.
We have seen numerous forms of creatine from the original form, creatine monohydrate to creatine ethyl ester with each company marketing that their’s does not bloat, is absorbed better, you get the idea, creatine has been marketed many ways. So many companies have continued to use creatine because of how effective it has been demonstrated to be. Many companies have been successful in spreading the myth that creatine monohydrate will bloat you but their unique, patented form will not. Really does creatine bloat you that much? It is not the same as sodium which increases subcutaneous fluid beneath the skin, as sodium sits outside the cell. On the other hand creatine draws water into muscle cells (making the cell more anabolic). Many users felt bloated from creatine because the first creatine products they took were MuscleTech Cell-Tech or EAS Phosphagen HP, both of which boast 35 grams of sugar per scoop. Taking in that much sugar (add in the “loading phase”) would bloat anyone with or without creatine. There are many more assertions charged to creatine that could fill a book, I guess it comes with the territory when you are the top dog.
Beta-alanine is the new kid on the block (a.k.a. the right stuff, forgive the reference I had do it). Beta-alanine hit the ground running when peer-reviewed studies demonstrated its effectiveness by increasing carnosine levels. Carnosine (beta-alanyl-L-histidine) is a di-peptide composed of the amino acids beta alanine and histidine. It buffers H+ (acid) and is needed for muscles to function properly during intense exercise. Specifically it must be present to maintain intracellular pH. Originally, supplemental carnosine was touted to increase carnosine levels. Later it was discovered carnosine was not being absorbed in its native state, rather it was beta alanine that was needed to increase carnosine levels. Many companies add L-histidine, but it is not necessary as the body has plenty to spare.
To further explain the synergy between creatine and beta alanine we must first cover the human energy systems:
The Phosphagen System uses ATP which is immediately available cellular energy. It is not stored ATP being used, as muscle cells can store only very limited amounts. Rather it is from energy stored as creatine phosphate. Since muscle cells have limited stores of ATP creatine is the golden nugget so to speak. Creatine is broken down in a rapid reaction to regenerate ATP, by donating a phosphate to ADP. The creatine used with this system is converted to creatinine (previously mentioned). A good way to think about the phosphagen energy system is a funny car racing down a drag strip for an explosive & unsustainable bout (~ 3 seconds).
Anaerobic Glycolysis is the primary system used in reactions that require short bursts of energy, i.e. fast twitch muscle fiber. As pyruvic acid builds up (later converted to lactic acid via fermentation), glycolysis slows down, this is the burning sensation felt in your muscles as you reach the lactate threshold. The lack of oxygen (oxygen debt) in glycolysis is the rate limiting factor as pyruvic acid must be metabolized aerobically. The tolerable oxygen debt is determined by ones fitness level, a.k.a. lactate threshold. A good a way to think about Glycolysis is a runner sprinting 100 meters at a pace unsustainable for much longer than ~15 seconds.
Aerobic metabolism is responsible for metabolizing pyruvic acid (the by product of glycolysis, see above), which is then processed through the Kreb’s Cycle to produce ATP (the details of which we will skip as we are focusing on anaerobic pathways). The waste products of aerobic metabolism are CO2 (carbon dioxide, which is an acid) and water. CO2 is released via exhaling and Oxygen (O2) is inhaled as glucose is burned which is then run through the Kreb’s cycle to produce ATP. Aerobic metabolism can run for a long time, akin to a marathon run or other long, paced endurance events. It is not used for explosive bursts as it is too slow of a reaction to function in such explosive movements. In other words the body does not have enough time to burn fatty acids and glucose for quick, explosive movements.
Please find below a couple of tables outlining the energy systems and how they are applied.
Muscle Fiber Explanations
|Muscle Fiber||Energy System Used||Time to Exhaustion||Examples|
|Type I Slow Twitch||Predominantly Aerobic||2 Hours||10K Run or marathon|
|Type II Fast Twitch||Predominantly Glycolytic||15 Seconds||100 meter sprint|
|Type IIB Fast Twitch||Phosphagen||1 Second||5 meter sprint|
Most muscles are a combination of all of the above muscle fibers, the distribution of each is determined by the type of training one is doing. It’s important to note the energy systems used when training vary by not only what type of training one is doing but also one’s fitness level and genetic potential. Also most activities involve the use of a combination of the energy systems above (see the table below).
Creatine and Beta Alanine Training Applications
|Power Output||Activity||Energy Systems||Creatine / Beta Alanine Effective|
|100%||Olympic lifts, high jumps, 5-yard sprint, vertical jumps (All performed at max effort)||Almost exclusively phosphagen||Both Very Helpful|
|80%||100 Meter sprint||Predominantly phosphagen||Both Very Helpful|
|60%||200 Meter Sprint||Mix of all three systems but predominately glycotic||Both Very Helpful|
|40%||400 Meter Run|
100 Meter swimMix of all three systems but predominately glycoticBoth Very Helpful30%
20%4 minute mile run
Elite Pace 5KVO2 Max Range/AerobicBoth help but not as effective with these systems10%Elite marathon pace
WalkingAerobicLittle to no effect
Table 2 Creatine And Beta Alanine Training Applications (Info adapted from H.G. Knuttgen, “Strength Training and Aerobic Exercise Comparison and Contrast,” Journal of Strength Conditioning Research 21 no. 3 (2007): 973-978.)
Creatine and beta alanine have been demonstrated to have a synergistic effect as creatine will regenerate ATP and beta alanine buffers the acid from the hydrolysis of ATP (contrary to popular belief lactic acid is a fuel source). As outlined above both factors can be rate limiting. In a study published by the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism creatine and beta alanine were found to increase lean muscle tissue, performance, and body fat composition than either supplement alone or placebo. In fact numerous peer-reviewed studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of both of these supplements. This can’t be said of many other supplements on the market, as few can boast such a direct effect on performance which leads to increased muscle tissue. So next time you are looking for the next great supplement look no further than creatine and beta alanine.
Bulk Beta Alanine Supplements:
Bulk Creatine Supplements:
Creatine and Beta Alanine Supplement: