By: Joel Janssen
Anybody who has been on bodybuilding.com knows the sarcastic use of “cell tech” (a creatine supplement) as an alias for anabolic steroids. While creatine is NOT an anabolic steroid it does, however, display anabolic effects in ours bodies.
According to Merriam Webster (I’ve always wanted to say that), an ergogenic is a substance “increasing capacity for bodily or mental labor especially by eliminating fatigue symptoms” and anabolism is “the constructive part of metabolism concerned especially with macromolecular synthesis”.
In terms of an anabolics, we are most concerned with increased muscle protein synthesis leading to greater than physiologically normal increases in strength and hypertrophy.
Creatine fits the bill of an ergogenic as it increases the amount of creatine found in skeletal muscle. It acts to donate high energy phosphate groups to ATP, which is used to generate energy for muscular contraction. Many studies cite the effects that creatine has on increasing or improving aerobic capacity and strength.
Let’s take a look at some research done on creatine affecting different hormones and signalling pathways which promote anabolic effects as well.
Insulin like growth factor 1, as it’s name indicates, is similar to insulin both in its function and structure. This cell signal is responsible for localized growth and development of tissue.
IGF-I can increase anabolism through several different mechanisms, including mediating most of the growth-promoting effects of circulating growth hormone (increased muscle protein synthesis). IGF-I is also capable of stimulating the proliferation and differentiation of muscle stem cells which increases myofibril hypertrophy of muscle (increased muscle fibers).
IGF-1 encourages differentiation of stem cells to muscle fibers.
Canadian researchers discovered that weight training increased IGF-1 production by 54 percent. When weight training was combined with creatine supplementation, IGF-1 production was increased by 78 percent. A Belgian study arrived upon similar results, and they concluded that creatine makes other anabolic signalling molecules more active in muscle cells.
Dihydrotestosterone is a testosterone derivative which causes effects similar to testosterone. What we are concerned with are it’s anabolic effects. DHT is one of the most potent natural androgens; studies of androgen receptor affinity indicate that DHT is 4 times more biologically potent than testosterone.
Therefore, we can conclude an increase in DHT will lead to an increase in muscle protein synthesis (this is simplified but the basic context holds true).
In a study conducted by South African researchers on rugby players, they found that creatine supplementation increased levels of circulating DHT. The test subjects in the experimental group took a daily dose of 25 g creatine and 25 g glucose for the first week. In weeks 2 and 3, they took a daily dose of 5 g creatine and 25 g glucose.
After the first week, the players’ DHT levels had risen by 56 percent, this declined after the dosage was dropped in subsequent weeks but still remained elevated compared to the control group. The researchers stated that the increase was large enough to be physiologically significant.
Myostatin is a circulating growth factor responsible for negatively regulating myogenesis (in laymens terms the formation of new muscle tissue). Therefore, inhibition of myostatin will lead to increased proliferation of muscle stem cells, which results in increased muscle fibers (myofibril hypertrophy). We know increased muscle fibers means more size and strength!
Similar to the IGF-1 study, researchers in Iran looked at the effects of weight training and weight training with creatine supplementation on different hormone and protein concentrations. Weight training lead to decreased levels of myostatin, and weight training combined with creatine lead to even greater reductions of myostatin.
Myostatin was reduced by an increased production of growth and differentiation factor-associated serum protein-1 (GASP-1), which neutralises myostatin. As the decreased levels of myostatin indicated, weight training increased production of GASP-1, and weight training combined with creatine supplementation further increased production.
In conclusion, not only is creatine an ergogenic aid through its effects on increasing intramuscular levels of phosphocreatine, but it is also an anabolic agent through the effects it exerts on levels of hormones and proteins associated with muscular hypertrophy regulation.
Do you supplement with creatine? To what degree have you noticed the anabolic effects discussed in Joel’s article? Comment below and remember to “like” us on facebook!
My name is Joel Janssen, and I’m a powerlifter with roots in bodybuilding. I started weight training as a means to become a better hockey player, and lifting has now outlived my hockey career. I am currently completing my BSc undergrad degree in Honours Kinesiology at uWaterloo.