Creatine: A Short History

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Since the early 1990s, the Western World has been inundated about a wonder supplement that increases athletic performance, helps build muscle and has relatively few side affects. Creatine is perhaps one of the best known supplements available on the market. It has been praised and castigated  for its effectiveness and oftentimes has been mistakenly deemed as a dangerous substance.

So what is creatine and where did it come from?

Well simply put, creatine is a compound formed in protein metabolism and present in much living tissue.

In 1832, French philosopher and scientist, Michel Eugene Chevreul became the first man to successfully extract creatine from meat (the living tissue as alluded to in the definition). As the creatine had come from meat, Chevreul christened his new discovery creatine, in homage to the Greek word κρέας (kreas), which means meat.

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Chevreul: Creatine’s Discoverer

Chevreul’s discovery sparked a host of fascinating studies into the topic. Take for instance, the German chemist Justus von Liebig’s work. In 1847, von Liebig replicated Chevreul’s findings that creatine can be extracted from animal flesh. Building from this conclusion, the Chemist was able to discover that wild animals have more creatine in their muscles than their domestic cousins. Seeking an explanation, von Liebig came to conclusion that the level of activity influenced the amount of creatine produced, something to consider for all you gym goers out there.

The next half century saw further research expand. A few months after von Liebig’s findings were published, it was discovered that creatinine, creatine’s breakdown product, could be found in the urine.

In 1912, researchers at Harvard University found that ingesting creatine could dramatically boost the creatine content within the muscle. Following on from the research in 1912, 1923 saw findings emerge which suggested that the use of oral creatine in animals promoted nitrogen retention. This meant that more protein was accumulating in the muscles, increasing weight gain. When creatine use was stopped, the animals lost the added weight.

Inspired by the 1923 results, in 1926 Alfred Chanutin experimented with humans for the first time. Ingestion of 10g of creatine a day for the course of a week resulted in increased creatine storage in the muscles. Chanutin’s conclusion was unequivocal. Creatine had an anabolic effect. The only problem was that creatine was expensive to develop as the means of extracting creatine from fresh meat was a time consuming process. 

It took until the 1950s until creatine, or rather a synthetic variant, could be created in the laboratory. By 1975, Crim et al. were able to confirm the findings of previous scientists when they found that creatine ensured increased nitrogen retention in the muscles. For the user it meant faster muscle recover, increased protein in the muscles and increased performance.

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By 1950 it was clear to scientists that Creatine worked

From 1970 to 1990 experiments with animals helped uncover the muscle-enhancing effects of creatine. Soon scientists were in agreement that creatine could prevent muscle atrophy. Athletes took notice, but so did physicians dealing with issues such as Huntington’s, Parkinson’s or Muscular Dystrophy, all of which encouraged muscle atrophy.

The entrance of creatine into the public consciousness only really came in the 1990s. When Linford Christine and Sally Gunnell both attributed their impressive athletic performances to creatine use, the public took notice.  Numerous controlled clinical trials emerged in the following upcoming years detailing the benefits of creatine supplementation in different sports. By 1996, it was estimated that over 80% of athletes at the Atlanta Summer Olympics were using creatine.

In the US, Creatine’s profile was greatly enhanced when MLB Slugger Mark McGwire credited creatine for helping him achieve 70 home runs in a single seasons. Although realistically, McGwire steroid use was probably more helpful!

Nowadays Creatine is rightly held up as one of the most effective, safest and easiest to use supplements for athlete and strength trainer alike.

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