If you’re serious about taking control of the aging process, you’ve gotta be consistently performing some kind of strength training to add or maintain lean muscle mass. I don’t care if you are 18 or 118 years old; you definitely should be lifting weights, and if you’re lifting weights, you should also be supplementing with creatine. In fact, the older you are, the greater the effects of this powerful supplement. Over the course of the last year, I have taken A LOT of vitamins and supplements. I recently began to substantially reduce vitamin consumption, leaving only a handful of what I believe to be the most necessary and effective ones for me personally. If forced to suggest someone take just one vitamin, herb, or supplement for the most readily visible and noticeably discernible effects, the choice would be simple: Creatine Monohydrate.
Though creatine has been on my radar as a potential age reversal supplement since Day One, I resisted urges to begin taking it because I was reluctant to carry around an extra five to ten pounds of muscle while focusing on ultra endurance activities. I now think that was a mistake. The positive effects of creatine are not strictly related to muscle mass. So, I was excited to try creatine again after a decade long hiatus.
Biomarkers of Aging
Regular readers are familiar with the concept of Biomarkers of Aging. The most commonly accepted biomarkers of aging are: Lean muscle mass, Strength, Basal Metabolic Rate, Body Fat Percentage, Aerobic Capacity, Blood Pressure, Insulin Sensitivity, Cholesterol/HDL Ratio, Bone Density, and Body Temperature Regulation. I would add resting heart rate and heart rate variability. From age 20 to 80, the average person loses 20 to 30 % of their muscle mass.1 Loss of muscle mass due to aging, also known as sarcopenia, results in a series of negative metabolic changes incompatible with good health. It is, unfortunately, a vicious cycle. Look closely at the biomarkers I just listed. Do you see how closely rated many of them are. You can’t be strong without lean muscle mass. If you add lean muscle mass, you will not only be stronger, but you will also reduce your bodyfat, improve your BMR, and likely improve bone density and insulin sensitivity. I hope readers replace the vicious cycle of declining health with a virtuous cycle. The importance of strength cannot be overstated as it is related to just about each and every Biomarker of Aging.
A study of 8,762 men examined the relationship between strength and longevity. The men were assessed for strength at the beginning of the study. Nineteen years later, it was determined that the death rate was highest in the one-third of men who were weakest.2 I hope this fact slaps you in the face and results in your adoption of some kind of strength training regimen. You really do not need to devote all that much time to it to experience spectacular results. Once you’ve been consistently lifting for awhile, I hope you then begin supplementing with creatine. Creatine is, by far, the most effective nutritional supplement for improving muscle mass and strength. I can’t stress enough how important strength training is in order to live happily, healthily, and very long!
What Is Creatine?
Creatine is a common molecule made in our liver and kidneys that makes up 1% of our blood. It promotes creation of ATP, the cell’s short-term energy storage molecule. The amount of creatine in our bodies varies widely both from person to person and within each individual. A substantial portion of the creatine floating around in our blood is ingested from the meat we eat. Vegetarians get very little creatine. We make less as we grow older, which is why, in my view, the older you are when you supplement with creatine, the more powerful the effects.
Creatine was first discovered to improve athletic performance in 1912. It wasn’t, however, until the 1992 Olympics that creatine became an increasingly popular supplement among athletes and bodybuilders. Creatine works incredibly well in combination with exercise, enhancing the benefit for strength and lean muscle mass. As I keep arguing (I hope someone is listening), bodybuilders, scientists, professional/olympic caliber athletes/coaches, and gerontologists need to begin working together to conquer aging. They all, essentially, are trying to accomplish the same things. This is truly a matter of life and death!
Creatine is cheap and easy to use. I buy it in powdered form and add it to water, though it can be added to just about anything. It is tasteless, but has a chalky texture. I have read a wide range of recommendations related to dose, but I followed the label and loaded with 5 mg three times a day for four days before progressing to a maintenance mode with one serving of 5 mg a day. I intend to cycle it with 3 months on and 3 months off. Studies almost universally suggest it is extremely safe and there is no reason not take it all the time. I am cycling it because I have observed that with most things, your body gets used to a substance or therapy and it loses its effect over time. I hope to avoid that by cycling it.
Creatine’s Effects on Muscle
As we age, most people lose lean muscle mass, and along with it, strength. The key is to prevent that or prolong it as much as possible. Older muscles respond to weight training the same way younger muscles do. They grow and get stronger. Exercise itself is the best way to slow, stop, and/or reverse sarcopenia, and creatine synergizes with exercise to help in maintaining and building muscle mass, strength and endurance. Typical responses to creatine supplementation are an additional 10 to 15% increase in strength and an additional 1 to 3% increase in muscle mass over one to three months of resistance exercise training.3
Creatine is an inhibitor of myostatin, a hormone that increases with age and degrades tissues, especially muscle tissues.4 Inhibiting myostatin leads to more strength and muscle mass, including a stronger heart. Myostatin also promotes resting levels of growth hormone while suppressing spikes of growth hormone during exercise.5 HGH is a hormone frequently explored at RMA and we love to find new ways to coax our bodies to naturally produce more of it.
Other Benefits of Creatine
Aside from its effects on lean muscle mass, creatine has other physiological effects that are consistent with healthy aging. Creatine supplementation has been found to lower elevated serum cholesterol and triglyceride levels. One study found a 6% reduction in total cholesterol and a 23% reduction in triglycerides and VLDL cholesterol after eight weeks of creatine supplementation.6 Why do those of us trying to reverse our age care? Remember those Biomarkers of Aging I asked you to reread? Cholesterol/HDL Ratio is one of those biomarkers. As such, it matters and is of the utmost importance. If you want to age well, you absolutely must get control of your cholesterol!
There is some evidence that creatine favorably alters other Biomarkers of Aging, including body fat percentage, aerobic capacity, the body’s ability to regulate its internal temperature, glucose tolerance, and bone density. One study also showed a decrease in the inflammation that comes after intense exercise.7 We frequently explore the concept of “inflammaging” at RMA.com. We are reasonably certain that reducing systemic inflammation as much as possible is one of several keys to slowing and/or reversing aging. Yet another “anti-aging” effect of creatine is that it increases intracellular water content. Aging is associated with loss of intracellular water. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate while taking creatine. The only negative side effect I’ve observed is that I am more prone to the occasional incapacitating cramp that always seems to strike at precisely the most inopportune moment.
No supplement produces a more noticeable change in strength and physical appearance as rapidly as creatine monohydrate. Typically, results are experienced within a few days. Weight training with creatine supplementation should be a foundational component of every “Anti-Aging” program. Let’s not forget to mention the psychological benefits of using creatine; expect not only larger muscles, but the increased self confidence and sense of well being that will accompany them.
I’ve been lifting weights on and off since I was about 14. During my late teens and early 20s I would spend hours at the gym just about every single day. I took creatine during those years and was always a creatine responder. Surprisingly, yet logically now that I am better informed about creatine, my response to supplementing with creatine at age 41 has been even more remarkable than in my 20s. One might reasonably expect my strength to have peaked when I was young and putting in a ton of time at the gym. Guess again. I’m now, shockingly, stronger than I have ever been in my life. I’m also not done yet. I continue to slowly pack on lean muscle mass and my arsenal of tricks remains full. Further, I’m not spending hours in the gym. Rather, I am never there for more than 30 minutes a mere three times a week. That’s only an hour and a half a week. So you’re 70 years old? Unless you were Arnold Scharzenagger in your youth, you too have the capacity to become the strongest you’ve ever been in your life. Now it is up to you to make it happen. If you’re not already pumping iron, make the time! You owe it to yourself!