Creatine is often regarded as the most researched sports supplement on the market. For many of us, especially strength and power athletes, it is a daily staple. The mechanisms that it works by make sense, once you understand the process of ATP regeneration for energy. Cheap, easily accessible and more or less tasteless, it seems like a win-win situation to take it.
So why do we sometimes hear the term 'non-responder' thrown around?
Background: What is Creatine and What Does it Do?
Put simply, ATP (adenosine triphosphate) is the source of energy used when performing high-intensity exercise. When ATP is broken down by ATPase, an enzyme, to release energy, the product is ADP (adenosine diphosphate) and the hydrolysed phosphate. Creatine, either from natural stores, or supported with supplementation, binds with a phosphate molecule to form creatine phosphate. This increases the amount of creatine phosphate present in the muscles to regenerate ATP, so that our muscles can continue to contract.
What is a Creatine Non-Responder?
A creatine non-responder is someone who won't see any of the usual benefits with supplementation, such as; strength gains, muscle mass and/or power output. It has been said that about 25% of everyone who will try creatine won’t notice results, however, this doesn't necessarily make them non-responders. They may not have used the correct dosage for adequate time. The first step, if you do not feel like you are noticing a difference, might be to increase your dose from 5g per day to 10g per day for a couple of weeks. You may also want to try a different form, as there are plenty of alternatives to monohydrate on the market now!
Ultimately, being a non-responder comes down to genetics, and there probably isn't anything that can be done to change it if you really are in that category. Creatine has been shown in studies to have non-responders, specific individuals with a higher starting muscle creatine level and less type 2 muscle fibres (Casey & Greenhaff, 2000). If you really wanted to delve into this, you could have tests done to determine what genes and % of each muscle fibre type you have, and come to a conclusion.
Why You Should Still Take Creatine
Creatine has plenty of benefits aside from strength and aesthetics that make it still a great supplement to take. The reaction that creatine is involved in doesn't just exist to help us lift weights, after all!
New studies have begun to class creatine as a nootropic, which is to say it supports brain function. Increased brain creatine can lead to overall more efficient brain function, increasing memory and focus. In the elderly, it can protect against degenerative brain diseases. Creatine can also decrease symptoms of depression, including mental fatigue.
Casey, A., & Greenhaff, P. (2000). Does dietary creatine supplementation play a role in skeletal muscle metabolism and performance?. The American Journal Of Clinical Nutrition, 72(2), 607S-617S. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/72.2.607s