EAT TO GROW

Muscle Food for the Brain

Jose Antonio

Saint-John’s-wort, tyrosine, gingko. Those are probably the supplements you think of when it comes to brain food, or neural enhancers. Oddly enough, one other supplement may be as good for the brain as it is for the brawn—creatine.

Yes, my friend, creatine not only increases muscle mass, muscle fiber size, muscular strength and power, but—get this—it can also put you in a better mood. Maybe a creatine-and-caffeine combo is what the doctor should order.

We all know how crabby we can get when we don’t get enough sleep. A recent study looked at sleep deprivation and the effect of creatine.1 The subjects were divided into a creatine group and a placebo group. They took five grams of creatine monohydrate or a placebo, depending on the group, four times a time a day for seven days immediately prior to the experiment. It was a double-blind study, meaning that neither the scientists nor the subjects knew who was getting the creatine or the placebo.

The subjects took tests of random movement generation, verbal and spatial recall, choice reaction time, static balance and mood state before the test and after six, 12 and 24 hours of sleep deprivation, with intermittent exercise. They were tested for plasma concentrations of catecholamines (the so-called adrenaline hormones) and cortisol beforehand and at 24 hours.

Here’s what the researchers found: At 24 hours the creatine group demonstrated significantly less change in performance in random movement generation, choice reaction time, balance and mood. There were no significant differences between groups in plasma concentrations of catecholamines and cortisol. Thus, following 24 hours of sleep deprivation, creatine supplementation had a positive effect on mood and tasks that place a heavy stress on the prefrontal cortex. (That’s the front part of your brain, if you’re wondering.)

So, if you happen to have been up too late at the office, finishing that presentation that should have been done a week ago, take five grams of creatine daily on a regular basis to help keep your noggin alert. In addition, if you’re particularly fatigued, that old standby caffeine will do wonders to help maintain mental clarity. If you use caffeine pills, take about 300 to 600 milligrams; if you drink coffee, the equivalent would be about three large mugs of the java.

1 McMorris, T., et al. (2006). Effect of creatine supplementation and sleep deprivation, with mild exercise, on cognitive and psychomotor performance, mood state, and plasma concentrations of catecholamines and cortisol. Psychopharmacology (Berl).185:93-103.

Editor’s note: Listen to the “Performance Nutrition Show” (www.performancenutritionshow.com), the only radio Webcast and podcast on performance nutrition, with hosts Jose Antonio, Ph.D., and Carla Sanchez.


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