The Truth About Creatine
The Truth About Creatine
Creatine is without a doubt one of the most scientifically researched supplements in the world. Based on its proven effects on strength, power and lean muscle development it is considered to be one of the best supplements available on the market. Creatine is an organic compound which is produced naturally in the body, predominantly in the liver.
Creatine is a compound which contains nitrogen and is produced in the body using the amino acids glycine, arginine and methionine. It can also be obtained through your diet, with the average person consuming about 1g of creatine through sources such as fish and red meat. The body produces about 1-2g of creatine a day. Approximately 98% of creatine is stored in the skeletal muscle, with the remainder in the heart, brain and testes.
How does creatine work?
Creatine, in the form of creatine phosphate, plays an important role when producing energy for short-duration, high-intensity exercise. In the body creatine phosphate is used to aid the formation of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) by re-phosphorylating adenosine diphosphate (ADP). If this conversion can be carried out quicker and more efficiently then the body will have more energy available for intense exercise. This process is carried out using the body’s natural stores of creatine phosphate and can be aided using a creatine supplement.
Effects of creatine on exercise performance
According to research carried out by the International Society of Sports Nutrition (Buford et al. 2007) it stated that creatine is the most effective ergogenic nutritional supplement that’s currently available to athletes to increase high-intensity exercise capacity and muscle mass during training. About 70% of peer-reviewed research papers concluded that creatine supplementation is effective at producing increases in high-intensity exercise performance in activities such as interval training, sprints and strength and power exercise. In laboratory studies creatine supplementation has been shown to improve average sprint time and resistance to fatigue during repeated sprints of around 30 seconds. The effects on longer duration exercise, over 90 seconds, are inconclusive given that creatine phosphate has little influence on the body’s aerobic energy systems.
Short-term creatine supplementation, typically less than a week, has been shown to increase the work and power output during resistance training exercises such as the bench press and back squat. Long-term creatine supplementation, typically more than 4 weeks, has shown increases in strength and power, sprint performance, muscle size and lean body mass.
Effects of creatine on muscle mass
If increasing lean mass, increasing muscle size or achieving the ideal physique are your goals then long-term creatine supplementation is for you. Studies have shown that subjects who undertook several months of hard training experienced gains of up to twice the lean mass compared to subjects who ingested a placebo supplement. In one 12 week study where resistance training was combined with creatine supplementation subjects produced an increase in muscle fiber diameter by 35% compared to 6-15% in the placebo group (Volek et al. 1999). These increases in lean muscle mass can be put down to the improved ability to perform resistance training at a higher intensity for longer. Creatine also causes a swelling effect in the muscle as it helps to pull water into the muscle’s cells. This can be beneficial for muscle hypertrophy and for your personal gains!
Timing and Dosage
The best times to supplement with creatine would be around 30 minutes before your training session and immediately after as part of your post-workout shake or meal. When supplementing with creatine monohydrate a loading phase can be carried out if desired. This is not necessary when supplementing with other forms of creatine. A loading phase can consist of taking 15-20g per day in 3-4 servings. This would usually last for one week, followed by a maintenance phase of 4-10g daily, split over two servings.
Water intake should be increased above your normal levels when consuming a creatine supplement. The reason for this is that creatine will draw more water into your muscle and more water is retained in the body. This will explain why people get heavier and look bigger while consuming creatine. Failing to increase your water in take may result in a drop in performance and possible muscle cramps
Complimentary Nutrients or Transporters are nutrients, such as supplements or macronutrients that may enhance the effects or absorption of creatine. Taking creatine on its own (creatine monohydrate) has an absorption rate of around 40%. However, when creatine is consumed with a ‘fast-acting’ high glycaemic carbohydrates its absorption can be maximised. For example a combination dextrose, waxy maize starch or maltodextrin. The amino acid Glycine has also been shown to increase the absorption of creatine. Additionally, of note combining creatine with arginine has demonstrated some impressive results in recent research, and would make an ideal pre-workout cocktail!
Types of Creatine?
Like many other supplements, Creatine is available in different forms. The most proven form of creatine is Creatine Monohydrate. This form of creatine, as mentioned above, does require the use of a transporter to get your money’s worth. However, newer forms of creatine have also emerged on the market with various advantages. Newer forms of creatine include: Kre-Alkalyn; Creatine Ethyl Ester; Creatine Gluconate; Effervescent Creatine and Creatine Malate. These newer forms of creatine have a “built in” transporter which allows for easy absorption. The bottom line is, though, to find the one that gives you the best results.
Creatine supplementation has had no serious side-effects reported within research. However, there has been a host of reports from users of gastrointestinal discomfort, and muscular problems including mild cramps. Bloating and water retention have also been reported by some. Controlled studies have been unable to document any significant side-effects or safety issues for extended periods of use lasting up to 12 weeks. Many users do choose to cycle their use of creatine (e.g., 6 weeks on, 6 weeks off), however, there are no reports that cycling creatine is more beneficial than consistent use. Increases in lean body mass have sometimes been referred to as “unwanted” side effects, but many would consider this what they desired it for in the first place!