What is it and what does it do?
This supplement warrants a little bit of an introduction to physiology before you can understand how it works. I will preface this by saying that it works*
Creatine is a natural combination of the amino acids arginine and glycine.
Creatine is distributed throughout the body with 95% found in skeletal muscle. The remaining 5% of the creatine pool is in the brain, liver, kidney, and testes. It is obtained through the diet (;1 g/day for an omnivorous diet) and synthesized in the liver, kidney, and pancreas (;1 g/day). (Persky & Brazeau, 2001). We normally use up our creatine through spontaneous movement at the same rate we make it. This means that normal creatine turnover is = 2g synthesised in the body → 2g used up.
Explosive movements in the gym or on the track require quick regeneration of the ATP-PC energy system. PC stands for phospho-creatine. The clue is in the name here. By taking supplemental creatine, we can saturate our muscles with creatine allowing us to enhance this energy system by just enough to produce more force and to regenerate itself quicker so that we can reproduce that force again and again.
Think about having an extra tooth on a cog/gear. Usually, we are limited to a set amount of teeth to wind the cog around and produce an action. If you have that extra tooth on the cog you can get a little bit more drive out of the machine. We are limited to only one turn of the cog with explosive movements, but with creatine we have one extra tooth to give a little bit more drive each time.
So, if you are a vegetarian athlete or exerciser, you cannot obtain sufficient creatine from the diet, you are working with only the 1g made in the body. It might be remiss of you not to take some creatine. It has been shown to increase lean tissue and performance in Veggies. (Burke et al. 2003)
Quick Fire? Dosing options:
- 5g per day – maintenance
- 20g a day loading for a month and maintenance of 5g a day thereafter
- Use the maintenance dose but be more intricate and dose relative to bodyweight – 0.03g per kg bodyweight e.g. 100kg male would take (0.03 x 100 =) 3g per day
Top Tip: Take it with some fast acting carbohydrate and quality protein to enhance absorption/retention – (insulin mediated enhanced uptake) (Pittas et al., 2010)
You can ‘load’ it for up to a month with 20g a day and then maintain with 5g a day. Supplementing with 5g per day has been shown repeatedly to improve strength, power and recovery and because of this it can lead to increased muscle size. (Rawson et al. 2003, Cottrell et al. 2002, Bemben et al 2005).
Note: The loading phase may not be necessary at all, as 5g a day seems produce all the same benefits and it will probably save you money. (about half of it is excreted in the urine when loading, it can increase absorption but not a whole lot, unless you need the gains right quick, so you are best off waiting)
0.03 g/kg/day, appears to be the lowest effective dose seen in the literature (Rawson et al., 2011). This might save you some creatine in the tub, money in the pocket and any unnecessary gain in weight. (Weight gain can occur, not from fat but from water and enhanced glycogen storage – the most extreme weight gain in a ‘hyper responder’ is 2kg in 30 days – Rawson et al 2004)
But I don’t want to get swole, does it do anything else?
If you are into endurance sport like running or maybe rowing you might expect some Increased muscular endurance (Chwalbiñska-Moneta, 2003) as your Lactate Threshold occurs at a higher intensity and you have an Increased time to exhaustion.
Creatine supplementation can also increase absorption and storage of carbohydrate in the muscle (glycogen resynthesis) after exercise by between 10-18%. (Nelson et al., 2001, Van Loon et al.,2004). This is useful for athletes who need to train intensely day after day such as during tournaments.
Other pretty cool benefits: Brain Gains?
Improved cognitive function is seen with as little as 5g/d of creatine with significant improvements on both working memory and intelligence (Rae et al. 2007).
It might be useful for you and your granny alike.↓
Creatine shows great promise in the treatment of a variety of neurodegenerative diseases like Huntington’s Disease and Parkinson’s (Beal, 2011).
Lower incidence of sarcopenia with creatine- a disease of ageing leading to decreases in performance, strength, muscle size and function. (Gulano et al. 2014)
Side effects: MAY LEAD TO GAINS.
*ABOUT 30% NON-RESPONDERS (HARD LUCK!) 70% OF YOU WILL GAIN FROM IT.
How will you know if its working? You’ve just got to be consistent, like everything else. It’s not going to work over night and you probably won’t know if it’s the creatine or just progressive overload in the gym – but it’s definitely worth taking.