If I were asked to name one supplement that I’d recommend for functional fitness, it would be creatine. With over 1000 research papers to its name, creatine supplementation has shown to be an effective way to improve high-intensity exercise, work capacity, strength, power and lean body mass. It also has been shown to reduce the chances of muscular skeletal injuries and provide therapeutic benefits too.
OK so what is it?
Although you may have seen it in bodybuilding powders and shakes, creatine is actually a naturally occurring nonprotein amino acid derived from meat and fish. Produced endogenously at an amount of about 1 g/d, we typically get a further 1g/d through the diet (Cooper et al., 2012).
So why do we need to supplement?
From diet alone, we can only saturate our stores up to around 60-80%, where supplementation can increase stores by a further 20% (Greider et al., 2017).
Ok but what does it do and how does it work?
Creatine supplementation increases intramuscular creatine and PCr availability. This enables quicker reproduction of the energy we require for exercise, ATP. This is turn, means more reps, more sprints and the ability to go for longer leading to a host of developments in speed, strength, power and lean muscle mass.
If you can do more in your training then you will see more adaption.
What the literature shows:
Increased single and repetitive sprint performance - makes you faster
Increased work performed during sets of maximal effort muscle contractions - makes you stronger
Increased muscle mass & strength adaptations during training - makes you look better naked :)
Enhanced glycogen synthesis - improves recovery
Increased anaerobic threshold - Makes you sprint for longer
Greater shuttling of ATP from mitochondria - Improved aerobic capacity
Increased work capacity - Go for longer
Greater training tolerance
Reduced Muscle Acidosis consistent high intensity exercise - delay fatigue in shorter WOD’s.
Reduce the risk of muscular skeletal injuries
(Taken from Williams, 1999, and Kreider, 2017.)
I know I’m convinced.
Is it safe?
The only consistent side effect reported when taking creatine is weight gain. In healthy subjects where proper dosage recommendations are followed (0.3 to 0.8 g/kg/day for up to 5 years), it has consistently shown that creatine supplementation poses no adverse health risks (Cooper et al., 2012, Kreider et al., 2017, Bizzarini 2004). There have been some reported renal health problems with taking creatine at a higher dose than recommended or for those with previous renal problems (Yoshizumi and Tsourounis, 2004).
Does it always work?
Some individuals do respond better than others. People with lower initial levels of intramuscular creatine and a higher % of type muscle II fibers (think more explosive, quick athletes) enjoy a greater likelihood of improving performance in response to supplementation (Cooper et al., 2012).
So take it?
I say yes. It’s fairly safe to assume that you will see some benefit from creatine supplementation, however you should still consider how well you respond to it. With weight gain being a side effect, longer workouts and gymnastic movements may be negatively affected. If this is the case then supplement your creatine AFTER your training or stop taking it leading up to big event or qualifier. The wash out period (how long it takes to get out of your system) is about 4-6 weeks (Hultman E, et al. Muscle creatine loading in men. J Appl Physiol 1996). This will enable you to reap the benefits from training but avoid the potential negative consequences when it matters most.
How do you take it?
Stores can be fully saturated using a loading protocol of 0.3g.kg.bw for 7 days when it can be reduced to 2-5g per day for maintenance. You can also gradually saturate your stores by taking 3-5 per day for 28 days. Once you come off creatine, there is no evidence to suggest that your crate levels fall below your original levels (Krieder, 2003).
So I think it ’s safe to say that creatine is one supplement that you should be adding to your toolbox to boost performance, training and even health.
Further reading and references:
Antonio, J. (2004). Creatine Loading and Maintenance Dosing. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 26(1), p.26.
Cooper, R., Naclerio, F., Allgrove, J. and Jimenez, A. (2012). Creatine supplementation with specific view to exercise/sports performance: an update. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 9(1), p.33.
Kreider, R., Greenwood, M., Melton, C., Rasmussen, C., Cantler, E., Milner, P. and Almada, A. (2002). CREATINE SUPPLEMENTATION DURING TRAINING/COMPETITION DOES NOT INCREASE PERCEPTIONS OF FATIGUE OR ADVERSELY AFFECT HEALTH STATUS. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 34(5), p.S146.
Kreider, R., Kalman, D., Antonio, J., Ziegenfuss, T., Wildman, R., Collins, R., Candow, D., Kleiner, S., Almada, A. and Lopez, H. (2017). International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 14(1).
Kreider, R., Melton, C., Rasmussen, R. and Greenwood, M. (2003). Long-term creatine supplementation does not significantly affect clinical markers of health in athletes. Molecular and cellular biochemistry, 244(1-2), pp.95-104.
Kuehl, K. (2000). RE: LONG-TERM ORAL CREATINE SUPPLEMENTATION DOES NOT IMPAIR RENAL FUNCTION IN HEALTHY ATHLETES. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, p.248.
Williams, M. (1999). FACTS AND FALLACIES OF PURPORTED ERGOGENIC AMINO ACID SUPPLEMENTS. Clinics in Sports Medicine, 18(3), pp.633-649.
Yoshizumi, W. and Tsourounis, C. (2004). Effects of Creatine Supplementation on Renal Function. Journal of Herbal Pharmacotherapy, 4(1), pp.1-7.