Creatine, more specifically creatine monohydrate, is one of the most extensively studied and most effective ergogenic nutritional supplements currently available. Especially in terms of increasing high-intensity exercise capacity and lean body mass during training. However, despite proven research, creatine is a supplement that is surrounded by many myths that put people off using it, predominantly women. Such myths include:
- It’s unethical and/or illegal to use creatine supplements
- Creatine leads to weight gain
- Increases in weight are due to water retention
- Creatine supplementation causes cramping, dehydration, and/or altered electrolyte status
What is creatine?
Creatine is a non-protein nitrogen, a compound which contains nitrogen but is not a protein. It is synthesized in the liver and pancreas from the amino acids arginine, glycine, and methionine. Dietary sources of creatine include meats and fish, however large amounts would need to be consumed in order to obtain adequate quantities.
Therefore dietary supplementation provides an inexpensive and efficient means of increasing availability of creatine without excessive fat and/or protein intake. This puts to bed the myth of creatine use being illegal/unethical, otherwise, anyone competing in sport wouldn’t be allowed to consume sources of creatine such as meat and fish.
Now we understand what creatine is, we can explore what exactly it does. The energy supplied to rephosphorylate ADP (adenosine diphosphate) to ATP (adenosine triphosphate) during and after high-intensity exercise comes from PCr (phosphocreatine). Increased concentrations of creatine will increase the availability of PCr, allowing the body to resynthesize ATP at an accelerated rate and ultimately improve performance during high-intensity exercise. The improved performances during exercises through creatine supplementation can lead to greater training adaptations due to enhanced quality and volume of work performed.
Why should women use creatine?
Although there are differences between the male and female anatomy, our muscles and our energy systems work the same. If creatine supplementation can increase performance at high intensities for men, then it will naturally do the same for women. Research suggests that females supplementing with creatine can significantly increase strength in as little as five weeks. Therefore any female that is serious about strength training or participating in a sport that requires bouts of high-intensity work, could consider using creatine to aid performance, recovery and exercise adaptations.
In terms of excessive weight gain/muscle gain, this will not occur in women using creatine. Firstly, women do not build muscle at the same rate as men due to lower levels of testosterone. Secondly provided creatine dosage is appropriate (i.e. 3 g/dl – grams per decilitre) and not excessive, water retention will not be an issue.
When discussing protocols for creatine supplementation, it is very common to hear about loading phases, maintenance phases and creatine cycling. If you are serious about training, you train year-round and if your training includes high-intensity work rates then creatine supplementation is of benefit to you year-round. In which case doses of 3 g/dl will augment and maintain muscle creatine, improving exercise capacity at high intensities, without the worry of excessive weight gain or water retention.
Dehydration and cramping myths
To put it simply, if you consume the appropriate amount of fluid on a daily basis you will not become dehydrated. You must, however, remember, as mentioned above, that creatine can help to increase exercise capacity and if you are performing at a higher intensity for longer periods, the body loses more fluid through sweat. This requires a greater amount of fluid than usual to replenish what the body has lost. In terms of muscle cramps, dehydration can lead to muscle cramping, therefore ensuring the body is hydrated will significantly reduce the likelihood of cramping.
In conclusion, it’s important not to pay attention to the myths that surround creatine supplementation. Creatine is a supplement that will benefit women who exercise, helping to improve performance and increase strength gains. When supplementing creatine make sure doses are appropriate, not excessive and that plenty of fluids are consumed to replenish the loss through exercise. Creatine is safe and is most effective when consumed alongside a healthy and balanced diet.
Buford et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: creatine supplementation and exercise. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (2007) 4(6).
Larson-Meyer ate al. The Effect of Creatine Supplementation on Muscle Strength and Body Composition During Off-Season Training in Female Soccer Players. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (2000) 14(4), 434-434.