Using creatine supplements – what you need to know
The science and effects of creatine for reaching peak performance
A constant challenge in the fast-paced world of sports and athletics is reaching peak performance. Supplements that increase an athlete’s strength, endurance, and general athletic ability are constantly searched for. One such powerful substance in sports nutrition is creatine. It is speculated that many athletes are oblivious of the science underlying this substance, despite its widespread use. To dispel myths about creatine, this article offers athletes who want to benefit from it, a clear-cut and in-depth explanation.
The human body naturally produces creatine from the three amino acids; arginine, glycine, and methionine. You can find good sources of creatine naturally in your diet through foods like red meat and fish. The actual supplement, creatine monohydrate, is most frequently found as a powder or pill form. It is an essential component of cell energy metabolism, particularly during brief bursts of high-intensity exercise like sprinting. We must examine cellular energy production to fully understand creatine’s function.
High-intensity activities cause a sharp rise in energy consumption. Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is a short-lived primary energy source for cells and is accompanied by attached phosphates. When we need to expend energy, the ATP molecule releases one of the attached phosphates, which in turn releases energy for use by our cells. The transfer of a phosphate group from phosphocreatine (PCr) to adenosine diphosphate (ADP) is subsequently facilitated by an enzyme known as creatine kinase, which restores ATP levels. This process is essential for brief bursts of intense activity because it happens quickly and without oxygen (anaerobically).
Creatine acts as a store of phosphate groups and supplements increase the intramuscular pool of phosphocreatine by roughly 2% (Hultman et al., 1996). This seemingly small change can allow for huge performance improvements. Understanding nutrition supplements to support sport and exercise performance at the elite level, where the margin of error is so small, can make a winning difference. This elevated creatine content rapidly regenerates ATP during high-intensity efforts. This improves the efficacy of our muscles as a steady flow of energy is provided during brief and intense workouts. Moreover, creatine has been demonstrated to raise the water content of muscle cells, which promotes an increase in cell volume, which is where at least some of the hypertrophic (muscle growth) benefits occur from. The observed cellular hydration in the muscles after supplementation may also promote muscle protein synthesis. New proteins in the body, including muscle fibres, are created as a result of this synthesis.
Creatine is “the most effective ergogenic nutritional supplement currently available to athletes” as referenced by the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN). It boosts the capacity for high-intensity exercise during training and competition.
Strength and power enhancement – Research on the effects of creatine supplements on resistance training has shown improved results for explosive exercises like weightlifting and sprinting.
Better endurance – Although creatine is primarily associated with high-intensity exercises, endurance athletes may also benefit from its use. In longer events, like a 5k or 10k race, creatine may help athletes push through high-intensity efforts by increasing lactate thresholds and assisting in ATP regeneration. It is also crucial to remember that, while strength training may not have a direct impact in longer events like half-marathons, marathons, or ultra-endurance running, it may help athletes improve their adaptations during these particular sessions, which could improve their overall performance.
“This supplementation has been shown to improve maximal strength by 5-15% more than placebo over the course of a training cycle” – leading nutritionist Ben Coomber in our Supplements Simplified blog.
The most researched and commercially available form of creatine is monohydrate creatine. It’s the cheapest and most concentrated form on the market; it’s a tasteless white powder that dissolves in water. Other forms of creatine supplements exist, such as creatine phosphate, but there is no proof that they improve performance or are more effectively absorbed.
A diet containing 1-2g/day of creatine will achieve 60-80% saturation of muscle creatine stores. Supplementing the diet with creatine is intended to increase muscle creatine and PCr by 20–40%. If you are a vegan or vegetarian, your daily intake of creatine may be lower. Nevertheless, unless you consume a lot of salmon or red meat, you might want to think about taking creatine supplements.
Consuming 5g of creatine monohydrate four times a day for 5-7 days is the most efficient way to increase the amount of creatine stored in our muscles (ISSN, 2017). This facilitates the rapid saturation of the muscles.
After this loading phase is finished, creatine stores can usually be maintained by taking 3-5g of creatine monohydrate per day. Some larger athletes, with higher muscle mass, may require 5–10g per day (ISSN, 2017). It takes 4-6 weeks for baseline levels of creatine to return after elevated levels are reached, so it’s okay if you forget a day or two of supplementation.
One of the safest and most thoroughly studied supplements on the market today is creatine. It’s vital to remember that the majority of side effects reported are anecdotal. The extensive, published research has consistently demonstrated that creatine is well tolerated when used as directed in healthy individuals.
Creatine supplementation can frequently lead to water retention. This should only really concern athletes in weight-category sports. Higher water retention can increase body weight, though usually no more than 1-2kg. If supplementing long-term, this gain can be accounted for and shouldn’t be an issue given the benefits towards performance.
Gaining weight due to water retention is a frequent side effect, but this is not the same as gaining body fat. The additional water weight actually makes the muscles feel fuller and has no negative effects on the composition of the body. Many people claim that creatine can harm our kidneys, but when taken in the recommended dosages, there is no proof that creatine has a negative impact on kidney function in healthy people.
For athletes, especially those at the elite level, creatine is a powerful ally in their attempt to enhance their exercise performance. The advantages are well-established and extensive, ranging from; increasing strength and power, supporting certain endurance events, and assisting in muscle recovery. Like with any supplement, athletes should understand the science underlying creatine to make informed choices regarding their diet and training regimen. This supplement, which is among the most effective and dependable on the market, can be confidently added to the diet of both athletes and active people to potentially reach new heights of athletic performance.
An important point of note for those considering creatine usage. It is not suitable for those who have any reduction in kidney function or have renal abnormalities (raised creatinine or reduced eGFR). There is some evidence to suggest that it may slightly raise blood pressure. Anecdotally, some with underlying gut issues find creatine difficult to stomach. Apart from this, it’s a staple recommendation.
If you would like to learn more about the evidence-based role that nutrition supplements play, then take a look at our sport and exercise nutrition supplements course.
Kreider, R.B., Kalman, D.S., Antonio, J., Ziegenfuss, T.N., Wildman, R., Collins, R., Candow, D.G., Kleiner, S.M., Almada, A.L. and Lopez, H.L., 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), p.18
Hultman, E., Soderlund, K., Timmons, J.A., Cederblad, G. and Greenhaff, P.L., 1996. Muscle creatine loading in men. Journal of applied physiology, 81(1), pp.232-237Back to articles